Legendary figures like Knute Rockne and Ara Parsegian have been featured in numerous documentaries, movies and news reports extolling their greatness. It seems as though Notre Dame fans, administrators and media fail to realize that big time football has certainly evolved. It's almost as if the school's administrators haven't heard about the invention of electricity. Are they aware that fire has been discovered? Obviously the world of big time college football is still flat in South Bend.
Notre Dame has been through 4 coaches in 18 years since winning their last national championship in the 1990's. Lou Holtz recruited players like Tony Rice, Raghib Ismail and Jerome Bettis. The 1990's hailed the slow death of traditional powers after the NCAA limited scholarships in the 1980's. Now upstart programs like South Florida can compete with Florida, Miami, and Florida State for top tier talent. (Not to mention every state that gets the sloppy seconds) Gone are the days of Joe Montana, Joe Theisman, and Paul Hornung signing with Notre Dame for their religious and the dream of a playing on hallowed ground.
The Boise State's of the world can go into the living rooms of big time recruits and promise a shot at a decent education. They can also sell kids on how they also play against top flight competition and on their relationships with NFL scouts. Sure a recruit can get all of those things at Notre Dame but why go to a school that plays the likes of Navy, Michigan State and Army. Sure they got Brady Quinn, Arnez Battle, Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate to commit there but all of the men that recruited those great players got fired.
Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weiss were all shown the door after having winning records. Weiss was rewarded a raise after getting Notre Dame to a BCS bowl in only his second season. The ten year extension not only made us scratch our collective heads but it also caused us all to know that this would end pretty ugly. There are some key factors that support my rationale.
1. Every coach that were the "hot candidate" during the eras of Davie, Willingham, and Weiss said thanks but no thanks to Notre Dame.
Guess what Notre Lame fans (sorry but I couldn't resist) its still happening. Urban Myer has said no for the second time. Bob Stoopes is a Deity in Oklahoma. Talented coordinators on both sides of the ball have opted to sign deals as "coaches in waiting" (This is more like waiting to cash in on a trust fund when you turn 40 and you're 15 now)
Mack Brown bolted for Texas after a successful tenure at North Carolina, A school not necessarily blessed with a "storied" history for football. What about Jim Tressel's rise from the Division II ranks. Brian Kelley has climbed through the ranks like Mack Brown and Tressel but Kelley will be more of the same at Notre Dame. (Contrary to what the national media is selling us) He's a skinner version of Charlie Weiss with a lot less arrogance.
2. Notre Dame Athletic Director Jim Swarbick is on the hot seat.
Sports administrators at major college football programs take their fair share of criticisms but not nearly as much as they should. He wasn't the guy that fired Willingham. He certainly isn't the imbecile that decided to give Weiss that ten year extension but that seat will get even hotter after Kelly doesn't get it done at Notre Dame. Sure he's been there 18 months but do you think he pulled the trigger because he thought he had to or did the powerful boosters and alumni pull his chain?
3. Kelly isn't a significant upgrade from Charlie Weiss.
Kelley's teams have dominated lesser leagues offensively. The Big East isn't the MAC or Sun Belt. He will see the likes of USC, Michigan, and Michigan State yearly. Sustained success is not something that we should attribute to Kelly's resume. His tenures at Grand Prairie State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati lasted an average of just over three years. He's smart enough not to promise any "schematic" advantages. He needs to show that he can win close games defensively.
It took a last second touchdown for the Bearcats to put away Pitt. Notre Dame lost several close games this year. They're record could have easily been 8-4 or 9-3. Will Kelly commit to both sides of the ball or will he still depend on his offense to compensate for an inefficient defense? Look for him to do what got him there. What got him there will ultimately seal his fate.
4. Will NBC stay in love with mediocrity?
The allure of tradition earned the program an exclusive contract with NBC. Notre Dame has pulled out some hat tricks under their previous regimes to at least seem some what worthy of exclusivity but what if Kelly gets shown the door? What if the occasional 10 win season gets old? Any thing's possible but I don't expect Notre Dame to loose their big time deal. The contract buyouts alone for Weiss in 18 million dollars. Tack on what they had to pay Willingham and Davie to go away, that's a strong indicator that this program has money to burn. Their contract with NBC runs through 2013.
The first year will yield some excitement for change sake but it will take at least two years to recruit the type of players that can run his system. This isn't Cincinnati! Notre Dame still remains one of the top academic institutions in the country. He will find out what Bob Stoopes, Urban Myer, Jon Gruden or any other big name coach already knows. Notre Dame though powerful and mighty at most points in its history, can no longer competed in the new world of college football. It's just that simple. Let the countdown began for the coaching search that will start in 2014.