The Dark Days Of Notre Dame Football: Why The Light Is Still Far Away

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The Dark Days Of Notre Dame Football: Why The Light Is Still Far Away
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I've literally sat and stared at my computer screen for two hours and all there is to show for it is this sentence.

Every once in awhile I'll jot down a thought and try to piece together something on last Saturday's debacle against Stanford, but inevitably the white screen returns seconds later. It's a typed game of yo-yo—a sentence flows for awhile before being snapped back to oblivion with an extended tap of the backspace key.

We're just 21 days into the 2010 campaign and the Kool-Aid well is bone dry. The brief sense of unified hope within the Irish Nation has evaporated, the divisive bickering has returned. Message board drama queens and divas are out in full force, using the anonymity the internet allows as a vehicle to express ignorant and irrational opinions with no conscience for how tactless, disrespectful, or outright stupid those opinions may be.

Nine months worth of optimism and hope for 2010 was officially wiped out as the Cardinal methodically dismantled the Irish beneath the watchful eye of Touchdown Jesus. While the first two games exhibited signs of progress, this was clearly a huge step back in every regard. Normally after a loss I spend Sunday and Monday trying to pick out the positives, but Lassie wouldn't find a silver lining from this game if it was wrapped in bacon.

It's time for Irish fans to face reality: this is a far greater rebuilding project than many estimated.

I'll be the first to admit I was totally wrong. I truly and honestly believed that Brian Kelly walked into a situation that mirrored the ones Willingham and Weis inherited: underachieving teams that were stocked with very good talent—especially on one side of the ball—and primed to make an immediate (and nationally unexpected) splash. I wasn't thinking national championship, but I thought we'd see consistent progress and by the end of the year there would be clear signs that we were close to reemerging on the national scene.

The reality is we're not even close.

Now that there is a 240+ minute sample of "Notre Dame: The Brian Kelly Edition" to study and analyze, the magnitude of the rebuilding project has become much clearer. While a talent gap certainly exists between the Irish and the sport's elite, there is a far wider mental chasm that must be closed first. There is substantial work to be done on the field of play, but there's even more to be done on the six inch field between players' ears.

Stanford played a smashmouth brand of football that rattled Notre Dame early and broke their will late. The Irish did not answer like the tough, hard-nosed squad Kelly promised to deliver; they responded like a defeated group resigned to its fate and listlessly went through the motions until the clock mercifully hit zero.

Judging by Kelly's body language and tone from his press conferences the transformation into a passionate, decisive, aggressive team has not gone as quickly as he'd anticipated. Perhaps he underestimated the residual effect of three disastrous seasons on his players' psyches.

It's clear there's no short-term quick fix for tearing down the culture of losing that's infected the program and rebuilding a winning one. Coach Kelly has stated he has a plan, a blueprint for success that will provide the necessary renovations to the core of Notre Dame Football.

Unfortunately it won't be a five minute one like he thought it could be; it's more than likely to be a three year plan that will really take root in 2012. That's a depressing thought for Irish fans who have endured three (going on four) consecutive painful and hopeless seasons, one of the darkest stretches in Notre Dame history that's had few (if any) redeeming moments.

Think about it: for how bad the ten years directly following Lou were we still never had to go through more than two seasons without a nine win campaign and a New Year's Day bowl (and that was only once, the final two years of Ty). We're in the midst of a drought the likes we've only seen once since 1964 (the Faust Era).

Despite how bleak things seem it's not time to throw in the towel and wail about how Notre Dame will never bounce back. It will bounce back, unfortunately it's just not going to happen overnight like we all secretly hoped it would when Brian Kelly took the reins. I realize that the patience well is probably even drier than the well of optimism, but the time to accept reality is now.

People may bemoan the fact that Kelly has stumbled out of the gate, but that's far more common for elite coaches than the Ara Parseghian one-year miracle turnaround.

The 1964 season is regarded as a miracle for a reason.

By now you've heard the litany of names and the records they've posted in their first season: Holtz (5-6 at ND), Stoops (7-5 at Oklahoma), Saban (6-6 at Alabama), Carroll (6-6 at USC). Of course there's no guarantee that Brian Kelly is destined to join all those greats in winning a national championship shortly the initial mediocrity. We'll have to wait and see whether he can turn around the 1-3 start like Lou did or if he's doomed to flop like Bob Davie ultimately did after losing three of his first four games as head coach in 1997.

But I implore all Irish fans to be patient. Don't get hopes too high for this season and maybe even next season. Sit back and monitor the progress; watch this team grow. Allow Kelly adequate time to mold his current players and bring in ones that fit the schemes he's trying to implement. Kelly has brought years of experience and a winning pedigree to South Bend; one month is not going to shake his confidence and Irish fans shouldn't let it shake theirs in him either.

There will be bumps in the road as he gets comfortable on a stage that's grander than he could have ever imagined. People already have and will continue to question his every move, dissecting every mistake. But he's sticking to a tried and true plan that he believes will ultimately lead the Irish where they belong. The failures of the first four weeks are only going to spur him to adjust and work harder.

It's a tough time to be an Irish fan, but know that eventually this darkness shall pass...it just may be here a little longer than we would have liked.

 

Matt Mattare is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report and the founder and main columnist for WeNeverGraduate.com. Send him an email to let him know how much you love/hate his work at mmattare@alumni.nd.edu.

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