Notre Dame, Say Goodbye To Charlie Weis and Meet Brian Kelly

Mike MuratoreCorrespondent INovember 9, 2009

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Cincinnati Bearcats gets doused with Gatorade at the end of the game against the Syracuse Orange at Nippert Stadium on November 29, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Bearcats defeated the Orange 30-10 to claim the Big East title and a spot in the Orange Bowl. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Notre Dame football program once again finds itself staring into the abyss following yet another late season loss to a team that they should have easily beaten. All preseason hype and hope is lost as the Irish continue to play to the level of their competition.

Of all the sins committed by the Irish over the Charlie Weis era, Saturday’s 23-21 loss to a good Naval Academy team is by no means the worst. Still it serves as a glowing reminder to all that under Weis Notre Dame has played lots of bad football.

The defense has been a weak point for the entirety of Weis’s five years in South Bend, and has forced the offense to walk a tight rope every week in order to win games against teams that should have been put away early.

The fact that the defense has remained a problem for so long is a damning indictment of the coach in and of itself, but unfortunately for Weis it is not the end of the charges.

In games against ranked opponents, Weis is 5-12. Against teams with winning records he is 11-21.His total record at Notre Dame stands at 35-24. While not terrible, it is no better than the record of his fired predecessors. Weis is averaging a 7-5 mark, and looks to be right on pace for equaling that mediocrity this season. His in game management is highly suspect, often making first-year mistakes well into year five. Often he will go for a fourth down in the first quarter where taking points would be more helpful.

Clock management has been an issue, highlighted by the last-second loss to USC where the game ended on a 3rd down from the USC three-yard line and a time out on the board.

He no longer has the excuses of Ty Willingham’s recruiting, youth, or lack of talent to fall back on.

He has an upper-classmen led team with Heisman candidates at QB and WR, and a host of two and three year starters. Still this year like last the team is faltering down the stretch. The defense is a mess. The offense looks tired. And the team appears to be getting worse.

The loss to Navy makes nine wins improbable, eight wins a stretch, and seven wins optimistic.

With the talent on the field, the play of this team can not be acceptable.

Enough is enough, and time for change has come

There is little doubt around the Notre Dame community that there will be an off-season coaching search. Unlike last year where the big topic was “will Weis be fired”, this year the talk is mostly of who will replace him.

A good deal of blog chatter deals with uprooting Urban Meyer from his throne at The University of Florida and anointing him the next savior of the program. I feel that Meyer would not only be hard to pull out of the swamp, but that his spread style of football would need too long of a rebuild with Notre Dame’s current roster.

Plus Meyer’s recruiting history is peppered with players with records and academic shortcomings that would make admission to Notre Dame very unlikely.

Very simply Meyer couldn’t get “his” players into Notre Dame.

I do hope that Irish eyes turn south in this year’s very probable coaching search.

But not that far south.

Brian Kelly has his Cincinnati Bearcats poised to make a second straight BCS appearance and win their second Big East title in as many years.

Before coming to Cincinnati, Kelly played linebacker at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, a Division II level Roman Catholic school.

Following his playing days he joined the staff at Grand Valley State University in Michigan as a Graduate assistant before rising to Head Coach four years later.

In his 13-year stay at the Division II school, Kelly amassed a 118-35-2 record including National Titles in 2002 and 2003.

Following the 2003 championship, Kelly accepted the Head Coaching position at Central Michigan University of the Mid America Conference.

Kelly took over a Chippewa program who had only seen one winning program in the previous decade and was languishing at the bottom of a mid-major conference.

Following a 4-7 campaign his first year, the Chippewas went on to post their first winning season in 2005, then win a MAC title with a 9-4 season in 2006. The team also qualified for it’s first bowl game with the MAC title.

Kelly would miss the bowl game as he accepted the vacant position at Cincinnati, however it is important to note that the players that Kelly recruited to Central Michigan have continued to play well, posting 23 wins versus 13 losses including wins over Indiana and Michigan State.

At Cincinnati, Kelly has taken an emerging program and made a BCS contender. Under his predecessor, the Bearcats made the jump from Conference USA to BCS conference in need the Big East. Following two growing years under current Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio (12-12 in 2005 and 2006) the program has taken off with Kelly at the helm.

In 2007 the Bearcats posted a school-first 10 win season and earned a trip to the Papa John’s Bowl where they defeated Southern Mississippi.

In 2008 Kelly’s team finished the regular season atop the Big East at 11-2 and earned the No. 12 ranking and the schools  BCS bid, falling to No. 19 Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

The 2009 Bearcats have picked up where the 2008 team left off, racing out to a 9-0 start and the No. 5 ranking in the BCS.

Kelly’s squad plays solid football, with a pro-style offense averaging 324 yards passing and 157 yards on the ground per game.

The defense has been stout most of the year, holding 7 of 9 opponents to under 20 points.

The team has handled injuries well, even losing pro-prospect QB Tony Pike mid season, only to see his back up complete 80% of his throws for 880 yards in his absence.

Also impressive is Kelly’s record against ranked and winning teams since arriving at Cincinnati.

Despite being embarrassed by Oklahoma early last season, Kelly holds a 4-2 edge against ranked opponents over the last three years. He looks better against teams finishing with a winning record owning 14 wins in 18 games.

He has recruited well, despite having talent magnet Ohio State a mere 90 miles away.

More impressively is his knack to find talent that works for him, and developing it into a winning team.

At every level he has won.

Kelly’s over all coaching record stands at 168-57-2, with two DII titles, a MAC title, and a Big East Title. He twice was named Division II coach of the year, once MAC coach of the year, and Big East coach of the year.

At the FBS level, Kelly is 50-22 in six years.

Given the advantages in money and facilities that Notre Dame could offer, what Kelly could do is tantalizing.

Still, pulling Kelly out of Cincinnati could be difficult.

He earns a very comfortable salary ($1,475,000 according to his Wikipedia page), and has built a winner and BCS contender at a school where winning seasons are rewarded eagerly.

Getting him to abandon an emerging program for the most highly publicized and highly pressured job in college sports may be a hard sell.

Money won’t do it.

Notre Dame has to hope that as a man who grew up Catholic there is a soft spot in Kelly’s heart for Notre Dame.

That he will look at the opportunity as Lou Holtz did.

Notre Dame must make a compelling and sane argument that focuses on stability, the University’s commitment to excellence, and highlights the advantages that a coach receives.

They must explain the short fuse with Ty Willingham, and the decision to part ways with Charlie Weis.

They must not believe that every coach still holds the Notre Dame job on a pedestal. They must sell themselves without simply throwing money at him.

Most of all, they must talk Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate into returning to give (any) new coach the huge advantage of having two senior Heisman candidates and team leaders to help the transition.

With the talent now apparent on the roster, the sale is not as hard as it was a year ago. But as 2004 proved, it is in no way a slam dunk.

If Jack Swarbrick can sell Notre Dame as the program and institution that everyone involved knows it is, maybe, just maybe Notre Dame can emerge from this long dark age back into the light.

And maybe a BCS game or two.


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