1988 was the last time Notre Dame won a National Championship and 1993 was the last year they were mentioned in the same phrase as "National Championship" in November. Since then, Notre Dame has been mediocre at best. Yes, in 2005 and 2006 the Irish made BCS appearances but they were beaten by superior teams in Ohio St and LSU and it was obvious there was much work to do in South Bend.
Notre Dame has endured coaching hiccups in Davie, Willingham and Weis and the Irish faithful are pinning their hopes on Brian Kelly, now entering his second year at ND. Kelly has had much success at each of his coaching stops -- Grand Valley St, Central Michigan and Cincinnati -- but now he must endure the most profiled and stressful job in college football, the head coach of Notre Dame Football. In his first year, there was an ebb and flow with regard to success. The Irish opened the season with a win over Purdue then lost in the last minutes to Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines the following week.
Then came a heartbreaking overtime loss to Michigan State, a Stanford loss the following week and the unrest in South Bend increased. The Irish then reeled off three straight wins over Boston College, Pitt and Western Michigan. Things were looking up then the wheels came off the bus a bit. Kelly and the Irish had to endure the Declan Sullivan tragedy and back to back losses to Tulsa and Navy.
It has been reported former Irish coaching great Lou Holtz and Kelly had a heart to heart meeting after the Navy loss and whatever was discussed seemed to resonate with Kelly and the Irish. They beat Utah and Army in their next games and then finally beat USC after 8 straight years of defeats, including some humiliating beat downs. Kelly and the Irish were invited to the Sun Bowl to take on their formal rival and hated foe, the Miami Hurricanes. The Irish put the game away early and went on to win 33-17 and finished the season with four straight wins.
Many college football magazines and prognosticators have high hopes for the Irish in 2011. The schedule is favorable but can Kelly do what the three former predecessors could not? Can he bring back the fight in the Fighting Irish and win a National Championship? Many detractors don't think his spread offense is the greatest of fits with the caliber of players Notre Dame attracts. Many think he is in over his head and will have the same fate as the three former coaches.
I am in the minority and think Kelly can bring the Irish back and this is based on more than a hunch. He has made strides with the administration that was a thorn in the side for former coaches. He got his players a training table as he was sobered to learn players were losing weight as the season went on from not have the proper foods available. Yes, it's true, Notre Dame didn't have a training table for its players like every single major NCAA Division I school has for its athletes.
He has also secured a better relationship with residential life, which hands down discipline to students who break rules etc. Point and case being Michael Floyd. The star wide receiver was charged with a DUI -- not his first run in with the law. Kelly pointed out that as educators it's their job to be teachers and put young men and woman on the right path. Would kicking Floyd out of school have more impact than placing stringent requirements on him long term? It's no lock that Floyd will suit up in 2011, but what Kelly was able to do was open to the line of communication with residential life. This was a major step.
Kelly has secured some brilliant recruits and the future looks promising for Notre Dame football. There hasn’t been much hope in South Bend for many years and maybe Brian Kelly is just what the doctor ordered for a program that has been far too silent for far too long.