Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2018

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

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46 DECEMBER 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T wo years ago this week, the front cover of Blue & Gold Il- lustrated following Notre Dame's 45‑27 loss at USC had a repeat theme. "What Next?" it read, with sev‑ enth‑year head coach Brian Kelly staring ahead while getting pelted by rain as his Fighting Irish fin‑ ished an unfathomable 4‑8. Notre Dame had been ranked No. 10 in the preseason follow‑ ing a 10‑3 campaign, and Kelly had stated the infrastructure had reached a point that a 10‑win sea‑ son was now more the floor than the ceiling. And then suddenly, rock bottom was three flights up after that 2016 finale at the Los Angeles Memo‑ rial Coliseum. Eight years earlier, in that same venue, following a 38‑3 fiasco at USC in which Notre Dame dropped to 6‑6 (on the heels of a 3‑9 season), we used a similar "What Next?" headline with a dazed head coach Charlie Weis walking off the field. The popular rumor speculated that it was 50‑50 that Weis would be retained in 2009, and Fighting Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick — less than half a year on the job — refrained from commenting until days later. Eight years thereafter, Swarbrick nipped any firing rumors of Kelly in the bud in October 2016 when he told ESPN's Matt Fortuna that Kelly would be "running out of the tunnel" with the 2017 Fighting Irish team while christening the new Campus Crossroads project in Notre Dame Stadium. "Crossroads" was an apt term back then, which is what prompted the "What Next?" headline. My feelings about Kelly's future at Notre Dame at the end of 2016 were the ultimate in ambivalence. On one hand, I couldn't blame Swarbrick or anyone else if he did go back on his word and fired Kelly. My thought was once a football coach has a 4‑8 season at Notre Dame — es‑ pecially in his seventh year — one is only delaying the inevitable issuing of walking papers. • Hunk Anderson was fired in year three (1933) after a 3‑5‑1 mark and despite beating 9‑0 Army in the finale. • Third‑year coach Terry Brennan was 2‑8 in 1956, and despite a No. 10 finish the following year, the residual effect from 1956 caught up when he was fired in 1958. • Joe Kuharich was on borrowed time after the 2‑8 fiasco his second year (1960), just like Weis after the 3‑9 derailment in 2007. You don't go 4‑8 or the like at places like Notre Dame, Alabama (ask Mike DuBose or Mike Shula), Michigan (ask Rich Rodriguez or Brady Hoke), USC (ask Larry Smith or Paul Hackett), Oklahoma (ask John Blake), Texas (ask even national champ Mack Brown, who was 5‑7 in 2010), etc., and not have it eventually eat you alive. My ambivalence stemmed from this: Kelly had finished 12‑0 dur‑ ing the regular season at Cincinnati (2009) and did the same at Notre Dame in 2012. Urban Meyer was the only other coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision ever to achieve 12‑0 at two different schools. You don't just kick someone to the curb with that kind of résumé! I believed Mississippi State's Dan Mullen might be the lone solid replacement, but even there I leaned toward keeping Kelly — provided he still possessed the fire in the belly to make the changes within and in himself, and truly did not feel overwhelmed. Six new on‑field assistants, in‑ cluding two coordinators, were hired. The strength and condi‑ tioning program, where Kelly fell most asleep at the wheel, had an enormous makeover, and a pow‑ erful pride combined with needed humility provided a rebirth and convergence of spirit with will. Two years later, Kelly joins Nick Saban and Chris Petersen as ac‑ tive FBS coaches with three 12‑0 regular seasons (prior to bowls or league playoffs), with Petersen achieving all three at Boise State. And now I think of Ara Par‑ seghian going through an 0‑9 campaign at Northwestern that made him often recite "adversity has the effect of eliciting talent which under prosperous conditions would have remained dormant." I think of Dan Devine going 5‑6 his last year at Missouri and getting run out of town at Green Bay. I think of Lou Holtz getting fired as an as‑ sistant and axed at Arkansas in 1983. Yet not even my childhood hero Parseghian had two 10‑0 finishes at Notre Dame. Not even my favorite motivator, Holtz, reached 12‑0 twice. Even the peerless Frank Leahy did not go unscathed more than twice (1947 and 1949, while having ties in 1941, 1946, 1948 and 1953). The job is not complete yet for Kelly and Co., but two 12‑0 marks are unique. So often we reminisce about the glory days without appre‑ ciating the excellence achieved now with storms weathered, perspective renewed and faith restored. Life can indeed change dramati‑ cally with the right blend of guid‑ ance, support, toil, talent, resilience, humility and motivation. ✦ What Next: Then And Now THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at DECEMBER 2016 ISSUE WHAT NEXT? Brian Kelly and the Irish look to the future after dismal 4-8 season ends with 45-27 loss at USC WWW.BLUEANDGOLD.COM DECEMBER 2016 • $3.50 VOLUME 36 • ISSUE 12 • EST. 1981

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