After a tumultuous end to the 2009 Notre Dame football season that culminated in the dismissal of Charlie Weis as head coach, the Irish football program was desperate for some stability.
Enter Brian Kelly, a young head coach with a consistent history of creating prosperous football teams from virtual nothingness.
Expectations for a miraculous turnaround were tempered with uncertainties on the depth chart and around the ability to integrate another new offensive scheme. A schedule that seemed to lack any real threats projected a reasonable 8-4 finish.
Nine games later, the reconstruction season of 2010 for Notre Dame football has turned into utter collapse. Positive performances early in the season against Purdue and a surprising Michigan team have evaporated following embarrassments against Stanford, Navy and Tulsa.
Perhaps the most frustrating element of the collapse is the continuation of uncertainty. Signs of progress fade in and out like a mirage in a desert absent of meaningful victories. Now there is little more clarity around what to expect for 2011, and this uncertainty has once again put a schism in the Irish fan base.
One side cannot tolerate the thought of mediocrity continuing into a third decade and cites the regression in all aspects of this team's performance as enough evidence to brand Kelly as another failed regime.
This group earns the designation of The Chicken Littles from its counterpart, The Kelly Apologists. The Apologists insist that Kelly's track record of success will eventually bloom in South Bend and that he simply needs more time.
Battle lines for these two camps are already being drawn in Internet message boards and office break rooms, and the hostility is quickly reaching levels similar to the end of last season.
Ultimately, the opinion of whether Kelly will or will not succeed at Notre Dame doesn't matter. What does matter is that he is given a fair chance to succeed. By anyone's definition one season, especially one marked by two deaths in the program, would not be a fair chance for Kelly to prove himself.
The 2010 season has been a tremendous struggle, and injuries are not an excuse for being out-played and out-coached by the likes of Stanford, Navy and Tulsa. The fact that Kelly admitted that his team's margin for error is razor-thin makes his questionable in-game decisions all the more baffling.
These things suggest that either Kelly and his staff grossly underestimated the challenges at Notre Dame or that the culture of losing is so deeply ingrained in the players that it must be rooted out with an oil rig, not a dental drill. In either case, Kelly deserves at least one off-season to regroup and adjust.
However, the leash is now very short. Kelly has blown most of his goodwill capital with the Irish on this abomination of a season so future improvements will need to be obvious. Moral victories are not an option. A gut check in the three games following the bye week could go a long way toward establishing a foundation for next year, but there are several reasons to think that is extremely unlikely.
If there is any hope left in Notre Dame Nation, it must be that the painful enema of 2010 was a necessary evil to rebuild a cleansed and more perfect program in 2011 and beyond.
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