Monday, November 17, 2014
Firing Brian Kelly Is Not The Answer, But There Are Legitimate Concerns
So here we are five years into the Coach Kelly Era and questions about his future in South Bend are coming up. Rumors are that he might leave for the NFL or possibly even Florida. Ironically, if this is his last year at Notre Dame, he would have lasted no longer than Charlie Weis.
There is also a lot of debate all over social media. Many want him fired and others have said that he is the best coach since Lou Holtz. Well the truth is somewhere in the middle there. I agree that he is the best coach since Holtz, but I also believe that that is not really anything to brag about.
Five years in I am no longer interested in what he did at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, or Cincinnati. All that matters now is his record at Notre Dame. If the team wins another game this year which is not a given, he will be the first coach to win 8 games in his each of first 5 years at Notre Dame. That is a good accomplishment, but he was not hired to go 8-4 every year. He was hired to compete for a national title every year. And every time it appears that the Irish are getting close to that level, it comes crashing down.
The team goes 12-0 only to get throttled to Alabama. They go wire to wire with defending national champ Florida State and lost in a very controversial fashion. But since then they barely beat Navy, got blown out to Arizona State, and got embarrassed by Northwestern. So how close Notre Dame is to a serious contender is still up for debate.
Now is Coach Kelly to blame or is he the reason the Fighting Irish were in those positions? Again, the truth is somewhere in the middle. He certainly has won a lot more than his predecessors and teams once again look at Notre Dame as a tough opponent.
At the same time, there are some concerns that have been there since he has been coach. Let's start with turnovers. This season Everett Golson has been turnover prone with 20 in 6 games. While that is on him for the most part, Kelly has had 3 quarterbacks since he has been at Notre Dame. Prior to Golson, both Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees both had turnover problems too. That tells me that there might be something in the preparation.
The next concern is special teams. I remember as a high school kid in Michigan going to football practice two days after the Rocket returned two kicks against Michigan for touchdowns. When we were about to begin practicing special teams, coach asked us if we thought special teams were important. Then he told us to ask Michigan.
Since Kelly has been in South Bend, the kicking game has been a disaster. When is the last time a Notre Dame player has had a huge return. Even the 12-0 year, their net return was like 1 yard. This season they can't even get somebody who can hold kicks. That is just one thing that cost the Irish the game against the Wildcats. Special teams is one third of the game and since it has consistently been a problem during the Kelly era, there has to be reason to question whether or not they are spending enough time on it.
The next concern is that every year there is at least one head scratcher game. That game where Notre Dame should have just blown a team out, but instead got upset or let it be closer than it needed to be. Teams like Tulsa, Navy, South Florida, Purdue, Pittsburgh, and now Northwestern should not even give Notre Dame challenge beyond the first quarter. Even the 12-0 season had a couple of games that were closer than they needed to be.
Upsets happen in sports and they are sometimes the most exciting things in sports. But c'mon, these are teams that don't even get half the recruits that the Irish get. I would be surprised if there is one player on Northwestern who was recruited by Notre Dame. So who is to blame for the team not being ready for these games? I am not saying it is all on the head coach but he has to take a big part of the responsibility.
But on top of all those, probably the biggest concern I have is that Coach Kelly really doesn't take accountability or hasn't been held accountable for his actions. That has happened right from the start. Do you remember Declan Sullivan? He died because of Kelly's negligence. In any other profession that is a firable offense, especially for a guy in his first year. Yet that got forgiven quite easily.
Then in year two after a disappointing loss to USC, Kelly did something that just totally blew my mind. He publicly stated that he didn't recruit many of the players that were playing at the time. He said, "You know who my players are." He threw a lot of guys who eventually were key contributors to helping him make it to the BCS Title game under the bus.
With all the players that have been caught with academic issues, he needs to look at what he needs to do differently.
Most recently, he threw Golson and others under the bus in press conferences. While those mistakes were huge, a good leader takes accountability for not properly preparing his players.
While I do recognize all these concerns, I still do not think that it is time to part ways with him. For starters, I don't see a home run hire out there this year. Nick Saban isn't going anywhere. His wife is happy in Alabama. I really don't see guys like Les Miles, Bob Stoops, or Jim Harbaugh wanting to leave their jobs for Notre Dame.
But more importantly, this team is really young. The players have worked hard and it would be unfair to them to make them have to start all over when they are close. I, myself, felt that this team was a year away even when they were 6-0. I actually predicted that they would win a lot early but it may get tough later. I didn't expect to lose to Northwestern though. So regardless of what happens the rest of this season, Coach Kelly needs to come back. But next year, Notre Dame better make the playoff or they have a decision to make.