Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2017

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

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62 AUGUST 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED P opular opinion holds that entering his eighth sea- son at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly is on the hottest coach- ing seat in the country follow- ing last year's 4-8 fiasco. Or is he? In an interview this month with Laken Litman of The In- dianapolis Star, Notre Dame vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick of- fered a different perspective on Kelly's job status. "The approach we took in the offseason was an approach based on an assumption of stability," Swarbrick told Lit- man. "We went and attracted some extraordinarily talented people to join this staff. And you don't get people of that caliber if they don't think there's going to be stability." Translation: With six new on-field coaches in the fold, plus brand new strength and con- ditioning leadership, Swarbrick is willing to take a long-term approach to establish success rather than tear everything apart again after 2017 and start anew in 2018 with yet another different staff, which likewise might need three or four more years to get settled. Understandably, this will stir much debate among Fighting Irish faith- ful regarding stability versus actual performance. The optimist will note that Kelly has been at his best after upheaval and with a new quarterback at the throttle. The Irish finished the 2012 regular season 12-0 with four major coaching shakeups and a new sig- nal-caller in sophomore Everett Gol- son (redshirted the year prior), plus started 10-1 in 2015 with four new coaches aboard and his No. 3 quar- terback from that spring in sopho- more DeShone Kizer (also redshirted the year prior) having to take over by game two. Kelly has both this year, with a Notre Dame record amount of staff changes (minus the head coach him- self) and a new starting quarterback in junior Brandon Wimbush, red- shirted the year prior. The man has proven he can win. A replacement might have been a bigger roll of the dice. Conversely, the pessimist/cynic will ask, "How much $#!@& time does a head coach need? It's year eight, for crying out loud! You either have a stable, sound program by this time, or you don't. "What you've seen through seven years is what you have. Kelly is a consistent 8-5, 9-4 coach, with an out- lier one way (12-1 in 2012) or another (4-8 in 2016), who won't take you to The Promised Land. He is who he is, no matter who the assistants are." Reality might be somewhere in be- tween, like it often is with extremes. Either way, Swarbrick's statement ostensibly hints that while Kelly presently might not be sitting in the catbird's seat, there is not the willing- ness to hit the "reset" button with his tenure. That's because extremely few coaches have posted 12-0 regular seasons at two different FBS schools. In an exclusive interview with Blue & Gold Illustrated for its 160-page 2017 Football Preview, Kelly was ada- mant that there was no truth to De- cember 2016 rumors that he and his agent Trace Armstrong were sniffing around for other job opportunities to have a soft landing spot elsewhere. That would have been beneficial financially as well to Notre Dame, which by not firing him would save it from another massive buyout (his contract was extended through 2021), a la Charlie Weis. The Fighting Irish head coach also recognizes there are two versions of his "Scar- let Letter" that follow him when life goes haywire like last year. The first was his purple- faced sideline rage at former Irish wide receiver TJ Jones in the 2011 season-opening loss to South Florida. The other was his furtive interview with the Philadelphia Eagles in January 2013 the day af- ter coaching the Irish in the BCS National Championship Game, which was/is consid- ered symptomatic of his desire to move on. "Those two things seem to be con- sistent in the narrative of certain people in the media that they like to continue with them," Kelly said. "Those were one snapshot, one time. It's easy for them to continue. There is nothing I can do about that. "Every time [a job opening] hap- pens they want me to give a state- ment, which I hate to do. It's like [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell — he has to deny everything. Some- times the best thing is not to say any- thing. "In both of those instances, they happened. They continue to follow me, and all I can say is they were two snapshots that occurred but they don't in any way, shape or form show who I am." In 2017, the reset button has been pressed for Kelly, and filling the foot- ball lens with much more positive snapshots will be essential to help justify the decision for the short and long term. ✦ Stability Versus Performance Is A Prime Debate THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Notre Dame vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick pre- fers to take a long-term approach with Brian Kelly in an effort to achieve success with the football program, rather then starting anew with another head coach. PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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