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Reality Check for Notre Dame Fans

It was ugly. It was hard to watch and even harder to stomach, and it’s abundantly clear adjustments have to be made moving forward. Based on Notre Dame’s triple overtime victory over Pittsburgh, it would be easy to assume the above descriptors are attached to the poor showing of Notre Dame’s football program. Wrong. It was Notre Dame’s fan base that was the embarrassment on Saturday and is in need of a new direction.

As the Irish team stormed the field to celebrate its come-from-behind victory, the ND fan base had a much different tone. If a college football enthusiast was looking for an argument to be had that Notre Dame does not belong in the upper tier of college football, there was no need to turn on ESPN – strolling through the plethora of Fighting Irish online media would more than suffice.

“I will never root for him [Kelly] again,” one fan opined. Another agreed, acknowledging that though the Irish had prevailed, Kelly proved against Pitt he’s not an elite coach.

Those are tough, force-fed criticisms as Notre Dame’s football team moved to 9-0 for the first time in 19 years. And in another sign of just how difficult it is to coach at the University of Notre Dame, no one bothered to ask Brian Kelly in his post-game Q&A how he felt about becoming only the fifth coach in Notre Dame history to start a season 9-0. Kelly now joins a list of former coaches spoken in only the deepest of Irish reverence and lore, with names such as Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz (all national championship winners). Not even the great Dan Devine, who won a national title with the Fighting Irish in 1977, ever managed a 9-0 start. But there was no time for such trivialities. The true question on many Irish fans’ minds was how Brian Kelly was going to fix his offense when Notre Dame quarterback, Everett Golson, is “clearly not there yet” as a leader, as another Irish fan lamented.

Indeed, the Irish offense flat lined throughout a great portion of Notre Dame’s tough-fought victory over Pittsburgh. But when the game, and ND’s BCS-capable season, was on the verge of collapse and the Irish defense finally needed the offense to carry them, Golson’s golden helmet shone as bright as his future. The Irish signal caller threw for 2 TDs and 105 yards in the air, and chipped in another 66 yards, 5 first downs, one touchdown and a 2-point conversion with his legs. All told, Golson racked up 171 yards, 3 TDs (including the game-winner) and one must- have 2-point conversation in just a little over a quarter. Perhaps, as is the case in life, some would rather focus on the three quarters of lethargy rather than the clutch offensive firepower shown by a freshman quarterback when his team needed him most.

At ESPN studios in Bristol, Connecticut, former Notre Dame coaching legend Lou Holtz was no-doubt offering a knowing smile as Brian Kelly, instead of celebrating another Irish milestone achieved this season, was answering tough questions about the Irish’s lackluster performance. Holtz has been under the glaring lights of the national media and brutal expectations of Notre Dame fans, and his description of the pressure, in his always-witty manner, is fitting.

“The expectations here at Notre Dame can change a little bit as you go along. When I first started, everybody said they just wanted us to be competitive. That first season in 1986 we went 5-6 and lost five games by a total of 14 points. But people said, ‘No, when we said competitive, we meant we want you to win.’ So the next year we went 8-4 and played in a New Year’s Day bowl. But they said, ‘No, when we said we want you to win, we meant win them all.’ So the next year we did win them all. We went 12-0 and won the national championship. But they said, ‘No, you don’t understand, we meant we want you to win big.’ That’s the way it goes at Notre Dame.”

In the every-move-you-make-is-watched-and-judged environment that goes along with Notre Dame football, many relevant stories go unnoticed. Like the fact #7 LSU, after falling moments short of beating #1 Alabama, only held a 17-9 lead against Division I FCS Townson earlier in the season. Or that #2 Kansas State had a similar bout of sleepiness earlier in the year with a 9-6 halftime lead against Division I FCS, Missouri State. The angry outbursts didn’t reach a boiling point when the #5 Georgia Bulldogs squeaked by a one-win Kentucky Wildcat team, 29-24. And no one questioned whether Urban Meyer was the right hire at Ohio State when the undefeated Buckeyes trailed the University of Alabama-Birmingham, 12-7, deep into the second quarter.

Winning at the collegiate level isn’t easy, and while the Irish eked out a win over Pitt that failed to meet the expectations of many Notre Dame fans, the fact is Notre Dame and Brian Kelly did something this past Saturday that only 0.05% of the college football landscape has been able to accomplish: they remained undefeated.

Brian Kelly has a 24-hour rule after victories. The players and coaches spend 24-hours enjoying their win and then immediately get back to work to see where they can improve the following week. Perhaps the ND fan base should take a page from their “non-elite” head coach to see how they can improve for this week’s night game against Boston College.


  1. Right on, JC, right on.

    I have to admit I was somewhat taken aback by my recent spat with Shaz, whom I have a great deal of respect for and have always found him to be very reasonable. Sure, we haven’t always agreed but I certainly wouldn’t put him in the camp of rose-colored lenses wearing idealists. He’s been around long enough to know where we all stand and has always struck me as one of the more diplomatic among us. I certainly apologize if I gave him the impression I was trying to censor him. God forbid!

    Yes, I think one of the positives of our at times aggressive commentaries has been to ward off the trolls. Where are you “Angry Eagle”? Regardless of our disagreements, we need to always close ranks and drive off the trolls. Give them absolutely no quarter!

    Go back and compare Southy’s comments and bravado when talking about his Pats and compare them with his almost apologetic approach the Irish. Why is that? Because he expects the Pats to win. Southy and others seem to almost expect to have to settle for less when it comes to ND football. Only when Southy comes to feel as cocky about the Irish as he does about the Pats, after many winning seasons and titles, will he and other know what ND football greatness is all bout.

  2. Rob,

    Tough Love doesn’t sell with most of these kid/fans! Especially those who never ever have been exposed to real winning tradition! They were not even a twinkle in their daddy’s eye when Ara, Devine and Lou were around!

    We are too old, angry and hypercritical in their eyes of the only limited sense of winning they know! They in turn need to understand mediocre in our eyes translates into: “a good loser is a loser for life!”

    Like I said above, I don’t worship BK or hate him! However, all must remember when a statue indeed goes up again, whoever that may be? That’s the appropriate time to hyper-reflect on accomplishment however you want to describe the winning way of ND.

    I’m OK with enjoying the season, but stop the “never-ending-BK-pander-rama-I-told-you-so!” BK has only started and he has to finish under his own coaching expertise like the rest of our legends. Yet, make no mistake ND nation, we don’t hire HC’s to run the glee club! National Championships are the only expectation the ND way! ND has a winning tradition like no other! We certainly expect it without exception every year, that’s how ND operates period! Without question, that’s the goal like or not! Ask any alum who sends a check!

    Here come the Irish!

    • JC,

      Sometimes I get the feeling people just want to misinterpret what I’m saying. Like you and the others here I’m pumped about this season. You can’t get better than 9-0 thus far! But what I’m saying is that we need to be a better team if we ever want to become a dominant team. We have too many holes on O and absolutely no STs play whatsoever. We need to get much better in both areas if we ever want to be truly a NC contender and a great team. That’s it; that’s all I’m saying. Nothing here you or others haven’t also pointed out.

      All I want is for ND to be great again, not just relevant, but truly great. This is a process. I realize that. But that process must culminate sometime. It can’t go on forever.

      • I really think we’ll get there. Kelly has had a hell of a mountain to climb with a 20 year culture of losing. It’s not easy to change a culture and it appears he’s doing it. I honestly believe the Golson has the talent to be a Heisman contender, if he continues to develop. Recruiting should be fantastic because of this year’s results.

        I have no answers for special teams but I believe the ST coaches should be fired. 2 + years of no results.

      • Rob,

        For the uninitiated ND Championship Football Fans, all I can say is, You and I have lived through winning tradition and know what it takes to get there by witness.
        This is not a personal talent contest of Head Coaches!!! They either have the skills to win it all or they don’t.

        Once fans live through it maybe they will understand our endless passion for ND Championship Football.

        I unequivocally agree it is easy to be misinterpreted with exclusive wordsmithing.

        People tend to understand better with face-to-face communication because we are simply human, not computers!

        Further, because how we engage each other on this site, we have put the fear of God in the trolls!

        I remember 5 years ago, the trolls were an everyday event! Not now! Hahahaha.

        So in the end, no worries, ND Champsionship Football will return. As soon as, the team exhibits the disipline you and I have seen in past champions. Time table? I have no idea.

        Here come the Irish!

    • True enough, but then how do we explain BruceB, who has stated he’s been watching ND football for 60 years?! He feels we’re too hard on poor TR and BK. Now it seems to be that to be watching ND football for 60 years makes you of a far sturdier generation than the recent ones. When I was growing up there were no awards for participating. Only winners and runner-ups got medals and trophies. You did or behaved badly in school, our parents weren’t siding with us; no sir they were siding with our teachers and giving us a good beating when we got home. This coddling and entitlement is out of hand.

      Everyone who takes a coaching job or scholarship at ND to be a part of the football team knows what they’re getting into.

      This is ND!!!

      • Rob,

        Only BruceB can explain BruceB. Today, we can line-up 100 people and it is definately a miracle if two of the 100 people agree 50% of the time.

        We are now a divided nation on top of that by design. So today, I believe a classically simple monistic perceived shared goal, does not automatically translate into one ubiquitous path for all.

        However, no matter how ambiguous each blazing trail is, we all should know once we get there hopefully. Hahaha, hopefully!!!

        Here come the Irish!

  3. I totally agree with you, Scott. You make some very excellent points. Well written article!

  4. JDH,

    I appreciate the opportunity to clarify myself.

    Of course we should be happy with the progress we’ve seen. But we should also recognize that we’re no where close to where we need to be. We should come to expect 9-0 as a given again.

    Like I told Southy, we need to realize that this is a nice beginning. But it’s only a beginning. I sometimes get the impression that some here think we’ve arrived. NO! We’re not there yet. Let’s not settle for anything less than ND returning to the place where we are expected to compete every year for the NC. Southy seems to think that’s too much to ask of the Irish. Why? He doesn’t seem to think it’s too much to expect his Pats to win the SB this or any other year. Why not want the Irish to be to college football what the Pats are to the NFL? Lowering expectations over and over leads to lowering of results. (BTW: the Pats are relative newcomers to the sporting elite in this country. ND was a founder of that prestigious club along with the Yankees. And, yes, Southy, I hate the Yanks as much as you do!)

    JDH: Question? I understand many here are advocating enjoying the process. I’m not saying that’s you. But I want your opinion regardless. How long does the process last? How long do we enjoy the road trip rather than the destination? Let’s say for the sake of argument ND doesn’t win the NC this year. Should we be a bit more demanding next season. The season after that. My point is at some point the process has to come to fruition and we see dominating results.

    • Rob,

      My measuring stick is that ND needs to be in dicussion every year for the NC. ND could go undefeated this year and not be in the NC game. Is that the fault of ND, No. This is how College football works today. The SEC is the reason for this, if a conference is deemed to be the best and you win it you are automatically in the NC game.

      Do I think ND is a top five team this year, NO, but they are a top 15 team and BK is building the team right with stout offensive and defensive lines. I think that EG and his receivers being so young is why they are not a top 5 team. Also, the special teams are horrible which leads to the defense carrying this team. BK has acknowledged that he doesn’t have the depth he wants but it’s getting better.

      • Jack,

        Would you consider adoption? I’ll buy the beers! Hahahaha.

      • JC,

        I am always up for adoption if the beer is free, but I owe you two beers.

      • That’s right, Jack. So long as we’re in the discussion year in and year out and win it a few of those years, ND will be great again.

        I do think ND is a marginal top 5 team. I think Bama and Oregon are consensus top 2, but I look at KSU above us and those below us and think that ND can beat them. Of course, the Irish would have to look like the 4th quarter team that beat OU in Norman and not the zombies that played for the first 3 quarters against Pitt to do that.

      • Rob,

        I agree they are not back until they are being talked about each year. I also believe they should be at least a 10 win team for a couple of years. This year is a start.

      • Rob & Jack,

        Dead on, “in the BCS conversation!” Jack Swarbrick’s mantra! So much so it cost CW his job.

        This is not entertainment exclusively for the light hearted, this is serious National and International business branding for the University of Notre Dame.

        Here come the Irish!

    • Sorry it took me so long to reply SFR- I didn’t see your post. “The Process” never ends. Kelly has done alot in 2.5 years. I think as fans we are always going to “demand” improvement and being in the conversation of the BCS as some have put it.

      But if you’re not enjoying the progress (not process) along the way, I’m not sure when you’re going to be happy (happy not satisfied). And I’m not saying that’s you, that’s anyone who is going to be pissed, negative, give no credit UNLESS there is a national championship ring. Regardless of how amazing ND’s “process” is and how much improvement is made, there is too much parity and competition to expect ND to win a title every year. It will not happen. Repeat for 2 championships someday? Maybe- that would be awesome. But from where we’ve been for 20 years to where we are now- I’m enjoying it.

      • JDH,

        Believe me, I’m enjoying the season too!

        My point was simply that potential has to at some point stop being just potential and become a reality. We can’t talk about a perpetual process of rebuilding. At some point rebuilding has to stop because the structure is complete and the results become tangible. I do think we’re getting close to seeing a finished product, especially on D.

        Of course, the process of development never ends. You’re spot on about that. And I appreciate the clarification you made about happy versus satisfied.

        Again, JDH, I’m happy just not satisfied yet. I’m sure you’re not fully satisfied either. I’m sure we both spot areas that need vast improvement on this team.

        So, in the end, I think we’re pretty much saying the same thing even if we express it differently. The future looks bright, especially if you factor in the recruiting class BK’s about to land.

        Thanks for the response, brother.


        Go Irish!

  5. George,

    This is an ND board that doesn’t censor so we can occasionally make allusions to other teams and sports. After all you brought up the Steelers and their running game. I didn’t! BTW: I never said that Dwyer or Redman were superstars and I also didn’t come at you, you came after me. Let’s get that straight.

    Ray Graham may one day run for 100 yards in the NFL. I think he will be a good NFL back. But Dwyer and Redman have already done so in the NFL.

    BTW: What’s your NFL team? After all, if you’re going to talk smack about the Stillers you should have the cojones to tell us who you root for on Sundays. As far as I’m concerned only 49ers, Packers, Cowboys, and Giants fans have at least 4 SBs and can hang with the Stillers 6. Plus I’ll give Southy his due by saying he can talk smack given the Pats success against the yinzers from the Burgh over the last decade. So, George, unless you root for one of these teams I’d pretty much keep my mouth shut about the Stillers!

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