At this point Brian Kelly has been on the job for more than one calendar year, and he’s seen and learned a lot.
He’s gotten a feel for the inner-workings of the school and how both the administration and the admissions department work together with the football team. He’s experienced the time constraints that come with being the head football coach at Notre Dame and begun to grasp how extreme both the highs and lows of the job are in sports’ biggest pressure cooker.
Kelly’s also had a year to evaluate the talent currently on the roster and what caliber of player the school is capable of attracting despite all the academic restrictions that other competitors don’t possess.
His conclusion at the end of the year is simple: There isn’t a reason Notre Dame cannot rise back to the top of the college football world and win a national championship. It probably won’t be this season and it may not be next season, but one day Notre Dame can and will get there.
Kelly’s seen enough to realize that the excuses skeptics make are hollow and the hurdles critics insist are there are clearable. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Kelly will ever lead the Irish back to the Promised Land. His final record in year one was 8-5, and while the final four games were a huge step in the right direction, he has miles and miles to go before he “arrives.”
But the fact is that he has surveyed the job and come to realize the ultimate goal is attainable. Contrary to what Bob Davie would have you believe, it can be accomplished without having to compromise any of the University’s core values.
Who knows how long it took Kelly to realize this? Maybe it was the first time he talked with Jack Swarbrick before he even accepted the job. Maybe it was when a training table was provided for the team upon request. Or perhaps it was after working with admissions on the latest batch of recruits. Whenever it was, it came as a relief and probably motivated him to work even harder.
The roster has holes, but there’s elite talent littered all over the depth chart. It took just one full recruiting cycle for Kelly to prove he can attract the top athletes in the country regardless of whether they play a skill position or slog in the trenches. The notion that Notre Dame doesn’t have and can’t acquire the necessary talent to hang with the big boys is completely false.
Notre Dame has more to offer than most schools it’s competing against: the top business school in the country, an alumni network that rivals the Ivies, beautiful academic and athletic facilities and constant national exposure. At this particular juncture, it also provides recruits an opportunity to be more than just great college football players; they’re afforded the opportunity to be legends in the next chapter of Notre Dame lore.
As Lou Holtz once told a recruit in 1987, “Son, you can either join me and be a part of Notre Dame’s return to glory or you can watch it on national television.”
Brian Kelly learned that a return to glory is a real possibility and that’s reassuring knowledge to possess. Now it’s just a matter of learning how to make it come to fruition.