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Football Commentary: Kelly the right pick for ND job

Michael Bryan | Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ten days after the announcement of the dismissal of Charlie Weis, and still no one knows who will be Notre Dame’s next coach. What is clear now, however, is that Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick and the Irish have only two possible results left in their search: Brian Kelly or bust.

The Cincinnati coach has been the hot name for the job ever since the crushing loss to Navy, and has been the odds-on favorite to win the job since its opening. Over the last few days, coaches have been quick to withdraw themselves from the discussion.

Urban Meyer was the first to do so, followed by Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and finally Bob Stoops. After a week of rumors that Stoops was interested, the Oklahoma coach issued a firm denial, leaving Swarbrick and Notre Dame fans with their focus on Kelly.

The Bearcats coach has been the hot name for good reason. Kelly led Cincinnati to a 12-0 season this year, along with a second consecutive Big East Championship and BCS bowl berth.

Critics will doubt his ability to recruit, or that he can transform this team. They’ll point to his similarities with Weis — a strong offensive scheme with a struggling defense.

But in reality, Kelly is extremely different from Weis, in all the right ways. He has motivated and coached his less-talented players to wins over ranked opponents. Defensively his teams have been underrated, letting up just over 20 points per game in 2009 and ranking in the top 10 nationally in sacks and tackles for a loss despite losing 10 starters from last year.

Kelly’s offensive abilities are unquestioned. The Bearcats offense has been one of the most potent in college football, and when first-year starting quarterback Tony Pike went down, backup Zach Collaros and the offense didn’t skip a beat.

His teams have been disciplined and overachieved for their level of talent, a sign of coaching ability rarely, if ever, seen at Notre Dame since the Holtz era. And unlike Weis, Kelly is a proven winner at the college level, with just one losing record in 19 seasons as a head coach.

Kelly has won at every stop, and is as good a hire as anyone could expect. The arrogance and ludicrous expectations of some fans will leave them dissatisfied with anyone that isn’t a coaching star like Meyer, Stoops or Saban, but no coaches just pack up and leave top programs, not even for tempting destinations with the tradition of Notre Dame.

Thankfully, it appears there have been serious talks between Swarbrick and Kelly. There appears to be mutual interest, although in this clandestine coaching search it seems every nearly report is contradicted or denied the next day (sorry Adam Schefter and Joe Schad).
If Kelly isn’t hired though, which should be completed by the end of the week if it will ever happen, it will be time to panic. After three consecutive failed coaching hires, Notre Dame badly needs to nail this one.

And if not Kelly, there’s no one left. That’s not to say there is no other available coach who couldn’t turn the program around, but there is no coach with the winning history and talent of Kelly that can immediately stabilize the program.

Randy Edsall is by all accounts a great guy and good coach, but Notre Dame needs a great one. And if people think Kelly will struggle with recruiting, how many current commits do you think know who Edsall is?

If Kelly is not the answer, it means that again Notre Dame has botched the coaching search. Maybe they should have reached out to candidates earlier, or compromised with other coaches supposed demands, but whatever the case, anything less than Kelly will send the message that once again, Notre Dame has made a faulty hire.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Michael Bryan at mbryan@nd.edu