With the hire of Brian Kelly today, Notre Dame officially put the Charlie Weis debacle behind them (Goodbye Charlie, you will be sorely missed in Ann Arbor, we will never forget your late inning heroics in the game this year). Notre Dame fans around the country rejoiced. The bells rang from churches everywhere. The smoke rising from the Vatican finally burned white. The anointed one had come, the man who would lead the Irish from the desert of mediocrity into the promised land of excellence once again.
But did they make the hire right? Personally, I think they did. The rumor floated by my good friend The Architect was completely right; I think Michigan hired the wrong coach from the Big East when they stole Rich Rod from West Virginia. Kelly has been a proven winner at every location he has coached. Since 1991 (when he first became head coach at GVSU) he has a record of 171-52-2, a .748 winning percentage. At one point he had a 32 game winning streak with the Lakers. He successfully turned around a horrible Central Michigan program to the point where now the Chips have won 3 of the last 4 MAC championships. And he set school records for Cincinnati, winning 10, 11 and now 12 games in his 3 seasons there. My esteemed friend The Bus Driver points out that Rich Rod won everywhere he coached as well, but the point I differ with him on is the aftermath. Personally I believe a sign of a good coach is when he leaves and the teams he leaves behind continue winning. Central Michigan and Grand Valley are still winning at the same rate that they were when Kelly left, yet West Virginia has dropped off its winning significantly.
However, Notre Dame fans should temper their rejoicing for two reasons. The first is that Brian Kelly’s teams do not play great defense. In his 6 years coaching D-1 ball his defenses given up an average of 23 points per season. The adage “Defense wins championships” comes to mind, but the other fact of the matter is that Notre Dame was mediocre this season because of their defense. They gave up 311 points this season, an average of 26 points per game. They had the offense solved, and Kelly will continue that production with his spread attack. He won with 5 different quarterbacks last year and put up video game numbers with Tony Pike and Collaros this year. But, if he can’t find a way to create a solid defense at Notre Dame, he won’t be able to win as consistently as he did in weaker conferences. The second downside to Brian Kelly lies within his nature. He is a mercenary coach. He goes where the money is, and has no compassion for the people he leaves behind. While I respect him for the consistency, Notre Dame had better be prepared to be the latest team to be burned. If the NFL comes calling, I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised to see him take off faster than Usain Bolt.
This hire is Notre Dame’s Alamo. If Brian Kelly, a proven winner in every other program he has coached, can’t win at Notre Dame, it will officially signal an end to the rich tradition at Notre Dame. Short of stealing Urban Meyer from Florida, the school won’t be able to return to a national powerhouse without either drastically changing its standards academically or joining a conference. No pressure Brian.