Counting George O'Leary's few days as an employee, Notre Dame football has had five head coaches since the 2001 season. No other Division I-A program can match that turnover over the past nine years.
Notre Dame administrators, no doubt, hope new coach Brian Kelly will bust the Fighting Irish out of the Bob Davie-Ty Willingham-Charlie Weis doldrums. Here are five things Kelly must do avoid a short stint in South Bend:
1. Own Ohio
In an interview after Cincinnati's 2009 spring game, Kelly raved about the number of Big East-caliber players he could find without hopping on an airplane. "If Ohio State takes 25," Kelly said of Ohio's high school talent, "I've still got the numbers in my favor." Now, rather than settling for the state's scraps, Kelly must battle the Buckeyes (and Wolverines and Spartans, for that matter) for the Ohio blue-chippers. And he must hire a staff that can contend for the best prospects in Florida, California and Texas, too. The notion of coaching up the less talented to whip the more talented sounds nice, and it might have worked at Grand Valley State and Central Michigan and even Cincy. But reaching Notre Dame's lofty expectations gets much easier with a handful of Golden Tates sprinkled throughout the roster. No doubt, the Irish defense could use a few more players with Manti Te'o's promise. Speaking of which ...
2. Don't forget the defense
At least Charlie Weis was honest. He came forward with his philosophy of not messing much with the defense, especially once guru Jon Tenuta came aboard as his coordinator. It's tough to say whether Weis might have helped in game planning. It's clear, though, that his choice sent a message that the head coach cares more about scoring points than preventing them. And that translated into some tough sledding recruiting-wise — yes, Tenuta didn't resemble Dick LeBeau this season, but he wasn't working with a bunch of five-stars, either. Kelly would be smart to bring Bearcats defensive coordinator Bob Diaco with him to Notre Dame. And although he figures to call the offensive plays, he can't neglect the guys on the other side of the ball.
3. Build better university relations
Charlie Weis' sit-down with a handful of local reporters last weekend got headlines because of comments he made about USC coach Pete Carroll's lifestyle. Another nugget emerged from the chat, though: Weis calling Notre Dame's Office of Residence Life and Housing, the university's disciplinary arm, the biggest problem on campus. "Living in a dorm is a big part of going to Notre Dame," Weis said, according to an interview transcript on rivals.com. "But I think that it would almost run people off campus, just so you're not dealing with them." So add the folks in that office to the alienated donors and the absentee trustees on the list of folks fed up with the football program. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick has worked to unify the university; Kelly must join that project as he tries to win on the field.
4. Play in a 2010 bowl
There's no need to be picky on this one. The GMAC Bowl, the Humanitarian Bowl, Christmas in Detroit, it doesn't matter. The Irish lose their starting quarterback, the Biletnikoff Award winner at receiver and four starting offensive linemen. Their next starting quarterback, young Dayne Crist, is recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery. They also return a defense that allowed 26 points per game and finished in the bottom half of the national standings in defensive statistics across the board. So expectations will be Gerry Faust-low next fall. But if Kelly can persevere with this bunch and avoid losing to the rank-and-file (Tulsa, Western Michigan and Army come to mind), and combine it with a strong recruiting class for February 2011, he can win over the cynics in a hurry.
5. Keep smiling
For a moment, forget the recruiting and the X's-and-O's. The Notre Dame head coach's chair received a huge charisma bump with this hire, and that could prove important in the short term. For whatever reason, Irish fans haven't experienced that with a coach since Lou Holtz stepped aside. Kelly should restore that faith starting Friday. Expect an Emmy-worthy performance from Kelly at his first press conference, and bank on a blitz of positive press for the Irish this offseason. The new coach will have no critics off the bat, and those he develops will be kept at bay by his openness and personality. For now, that's a good thing for ND.
Lingering questions were answered emphatically by the 2012 team, but 2013 is an all-new season that brings all-new question marks. Brian Kelly feels fairly confident his offense is in a great position to take a step forward, but to do that, they’ll need the services of some under-the-radar players.
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