Well…it’s over. There’s one game left but…it’s over. Notre Dame is officially not going to a bowl game this year. It’s been an interesting season, to say the least, and I just want to take this opportunity to sum up my final thoughts on this season and the Brian Kelly era as a whole. I’m not angry anymore, I’m not mad, this isn’t a rant like some of my previous pieces. Just my closing thoughts.
The most infuriating part of this season wasn’t just that they lost more games than they won, but how they lost. I would have preferred they get blown out in every loss, but they were not blown out at all this season. Not once. Michigan State was the closest thing to a blowout they faced all season. Their largest margin of defeat this year was eight points. It was definitely not the case that they didn’t have the talent. The defense was very shaky at the beginning but gained its footing enough to remain competitive. In a few cases this season, they were up by fairly comfortable scores yet still lost. They almost lost to Miami after a big halftime lead, too. Unlike the 2012 season where they found ways to win the close games, this year they almost always found a way to lose. As I said, I would have rather seen them get blown out and say “We’re just not that good this year,” but it’s not true! The Irish this season had every chance to win most of their games, but when it came down to it, just could not get the job done.
When I watched them this season (if I was watching at all), I saw a team that was not playing inspired football. You have to be uninspired to blow as many leads as they did. I don’t place all the blame on the players, though. For anybody who’s read any of my writing, you know who I blame for this train wreck. Yup, you guessed it; head coach Brian Kelly. While the team did have a good deal of talent this season, Kelly wasn’t able to coast on that talent like he has in past years. This year reality caught up with him. It was his first real experience as a seasoned Notre Dame head coach dealing with a sub-standard season and it exposed him for the whiny, blame-assigning finger pointer he really is. Let’s look at his tenure as a whole.
Has Brian Kelly had success during his time at Notre Dame? Obviously, otherwise he would’ve been gone a long time ago. But were the Irish ever really that good? When it came to top teams or big bowl games, the Irish didn’t usually find themselves on the victorious end. The closest they ever came was Florida State in 2014, although that was one game that absolutely CAN be blamed on the referees. I’ll also grant an exception to last season, seeing as though there were more players injured than healthy. But even still, with the talent that Brian Kelly has had to work with the past seven years, Notre Dame should have had at least one dominant season, but instead it’s been seven years of painfully optimistic mediocrity. The best way I can put it is that the Irish have been on the verge of being a great team, yet could never quite get there. This year, however, was not one of those seasons. The wheels really fell off and showed Brian Kelly’s true colors.
Most agree that it is indeed time for a change, but some will argue that he’s the best option we have right now. When a head coach publicly belittles and berates his players as Kelly has this season, keeping him on is cancerous. Even Jimmy Clausen came out and urged DeShone Kizer to go pro to get away from Kelly. It’s not very often that I agree with Jimmy Clausen. Look at the lack of morale this entire season. Look at how often the Brian Kelly Irish played down to their competition in the past seven years. With the exception of LSU two years ago, look at the quality of their bowl wins, and the quality of their bowls in general. I believe this season was a blessing in disguise because it showed the flaws of Brian Kelly and how he reacts when things don’t go his way. Jack Swarbrick has confirmed that Kelly will return next year, but one more season like this and he’s gone for sure. The question remains: what will he do with next year’s team? My desire for a coaching change is really clashing with my desire to see the Irish play well right now. All we can do is wait and see.