Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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62 JUNE/JULY 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED B ack in the summer of 1985, a Miami newspaper ran an elaborate feature that had top former coaches or football experts rank each college foot‑ ball coach in the nation. I studied it with great inter‑ est because Notre Dame's Gerry Faust was entering his fifth sea‑ son on the hottest seat in Amer‑ ica with a pedestrian record of 25‑20‑1 (.554) and zero place‑ ments in the final Associated Press poll. What struck me was how two of the mighty coaches from the 1970s and early 1980s had nose‑ dived so dramatically. Michi‑ gan's Bo Schembechler plum‑ meted from the top 20 because of a 6‑6 record the previous year that saw his bowl record drop to a miserable 2‑10. Meanwhile, second‑year Min‑ nesota head coach Lou Holtz was in the 30s to 40s range. He had been fired at Arkansas after a 6‑5 re‑ cord in 1983, and a massive rebuild‑ ing project with the Golden Gophers in 1984 commenced with a 4‑7 ledger. Four short years later in another extensive feature by Don Heinrich's College Football magazine on the na‑ tion's best coaches, Holtz was No. 1 and Schembechler No. 2. Holtz had just guided Notre Dame to the 1988 national title, while Schembechler was coming off a Rose Bowl triumph and a top‑five finish. It revealed how quickly ratings can change in the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" profession, and what a fickle endeavor they can be. This May in CBS Sports' an‑ nual rankings of the 65 coaches in Power Five conferences, eighth‑year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly plunged from No. 12 to No. 22 after the 4‑8 meltdown. For most of the past decade, Kelly was in the No. 5 to No. 10 range — even No. 4 by Ath- lon prior to the 2013 campaign af‑ ter the 12‑1 season. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio fell from No. 5 to only No. 11 after a 3‑9 record — but Spar‑ tans football history is judged differ‑ ently from Notre Dame's annals. Last December, it appeared the Kelly era might have run its course at Notre Dame. A .656 winning percent‑ age after seven years revealed a lack of an "it" factor and was well below the "base" .750 standard at the school. Yet he joins Urban Meyer as the only two coaches to produce a 12‑0 regular season at two different schools. That and one other reason was why I was wary and didn't support jettisoning Kelly: I was not confident anybody with a better track record or overall body of work would be his successor — nor want to be — and the new hire would not elicit a "wow factor." Plus: • If director of athletics Jack Swarbrick promoted an assistant to the head coaching job (like Clem‑ son's Dabo Swinney, ranked No. 3), he would have been eviscerated be‑ cause "you need head coaching ex‑ perience at a place like Notre Dame," as we learned with Terry Brennan, Faust, Bob Davie … • You don't want to turn to the pros — see Irish alumni Joe Kuharich or Charlie Weis — because longtime NFL coaches often lack "the college touch." Plus, Bill Belichick probably would say no. • You supposedly "can't" hire some‑ one outside a Power Five conference (like Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck, now at Minnesota) because he "hasn't cut his teeth yet with the big boys and is low‑hanging fruit." Or people from the service academies like Navy's Ken Niumatalolo or Air Force's Troy Calhoun that run the triple option, "which would hurt recruiting at this level." • Ideally, you want someone in his coaching prime, about 10 years of successful head coaching experience, someone around age 40‑50 — so Duke's David Cutcliffe (62), Dantonio (61) or Kansas State's Bill Sny‑ der (77) don't need to deal with this pressure cooker, nor does the deposed Les Miles (63). • So many top coaches already are at their dream job making millions either at their alma mater (Stanford's David Shaw, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, Mi‑ ami's Mark Richt, Wisconsin's Paul Chryst, etc.), at the right fit (Washington's Chris Petersen) or a place that is "home," such as Utah's Mormon coach Kyle Whitting‑ ham (who has been there since 1994), TCU's Gary Patterson or Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who have been head coaches at their respective schools since 1999 and 2000, respectively. • You can't get well‑established coaches ensconced at power schools like Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida State, etc. A m o n g t h e c o a c h e s r a n k e d ahead of Kelly on CBS Sports' list‑ ing, maybe Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy (No. 12), Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald (No. 16) and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen (No. 21) would have been "approachable." Yet Gundy is a native Oklahoman, Fitzgerald is a Wildcat alumnus with purportedly no affinity toward the Irish, and Mullen has done wonders at MSU but was coming off a 5‑7 regular season that included a loss to South Alabama, and his hiring last December probably wouldn't have created a buzz. For now, Notre Dame and Kelly remain in football purgatory. Yet as we've learned, much can change quite rapidly. ✦ Football Purgatory Status Remains For Now THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Rather then move on from head coach Brian Kelly (right) after last year's 4-8 showing, Notre Dame instead brought in six new assistant coaches — including defensive coordinator Mike Elko (left). PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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