Brian Kelly has taken a Notre Dame program that was down and led them to a National Championship game. Unfortunately, he has also led the Fighting Irish full circle, as they finished 4-8 last season. That isn’t the only reason that Kelly is catching heat right now, but is it too soon to consider firing a coach that took a team to a National Championship just five years ago?
The Wins and Losses
In his seven years as Notre Dame’s coach, Kelly has posted a 59-31 record. This makes his winning percentage 65.6 percent, which ranks 18th in Fighting Irish history. At most schools, this would be a good record, but at a school that has the history and pageantry of Notre Dame, that’s not good enough. He was given some leeway because he made the team better, but it seems they are trending back downward.
The height of his success was a thrilling 12-0 regular season in 2012, which resulted in an appearance in the 2013 National Championship game. They ended up getting killed by the Alabama Crimson Tide, 42-14.
What stands out for Kelly is that he only has two ten-win seasons in his seven years, a trend that will likely continue this season. With multiple eight-win seasons and a four-win season, Kelly has to turn it around to save himself.
There is a lot of turnover from last year’s team to the team that will take the field against Temple on the opening weekend of college football. The good news for Kelly is that the offensive line should be great with Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson returning to school. While it may be a tall order, if Kelly doesn’t get at least eight wins, he might get fired.
Off The Field
The win-loss record isn’t great, but issues surrounding the team will also play a factor in the decision to let him go if it comes to that point. Some of this actually affects the on the field results, as 21 wins have been vacated (not demonstrated in earlier statistics). The 21 wins had to be forfeited due to academic misconduct by eight players.
There have been numerous cases of players being suspended for academic issues, arrests, DUIs and other transgressions under Kelly’s tenure. These incidents are something that give a black eye to the university that prides itself on molding players into better people. While a coach shouldn’t be responsible for every bad thing his players do, at some point enough is enough. One more incident like this could put the boosters over the edge to get rid of Kelly.
While these incidents surely aren’t great, the worst thing that has happened has been the death of Declan Sullivan. Sullivan was a junior manager who died when a scissor lift collapsed while he was video taping practice. It was a windy day when this happened and the head football coach should have moved practice indoors or scrap the video taping of practice from a lift.
The report found that Notre Dame was at fault and that the staff was negligent about wind conditions and how they affected lifts. If Kelly truly was negligent and didn’t know that 50-60 mile per hour winds can knock things over, he isn’t fit to be the coach at Notre Dame.
Attitude and Responsibility
Another thing that has been turning people off of Brian Kelly is his demeanor. It is very common to see him chewing out a player on the sidelines. Other coaches do this too and are good disciplinarian coaches, but Kelly has no limits and seemingly does it more than any other coach in America.
During interviews he very rarely takes the blame for a loss and usually finds a way to throw his players under the bus. He even said after the loss to Duke last season that he felt good about the coaching. Kelly decided to make all positions open for competition. Later that week defensive coordinator Brian Vangorder was fired.
This criticism for players, while taking no blame on himself, doesn’t just last while the players are at school. He recently said DeShone Kizer wasn’t ready for the NFL, even saying he has maturing to do. Whether he agrees or not with Kizer’s decisions, it definitely didn’t help Kizer’s draft stock.
So the question becomes why say anything like that? The best case scenario for saying that is that Kelly is right. The worst case scenario is that it hurt Kizer’s draft stock. At a time in a player’s life when the former coach should be supporting and selling that player to pro teams, Kelly couldn’t resist the urge to criticize Kizer one last time.
A lot has to be weighing on Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick’s mind as he goes into this season. He has a good coach with some issues. The saying that “winning cures everything” might be true at other places, but Notre Dame is supposed to hold themselves to a higher standard than most places.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Kelly will be the coach to start the 2017 college football season. He likely won’t be fired for his and the program’s off field issues, because he’s already been given a long leash. The decision will be made on wins and losses and if the Irish don’t win at least eight games in the regular season, it’s time for the Fighting Irish to move on from Brian Kelly.
“From Our Haus to Yours”