December 11, 2009
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Finally, after a short week of searching for a new head football coach, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish have found their man in Brian Kelly.
Now it is time for the University administration to make a serious commitment to winning.
If you've paid attention to Irish football at all over the past decade and a half, you know all of the reasons why Notre Dame has struggled to win at a high level. Some of the reasons have a heavy impact, some have a smaller role, while others matter very little, if at all.
But the point is, with the hiring of Brian Kelly it appears Notre Dame has finally made the correct choice to lead the football program and with that choice they must make some concessions and do what is necessary (within a set framework) to bring winning back to South Bend.
The accusations that Notre Dame football is irrelevant are ridiculous; however, it is time to realize that the Fighting Irish are not an elite program and even with what appears to be a great coach coming in next year, it will still be an uphill battle to even come close to the level of football being currently played by Alabama.
There are numerous opinions from fan and foe alike on what Notre Dame needs to do in order to get back in the winners club.
Some say academic restrictions need to be loosened. Others claim Notre Dame needs to join a conference.
Some say the school needs to accept junior college transfers more readily. While others claim all the program needs is a great coach.
And what about expectations?
Where does the barometer fall when it comes to the expectations from the university? Where does it fall with the average fan?
Of course, many of the Notre Dame followers want the ultimate prize, but can we seriously expect it nowadays?
The problem seems to be that there isn't enough consensus on these issues when it comes to the expectations set by the administration and the fans.
We know 6-6 and .550 winning football isn't good enough, but that's hardly good enough at 85 percent of the schools across the country. So while we can credit the administration for making a change in the face of mediocrity, there still is the nagging issue that the powers that be really aren't totally invested in winning at the highest level.
Hopefully, the hiring of Brian Kelly is a signal that things may be changing.
And then we have the fans, where it seems there is an ever shrinking amount of reality and clear eyed criticism.
One the one hand we have the passionate fans who decry that Notre Dame needs to win, or rather should be winning, at a top five level. They will scream that 9-3 isn't good enough and rally against all of the problems plaguing the Irish team.
On the other hand, we have the fans of Notre Dame who aren't completely concerned with the level of winning in South Bend either. The Irish may have the largest fan base in the country, but all that means is there are a lot of lukewarm supporters out there and many of them are sitting in the stands on Saturday's inside Notre Dame Stadium.
What I suggest is that the administration make a strong effort to alleviate these problems and recast the expectations of Notre Dame football in a more modern and positive light.
Because when it comes down to it, right now, 9-3 IS good enough for Notre Dame. There can be a lot of hot air from the "national championship or die" crowd and we can put up with the apathetic fans too, but 9-3 makes the vast majority of ND Nation very excited.
Everyone was jumping out there pants with glee when Notre Dame fell to 4-2 after a loss to USC in 2005 and then continued to go 15-4 over the next year and a half. Sure they lost to the great teams, but it was an exciting brand of football and it was good enough to stock the shelves with some really strong talent.
And however short lived it might have been, it was still a modern renaissance for this program nonetheless.
And you know what? Maybe there's nothing wrong with that because that is the true reality of where this program is right now. Notre Dame hasn't beaten a really good team in years. And it has been even longer since the Irish beat a really good team in a really big game as well.
That is the cold hard reality for Notre Dame.
I don't want to lower expectations for Brian Kelly or endorse above average football, but it is time to look at what can really be done in 2010 and beyond with this program and which policies will lead to the greatest amount of success.
I really believe Brian Kelly will change the culture around Notre Dame and his coaching will make this team a lot better in the coming years. We've heard that before but most people realize this guy is a winner and someone with the fortitude to get things done.
But it is important to stress that he cannot do it alone and that 9-3 is good enough, at least for the time being.
In fact, the best thing right now is for Notre Dame to be taken less seriously as a good football team. There's certainly no need for heightened expectations for next season given the performance of the defense this year and the absence of Clausen and Tate.
With Kelly at the helm, there is no doubt that this team will play better football and start winning again, but don't expect it to happen over night.
The best thing that can happen is for the Irish to fly under the radar, continue recruiting at a high level and let Kelly install a solid foundation for the future.
And most of all, the administration needs to do more, by doing less, and let Brian Kelly turn this program around to build this new future.
Notre Dame still remains heavily relevant in the college football world, but even the most storied programs can only take so much losing before there is a point of no return.
With Brian Kelly the opportunity to succeed is as great as it has ever been since Lou Holtz left in 1996. The Notre Dame administration should do the right thing and do whatever it can to bring winning back to the Golden Dome.
Next week, I will take a look at what needs to be done in order to achieve this goal.
Welcome to South Bend Brian Kelly and Go Irish!
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