The Notre Dame Fighting Irish football program is one of the most polarizing in the whole country. There seems to be two distinct kinds of feelings toward the Irish, people who love them and the people who despise them. No matter which side you fall on, you care to the point of watching them just to see them succeed against the Club St. Pool Cleaners or fall flat on their face, but you still watch. However, over time, the relevancy of Notre Dame has come under question. While the fact you’re asking if they are relevant is a conundrum in itself, they haven’t exactly lit the college football world on fire since Lou Holtz took his barely legible opinions to ESPN.
A few years ago, the Irish were looking for a new coach to replace the previously splashy hiring of Charlie Weis. Weis was a Notre Dame guy, an alum, an NFL coordinator that came from the New England Patriots. At the time of his hiring many Irish fans were thrilled. Weis came in and told the Notre Dame faithful that six wins weren’t good enough for them and it surely wasn’t good enough for him. Fast forward a few mediocre, to downright ugly, years later and all the splash left in the Weis hire was to be his impending firing.
Then, at the time a somewhat uninspiring, hiring happened. Notre Dame was on its search for the next head coach for the University of Football. Fancy names were thrown out there once again. John Gruden was the name most mentioned and also happened to have the biggest profile. Any hiring of someone with less stature than Gruden would certainly be considered a failure. Then, he happened. The Irish plucked Brian Kelly from the Cincinnati Bearcats and a nation of Irish fans were confused.
Kelly wasn’t your prototypical big name hire. Sure he led the Bearcats to an undefeated season, only to abandon them to take the Irish job before his previous team’s BCS Bowl game. This certainly didn’t feel like a Notre Dame guy. The Fighting Irish love to tell folks how important school as well as life lessons are to their football program. In the next few years, Kelly did everything under the sun to question his hiring, including the unfortunate death of a student who filmed a practice for the team, which resulted in indirect criticisms towards Kelly.
However, there is a cure-all for indiscretions, winning. In a make or break season for Kelly and the Irish, the team has made tremendous strides in showing the college football world that they can compete for a National Title. The proof is in their game against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night.
Slowly rumors are starting to spread about Kelly maybe taking an NFL job. If that’s what his goal is, then good for him. Notre Dame certainly wasn’t going to stand behind Kelly if he rambled off a few more unimpressive seasons. But there might not be a better coaching job in the country than doing it for the Irish, especially when you’re winning.
Don’t let the media misguide you on Kelly either. Winning doesn’t change the person you are, there is plenty to not like about Kelly, that’s perfectly understandable. When things don’t go his way you can see him on the sidelines turning different shades of red while yelling at a 19 year-old kid. Somehow, an undefeated season has made people forget all the things they hated about him just a few months ago.
Regardless of the result of the National Title game, the echoes that have long been asleep in South Bend have been awoken. While it’s a tired cliche, those echoes have felt like they have been in a coma rather than taking a nap. Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Weis before him, all failed to achieve what Kelly has done this year as he took the Irish to the biggest game in college football.
College football is funner when Notre Dame is playing for National Titles. The only way it could be better is if they were a villain to many and a hero to some. Kelly has turned all Irish faithful to become his loyal supporters. All of a sudden, shockingly after an undefeated season, Kelly’s flaws in personality are now just charming mishaps in his character. But for the people who despise the Irish, Kelly provides the diabolical villian that they have always wanted. A mean, condescending, seemingly ungrateful, bad man.
Regardless on how you feel about Kelly or Notre Dame, no matter the outcome Monday night, we are all winners here. Thanks Brian.
Joe covers the Catholic Seven for Rant Sports while dabbling in others. For the love of Sam Cassell, follow him on the social media device known as the Twitter Machine @JosephNardone