Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly's 5 Keys to Getting Notre Dame Back on Top
When David Gordon's field goal cleared the uprights in 1993, seriously ending any real chance of a Notre Dame national title, I had no idea it would be the last time the Irish seriously contended for a national championship.
Yet as the 2011 season approaches Notre Dame is 22 seasons removed from their last championship.
The 2010 Irish appear to have made strides in the right direction. However, more needs to be done to return the Irish to elite status.
Besides getting fired, another trait shared by Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis was inconsistency. All were capable of putting together a solid season but too often they followed it with a poor season.
On two different occasions, Davie followed a nine-win season with only five wins. Willingham followed up an excellent 10-3 campaign with a five-win campaign in 2003. Weis went from 10-3 to a dismal 3-9.
This type of inconsistency robs a program of momentum, hurts recruiting and ultimately casts doubt in the minds of fans, alumni and, most importantly, the players.
The Irish have not sustained consistent success since the early to mid-stages of the Lou Holtz era. If Brian Kelly is to return the Irish to the top he must avoid these giant swings in the win column.
Win a Signature Ball Game
I recently read an article where an analyst stated the Irish hadn’t won a big ball game since 1993. At first, I bristled when I read that but, upon further review there is credence to that argument.
Although the Irish have had a few wins over top 10 opponents since then, some are from the end of the Lou Holtz era and most of the others were early-season wins versus Michigan teams that did not eventually finish in the top 10.
Brian Kelly needs that statement game on a big stage, preferably in a bowl situation or late season matchup against a highly ranked opponent to showcase the Notre Dame brand.
Too often in recent years apparent progress or double-digit win seasons have turned into fool's gold for the Irish faithful.
This seems to be an area that Brian Kelly has a handle on. In his first recruiting haul—given minimal time and the departure of Charlie Weis—he still managed a top 15 class.
His second recruiting class has Irish fans giddy at the prospect of seeing Aaron Lynch and Ishaq Williams contribute on Saturdays. For recruiting success to continue Brian Kelly must continue to get “his kind of guys” aka guys that fit his system.
He must also continue the recruiting mentality of Charlie Weis. For years we heard Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham gripe about guys they couldn’t get or guys that didn’t want to go to Notre Dame. Charlie Weis embraced what Notre Dame had to offer and was able to effectively recruit some great classes.
Brian Kelly would be wise to take a similar approach.
Establish an Identity
What is Notre Dame Football? Lou Holtz featured a power running game usually with very good defenses. Since then, the Irish have lacked identity.
Bob Davie had a defensive background and put together some decent defenses but nothing that resembled his “Wrecking Crew” defenses from his Texas A&M days.
I’m still not sure what Tyrone Willingham’s identity was, although I seem to recall the ugliest version of the West Coast pffense I’ve ever seen.
Charlie Weis preached being “All Day Tough” but defenses that weren’t even “Part-Time Tough”—ultimately leading to his dismissal.
For Brian Kelly to be successful he has to stamp his identity and signature on the program. Nick Saban, for example, is a defensive guru and it is no secret his teams usually play great defense.
If the spread is Brian Kelly’s weapon of choice then he must be able to recruit it, sell it, and more importantly, make it consistently productive on the field.
Capitalize on the Brand
Notre Dame faces challenges in recruiting and running a football program that other schools cannot relate to. However, Notre Dame also has some advantages that other schools will never have.
Notre Dame offers an education that many other universities simply cannot match.
In addition, some of the finest high school football players in America are playing at Catholic high schools. There was a time when every football player in America that played at a Catholic school wanted to attend Notre Dame.
Finally, the NBC TV contract gives Notre Dame a four-hour stage every Saturday to showcase this brand.
This last key to getting back on top is the toughest.
As Brian Kelly begins to pile up wins, the Notre Dame brand shines a little brighter, leading to more publicity and ultimately, more recruiting battles won.