What’s Next for Notre Dame Football

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports

After an unexpected 4-8 season – the second worst in program history in over five decades – Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick faces a crossroads project with far more long-term implications than the $400 million renovation project of Notre Dame Stadium with the same name.  Whatever direction Notre Dame takes over the next several weeks there is one thing that is absolutely certain: the program cannot have a repeat of the 2016 season.   Given Swarbrick has only two options moving forward, it’s time to evaluate what must be done to be successful moving forward regardless of which path is chosen.

What must be done if Brian Kelly stays

Irish fans may not want to hear it but there are a lot of reasons retaining Kelly for the 2017 season makes sense.  Chief among them is the extremely limited coaching pool currently available.  Tom Herman, arguably the hottest coaching commodity, has taken the Texas head coaching job and rumors have already begun linking Western Michigan University head coach P.J. Fleck to Purdue and Oregon.  But the ultimate cautionary tale for Notre Dame comes from Baton Rouge.  The LSU Tigers fired Les Miles without much of a plan, and after failing to lure Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State and losing Herman to Texas, LSU was forced to hire interim Ed Orgeron, a man with only three full seasons as a head coach and a career record of 21-29.  Brian Kelly may very well deserve to be dismissed but replacing him for the sake of replacing him would be an enormous error in judgment, and one Notre Dame can ill-afford to make.

If Jack Swarbrick decides to bring Kelly back for 2017 due to a lack of a clear and worthy successor than there are two processes that need to be non-negotiable: an impact hire at defensive coordinator and a lengthy evaluation of every assistant coach currently on staff.   An intriguing defensive coordinator prospect is recently fired head coach Charlie Strong.  Strong spent several seasons at Notre Dame in the ‘90s as an assistant coach and led a Louisville defense that was No. 2 in the nation in points against.  He is also a strong recruiter, which would be an enormous boost for an Irish defense that has been lacking in that category.  Despite Strong’s struggles at Texas he still managed to secure the No. 7 recruiting class in the nation.

After landing an impact defensive coordinator Kelly must thoroughly evaluate his staff for shortcomings.  Assistant coaches need to show production on the field as well as off.   If an assistant coach isn’t participating in a meaningful way in recruiting, that assistant needs to be let go.

What must be done if Brian Kelly is fired

If Brian Kelly is ultimately replaced there is only one easier-said-than-done rule: hire a replacement that is as close to a sure thing as possible.  Five straight failed coaches – yes, George O’Leary counts and so does Kelly if he is let go this off-season – has eroded Notre Dame’s status and credibility as a storied football program.  Notre Dame is 4-12 in its last 16 bowl appearances and hasn’t won a significant bowl game since the Cotton Bowl in 1994.  Notre Dame, more than any other program in the nation, cannot afford to swing and miss on its next coaching hire.  Whoever is the next coach at Notre Dame has to be the one who turns the program around for good.

The question is whether that option is indeed out there, and in all likelihood such background credentials would involve poaching a head coach from a well-established power five conference school.  And the chances of such an occurrence coming to pass, although not impossible, are slim.

Whatever route Jack Swarbrick decides to go he needs to get a handle on the current situation surrounding the program.  A report was quick to surface linking Brian Kelly to other coaching opportunities, and although that report was denied by Notre Dame administration, the denial will be as effective as a rock thrown at a tidal wave when it comes to recruiting.  If Swarbrick does decide to keep Kelly he needs to throw the full weight of his resources behind him and make it abundantly clear he is not going anywhere, because the current state of the program is recruiting poison.

For Notre Dame fans, the best thing to do is to grab some popcorn and watch the fireworks likely to come in the following weeks.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for The Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.








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  1. SteelFanRob 3 years ago

    Yup, more “head-up-the-ass” wishful thinking.

    BTW: Tell Urban Meyer he and his team are playing for second place. I guess he’s never beat Saban head-to-head in the NCAA POs.

    I for one would love to be in a position to play for second place. I guess BK’s sterling 4-8 coaching job wasn’t quite good enough for even second place!

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  2. Mike Blick 3 years ago

    Take a deep breath Irish fans. The last time I checked, Alabama has a choke hold on college football and everybody else is playing for second place. Coach Kelly will get this figured out and have the players playing like their hair is on fire next season. I’m still of the notion that the ND football player has the required character to show up and play the game with pride and passion. If they can’t , then maybe they should ask themselves why they took the scholarship in the first place.

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    1. George 3 years ago

      Yep, it’s all about character, pride and passion. Alabama must have those in spades. Especially the character part. Talent and coaching is way down the list. 2nd place…. 80th place…. no need to split hairs.

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  3. Rich M 3 years ago

    This nightmare of a season effects much more than anyone can imagine. There are very, very few, if any, positives that have come out of it. But let’s start with the coaching. Firing your defensive coordinator in season just about says it all about football at South Bend. I think they should at least test the waters and speak to Bud Foster of VT. I know its a shot in the dark but what the hell, you have nothing to lose and you could get the guy that made halftime adjustments that made ND look horrible in the second half.
    The Charlie Strong idea is an interesting one. It may serve two purposes, 1. your getting a guy who has had success running the defense, and 2. He could eventually replace Coach Kelly, if that situation arises. Recruiting has a will continue to be affected by this perceived turmoil at ND. Regardless of how they spin it they already have lost a number of very good recruits because of it. Strong might also help on that end. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Strong or Foster are the saviors but they could very well be. Maybe a package deal for the both might work! LOL! I do know one thing that as much as I love ND, rooting for them for about 60 years, this year I must confess for the first time I rooted against them when they played the Hokies. I know I will probably burn in hell for it but I’m paying for two sons to attend so
    I do feel a strong alliance to them. GO IRISH and Hokies!

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    1. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

      To clarify, one of your interesting solutions is the guy with the worst winning percentage in the history of Texas football?

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  4. Hunter 3 years ago

    Notre Dame;s offense scored 371 points for the 2016 campaign.

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    1. George 3 years ago

      Amazing news, buddy. Keep up the good work!

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      1. Hunter 3 years ago

        Everybody is decrying a excellent head coach whose focus is offense essentially. so I simply posted a simple fact. The defense, special teams and ACC officials which suck are atrocious.

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      2. George 3 years ago

        You’re a joke

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    2. Ron Burgundy 3 years ago

      For double jeopardy can you tell us how many they scored in 2015?

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      1. NDscotsmen92 3 years ago

        For triple jeopardy,why do you Ron Burgundy stay here and put down other Notre Dame fans? While you think you are clever and witty and oh so pleased with yourself, you are incredibly and constantly impolite.

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  5. Mike "King" Kelly 3 years ago

    BJ and SFR, first you got to spell his name correctly. “Bleier” Second for you, SFR read Rockys paperback. ” Rocky aint just ‘nother bum from the neighborhood!”

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  6. bruce johnson 3 years ago

    You guys don’t know how to win
    You do anything and everything to get what you want
    No quarter
    No holds barred
    You guys must have never seen a real notre dame team
    Stick your egos up your derrière and go get j harbaugh
    Les miles or urban Meyer
    I know how to do it I got soros fink Milken as clients
    I learned how to do it from our sacred school
    Reggie Brooks style forward at any cost

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