Since the final gun sounded in last week’s season finale loss to USC, rumors have swirled around the status of Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. Reports surfaced he was looking to leave. Message boards lit up with “insider” posts suggesting Kelly was going to be forced to leave. All the while Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick remained silent. He broke his silence on Friday shooting down all those rumors and reaffirming Kelly will be back in 2017.
Swarbrick backed his embattled coach on the heels of a 4-8 record and mounting off the field issues that have been building since Everett Golson’s academic misconduct in 2013 that cost him his sophomore season and brought what looked like a promising season to a crashing halt that Memorial Day weekend.
This season was no different for Notre Dame. It started with the off field issues of the arrests of a combined six different players in two separate incidents just weeks before the start of the season. The incidents ended the Notre Dame career of Max Redfield and almost certainly that of Devin Butler.
Off the field issues aside, however, on field performance completely bottomed out this year for Kelly. Notre Dame lost close game after close game this season before getting blown out by USC last weekend. Notre Dame careened to a 4-8 record after winning at least 7 games in every year of the Kelly era.
All of this created an ugly scene across the Notre Dame web this week. Reports surfaced of Kelly talking with USC last year, Notre Dame lost 4-star linebacker commitment Pete Werner, and many in the national media loudly questioned whether Kelly and Notre Dame had a viable long term future.
How long term a future Brian Kelly has at Notre Dame still remains to be seen but at the very least we all know that Kelly will be back in 2017 and Notre Dame can officially move forward. Kelly has no small task at hand as he looks to pick up the pieces from this year’s mess. He has to find a new leader for a defense that has not been the same since Bob Diaco left to be the head coach at UConn. He likely has to groom a new starting quarterback with almost every mock draft projecting Deshone Kizer as a top 5 pick. Kelly also has to evaluate his entire staff – especially the special teams – as Notre Dame suffered breakdowns on every level this year.
All the while, Kelly and his staff needs to find a way to close out a recruiting class that at one time looked like a lock for a top 10 finish and a likely top 5 finish. The loss of Werner can be mitigated if Notre Dame secures a commitment from 4-star Ohio State decommitment Antjuan Simmons. The commitment of Elijah Hicks is also hanging by a thread right now as well though so Kelly and staff have their work cut out for them.
After a week left twisting in the wind, we now know that Kelly will be back in 2017. We don’t know if that is the right decision or not and we won’t until we see what the Irish look like in the fall.
Can Kelly rekindle that 2012 magic with a likely first year starting quarterback? Or will Kelly go back to his well of familiar coaches, pick a defensive coordinator who he’s comfortable with, and have the kind of season next year that’s not awful, not great and still leaves us wondering if he is capable of taking this program where it needs to go?
Only time will tell.