Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame’s failures just a blip on the radar, for now

24 September 2016:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Duke Blue Devils at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
(Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

The tumult is there. It’s everywhere these days around Notre Dame.

Those loud noises calling for head coach Brian Kelly’s job are the product of a 2-5 record combined with Kelly’s fiery personality.  The thing is — Kelly doesn’t care.

Kelly, who is now in his seventh year at Notre Dame, has made that clear since the start of his tenure at the tradition-laden program.

“Get used to it,” Kelly boldly said back in 2010, in the moments after the Irish had just been upset at home by Tulsa.

He had just been asked about a strategic backfire that led to a loss — one that came just a week after losing to Navy . Kelly’s Irish were down by a point and well within range of a potential game-winning field goal.

It’s 2nd and 8 at the Golden Hurricane’s 19 with roughly 40 seconds remaining and the Irish trailing by just a point. Instead of plunging the ball a few more yards forward one or two more times, Kelly eschews the run and instead calls a pass play.

Freshman quarterback Tommy Rees — making his first career start — drops back and fires for the end zone. Instead of an echo-awakening touchdown pass, Rees’ pass is intercepted and the Irish lose 28-27.

Kelly was defiant in the moments after the defeat (which was followed by three straight November wins to send the Irish to the Sun Bowl) and he has remained defiant in the six years that have followed — even in the face of what could be turning into the second losing record in the past 10 seasons.

Losing and Kelly have never meshed well — they have never had to. Kelly is in his 26th season as a head coach, and he has had just one losing record in his previous 25. The first — a 4-7 mark — came in his first season at Central Michigan in 2004.

Kelly spent the previous 13 years running the Division II program at Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids, Mich. He churned out wins there (a 118-35-2 mark) like Detroit’s assembly lines used to churn out automobiles.

A 15-9 run over his last two seasons at Central Michigan parlayed Kelly to three years at Cincinnati that produced 34 wins and just 6 defeats and also saw the Bearcats go to the Sugar and Orange Bowls in consecutive years — an unprecedented achievement for the Queen City university that helped Kelly get the job in South Bend.

The run he’s had at Notre Dame has been anything but quiet, but it has also been successful. The worst record Kelly has had with the Irish is 8-5 (three times), but he also led the program to its only BCS Championship Game appearance after going 12-0 in 2012, and last year’s team just missed out on the College Football Playoffs with a 10-2 regular season record.

The current knee-jerk reaction from many Notre Dame fans and alums alike is that, suddenly, Notre Dame can’t win. More specifically — they can’t win with Kelly.

Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis — Kelly’s three most recent predecessors — averaged 6.9 wins with an average tenure of 4.3 seasons. That’s what “not winning” looks like.

Kelly, fiery bravado and all, averaged nine wins in his six Irish years entering 2016. This season has been anything but pretty for Notre Dame, but Kelly’s track record of success still says current results are less a trend and more a blip — it’s just hard for anyone watching to get used to right now.

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