What’s Next for Notre Dame Football

Photo: Matt Cashore // USA TODAY Sports
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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.







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  1. 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!

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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!

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

      1. 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.

      1. 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.

  4. 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!”

  5. 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

  6. “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.”

    I suggest that a frank candid evaluation of recruiting be a serious ingredient in the over view of this frustrating 2016 campaign. The ND program boasts one of if not the best talent pools I’ve ever witnessed in my 61 years. It makes a huge difference moving forward.

  7. Notre Dame should not have to ASK anyone to be the Head Coach. They should ASK Notre Dame if they can be the Head Coach, Sift through, , then make a decision! There was a famous Southern California high school football Coach on the west coast who flew all the way to Oregon, Thinking that the Ducks wanted Him. Turned out to be a complete hoax!

  8. SHORT MEMORIES. Dudes, y’all must not forget the “Savior” label given to BK after 3 seasons. Did he deserve it? In my opinion, YES HE DID! This year, 6-of-7 losses have been by 1 score. What does that say? “LEGITIMACY.” You all must not forget the wretched program BK has turned-into a LEGITIMATE football power. BK struck-out with BVG and defense, especially in today’s college football, is REALLY important. (teams are built around offense, so my figuring places defense as the #1 priority) If dec an get (keep the interim guy?) a D-coordinator, we’ll be fine. The sky ain’t falling. Tn sky FELL on this season, but that’s in the past. Get-over it and move forward. We are LEGITIMATE. Stop whining – you sound like (sc)UM’s Jimmy Harbitch.

    1. That’s it, “HURLS,” you are either delusional, related to BK, on his payroll, or he has compromising photos of you somewhere. Which one is it, inquiring minds want to know?

      What about 4 and f’ing 8 do you not understand?! Did you watch any ND games this season? Did you watch any of Saturday’s smack down at the hands of none other than SC?! Are you really so delusional that you believe that under BK ND is a “LEGITIMATE football power”. What do you base that on? BK’s record against top 5 teams? BK’s record against top 10 teams? BK’s bowl game record? What is your criterion for declaring ND a “LEGITIMATE football power”?

      I also don’t care ND’s defeats were by one score. Losers always find ways to lose, then make excuses for it. BTW: SC beat ND by way more than one score. But I guess you can make an excuse for that too, like it wasn’t BK’s fault A. Jackson returned two kicks for TDs. Of course not. It’s all the kickers’ fault!

      For your information, “HURLS,” Bama under Saban is a “LEGITIMATE football power.” So is Ohio St. under Meyer. UM under Harbaugh is also becoming a “LEGITIMATE football power.” 4-8 ND under BK is the definition of a not “LEGITIMATE football power.”

      Get real, man. You are a delusional excuse maker for mediocrity.

      Go cheer for BC, “HURLS”. That seems more in line with your definition of a “LEGITIMATE football power”.

      1. Yep!!!! And DEFENSE wins championships.. we need a D line and a D coordinator AFTER we get a new head coach

    2. One more thing, “HURLS.” “LEGITIMACY” in your book is losing 6 of 7 by a score. That is opposed to, let’s say, winning 6 of 7 by more than just a score. That wouldn’t of course be better and more legit. No, of course not. God forbid ND should blow teams out! Why aim for that when you settle for losing 6 of 7 by a score?!

    3. I totally agree, man. Anyone with half a brain can clearly see that ND would stomp the tar out of Alabama right now, anytime anywhere. These pollsters and experts are morons if they don’t realize that ND is a legit football power and should be in the National Championship game. Just because ND lost eight games this year shouldn’t matter. Go Irish! BK all the way!

      1. I smile. You guys entertain me. I HAVE BRAIN DAMAGE! So why the heck am I the one who must relativize for you guys? Because you guys aren’t used to difficult thinking. Again, I HAVE BRAIN DAMAGE. Thinking for me is difficult. I’m used to it. So when the opportunity is here for me to “be appropriate” and “think lie normal people,” I say F.THAT! I am a fan of BK’s. I’ll admit that, That doesn’t disqualify my criticism of those who think like simpleton right-wingers!

        JEESH! Good day.

      2. You said what exactly?!

        “HURLS”: I don’t know if you have “brain damage”. It’s hard to say judging from your posts. But you certainly have a penchant for making excuses for BK. Is he your cousin? Does he pay you to be his shrill? Does he have incriminating photos of you, “Shaz,” and “Burgy” in a menage a trois?

        Be careful insulting “Shaz” by calling him a right-wing simpleton. You don’t want to let him know you voted for Hillary! I’m sure he did too, but will make it sound like you’re an idiot for voting for the liar-in-chief pretender.

        Really Go Real Fighting Irish!

  9. Will somebody please call Charlie Strong and give him what he wants to come baclk to Notre Dame. He had the seventh recuiting class in the Country and he know how to recruit Texas. He knows how to build a strong defense and was well liked by players and Notre Dame.

  10. The one sure thing that will turn the program around is for the fans to stop spending money on ND. Hit the administration in the wallet and they’ll make the right hire.

    That’s how Parseghian was hired.

  11. The article makes a lot of good points.

    IMO, it’s time for BK to go. He’s on shaky ground as is and that will affect recruiting. Coaches and their philosophies have a shelf life. Some last longer than others but all of them have a finite shelf life. BK seems to have gone past his expiration date. His message is no longer resonating with the kids. They are underachieving, involved in on and off the field scandals and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to think things won’t get a whole lot better. The best case I can make for keeping BK is that this yr’s team was young and those players can grow up and excel. But I have serious concerns whether or not BK can coax that excellence out of them.

    Maybe the best solution is to fire Swarbrick and let the new AD decide who, if any, they want to keep.

    1. Alcohol policy.

      Sorry Ron, your Ohio State trolling shows you know nothing about the University of Notre Dame.

      ND used the NBC contract to set the time for all home games at the same time and in the afternoon so that fans might limit alcohol intake or at least stay put for a few hours before driving.

      In typical fashion, Kelly and Swarbrick changed that.

  12. As ND fans, we need to wake up! This is not the 50’s 60’s or 70’s. Notre Dame puts itself at an athletic disadvantage and there is no getting around that. We want an Ivy League institution with an SEC football program. Wake up! We expect our football coach to compete with Ohio State, Alabama, Florida State, and Texas, et al for national championships with one hand tied behind his back. ND does not pay it’s coaches top dollar. It requires strict academic standards and accountability. It does not play any FCS teams. Consequently, the chance of plucking a successful coach from a top program is slim and none. As fans, we have to be more realistic. ND is not going to compete for national championships every year. Not happening! Personally, I hope for a New Year Six bowl most years and every now and then be in the playoff hunt. I believe Kelly can meet those expectations. In fact, he already has. This year was a wash, for sure. There were too many mistakes – missed calls, missed tackles, missed reads, missed opportunities, misspeak, and mismanagement. Yet, I believe Kelly has enough in the stables to turn this around next year and again reach a New Year Six Bowl. I just wish we would stop living in the 80’s. Those days are gone. And the administration of ND is not willing to go back. Let’s look forward with realistic expectations. And when we do so, Kelly would look more favorable and the future more optimistic, and goals more achievable.

  13. i wanna say hire Charlie Strong no matter the cost.

    Instead, Kelly will likely hire the defensive cordinator from back in high school coaching days. Lord knows, the man only hires from his former staffs. Lol

    We haven’t even been talking about the impact of this years dumpster fire could pose for recruits.

    1. Urban poached all the coordinators and assistants who were worth a damn. But hey, at least we got Booker whose Special Teams really set the world on fire against Army.

  14. I will never understand why people think we can land a top level defensive coordinator. Kelly, if retained, is on the hot seat. Would a top level DC be willing to take a gamble on a coaching situation that might blow up and then lose their job in 12 months? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    I truly believe if Kelly is retained, next season will be more of the same. He will probably hire a decent, but not outstanding defensive coordinator. Next season will probably see a regression back to the mean of 8-9 wins and a decent bowl. I think Charlie Strong is a pipe dream — but I really hope I’m wrong and Kelly can get someone like him.

    The only homerun hire will be if Diaco and UConn decide to part ways and he comes back to ND. I think that’s ND’s best case scenario of Kelly returns.

    1. You may be right. Someone like Strong might not want to come to ND under those circumstances, and their are probably some schools that will want to take a chance on Strong as a head coach (though with not nearly the same prestige of Texas–if he is able to build success at a lesser program it may propel him again to a prestigious job).

      The only shot they have at Strong is some sort of promise that he wouldn’t fall with BK, or if he is some sort of informal coach in waiting sort of like Jimbo Fisher at FSU. That’s touchy though, and while there’s a lot more to the Texas situation, I’m not sure Strong is a good HC at this point. Maybe he is and just didn’t get a fair shake from Texas, but I’d like to see more. But maybe Strong is worth at least considering if ND and BK do part ways.

    2. You are essentially correct but top DC’s do move. Dave Arranda moved from Wisconsin to LSU even though Les Miles was on the hot seat. He was offered a ton of money along with a 3 year deal that ND would never offer but it does happen.

  15. So we’ve been through five coaches, and they’ve all sucked. Maybe Davie was right when he told Urbs that winning football games consistently at ND is basically impossible.

    1. Davie was a complete fool
      You never hire an assistant coach st nd
      His failure was his own inexperience
      His talk to Meyer about the school
      Is garbage. Urban was an assistant coach st nd
      He knows the score
      It’s not about academics.
      It about paying him to come and helping him to succeed within the rules

      1. Well the rules at ND are BS, in Urban’s opinion. Probably not enough emphasis on winning for his liking.

  16. I agree with both posts above; Damian and Steve make good points, as does the article. We have no good options to replace him, unfortunately. Kelly should now be seen as a caretaker with one shot; 2 victories or less next year, or gone. His stubborn refusal to fix the special teams year after year; to stay with BVG; to muddle play-calling lines of authority – not a leader.

    1. Cut your losses and move on if you delay you don’t have time to get the best coach
      It’s about paying for what you want
      1.4 millio n for a Mac level coach like Kelly
      Offer Meyer j harbaugh and miles and see what will it take to get them pay the price
      Tired of this LOSER and the guys defending him with the assanine mantra we can’t do better

  17. An interesting analysis. I can’t say I disagree. A real concern I have is the lack of available high quality coaches out there. The potential coaches I saw as good draws as Scott noted have been taken. Les Miles is the only available coach out there that has won any recent championships, and there are real concerns with him (and he’s a Michigan man–he may rather rot in oblivion then coach at ND anyway).

    Ultimately I don’t think ND fires BK this year. One thing Scott didn’t mention is the huge payout BK would be due if they fired him. That would handicap their ability to hire a quality coach by reducing the salary they would be able to offer him. BK leaving on his own would do ND a huge favor for that reason.

    So I do agree with Scott’s 2nd point if he stays. Swarbick will have to insist on changes by BK, starting with assistants. I know some fans may shun Strong because of his Texas record, but Scott is absolutely right about his defenses. Also, there is more to the situation at Texas then meets the eye with simple Ws and Ls. I’m not saying I’d take him as a HC, but as a DC he may offer real tangible benefits.

    Regarding the other assistants, some should stay and be given more responsibility, certainly on offense. I’ve thought for months BK may do better as a CEO type coach and turn his offense over to his assistants. Some assistants need to go, and some may need different responsibilities.

      1. Um, I’m not the one who wants ND to crawl on it’s hands and knees to a coach who already spit in their face once before. I think that more clearly defines a loser.

        But whatever, be happy in your delusions. I live in a world of reality.

      2. “bruce,”

        There are basically two kinds of losers on this board: those who make excuses for BK, and you, who have stated publicly (and I don’t need Burgy’s Nazi archive for proof) that ND should beg and plead with Meyer to take the job. That’s pathetic, “bruce”!

      3. Your gal-pal Hillary is a loser?

        But I did see where she is now calling for a recount so that should brighten your day some!

        Actually, it takes a lot of guts to call for a recount several weeks after the election.

        She’s a fighter and she’s got guts, I’ll give you that!

        I can see why you voted for her.

      4. Shaz,

        I see you can’t get over Hilary losing and want to continue to deflect your sadness and frustrations. I really do feel bad for you.

        But as big a loser as you are, you should be comfortable with one more defeat on your resume.

        By the way, how’s the “head-up-your-loser-ass” sale going? I’m sure “HURLS” has bought at least a dozen.

        “Burgy” might be too stuffed from intaking Mike “Dumblin’s” man juice. Perhaps you can help him with that, Shazhole!

      5. Hey, Shazhole,

        How do you know who I voted for?! Obviously, you don’t and your charge that I voted for the w-b-itch Hilary Clinton is yet another example of how full of crap you are. Or it’s just useless banter. Either way it’s useless rhetoric, Shaz.

        Stick to talking about ND football. I do admit that when you do that, you often make salient points.

  18. This program is in shambles. Too many shortcomings to post and if you’re retaining Kelly then here is my take. The culture of the program needs to change IMMEDIATELY. Hire Charlie Strong RIGHT NOW and make him DC and associate Head Coach TODAY and get him on the recruiting trail for tough, fast, strong and motivated defensive talent. Allow Charlie to bring in his own defensive coaching staff.
    Fire Gilmore and Special Teams coach NOW. Gilmore can be seen smiling on sidelines after Tillary’s punk moves against USC.
    All players and coaches are put on notice for their jobs/positions and any lack of performance results in immediate dismissal.
    Again, I could go on for an hour here and please stop with the 2012 and 2015 season BS. There were similar issues there last year as well that were masked with some shaky W’s.
    Arrogance coupled with ineptitude ultimately results in failure. Welcome to failure. The powers that be in South Bend should look north to see how Barry Alvarez has done it with allegedly less talented recruits. I’ve been glued to Irish football since the 1960’s, my dad since the 1930’s and still kicking, and both of us have obviously have been through some lean times but have witnessed the great recoveries from those periods, i.e Faust to Holtz era. Since 1996 it has been a frustrating and, at times, a PAINFUL 2 decades.
    I DO NOT believe Kelly is the leader that snaps us out of this period and will grab some popcorn and watch the situation unfold. I will hope it turns around, which means 9-3 or better with some GOOD wins. There are no signs currently that a 9-3 or better is close to happening. Hopefully I am wrong.

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