As Notre Dame’s worst season under Brian Kelly is about to end with a losing record and without a bowl game, it’s safe to say that firing Kelly, something almost unheard of not too long ago, is a very real and reasonable possibility all of a sudden.
Here’s something to think about: Charlie Weis was 15-14 over his last 29 games before getting fired by Notre Dame. Brian Kelly is 15-14 over his last 29 games for the Fighting Irish. Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but for a program that is all about wins, these are some difficult figures to comprehend, considering how Kelly was perceived as the guy who’d bring “Notre Dame” back, suddenly compared with one of the most disappointing coaches in the program’s recent history.
The thing that now stands out with Kelly is that his 12-0 season in 2012, before Alabama rolled all over the Irish in the BCS championship game, might have been a fluke. Most of his key players that season were Weis recruits. Since 2012, Kelly is 31-19. Not horrible, but not special, with just one 10-win season, on his way to his first losing season with the program, which means missing a bowl game for the first time since the Weis era.
And it’s not just the losing with Kelly, that includes some very close calls in the big games. It’s who they lose to (almost every big game they’ve had in recent years), and how they do it. His playcalling in crunch time is baffling at best. And he keeps wondering what went wrong at the end of games. All of Notre Dame’s losses this season were by 8 points or less. This isn’t a team that’s completely outplayed each week, but a team, albeit a tad better since the defensive coordinator change, that is lacking when it comes to mental toughness and decision making. That’s on the players as well, but most of it is on the guy calling plays from the sidelines.
One problem for Notre Dame is firing Kelly when the market isn’t abundant in good coaching, with experiences power 5 conference guys waiting to be hired. The fanbase is tired of building, rebuilding, cleaning house and promises. They want wins. They want championships. They want playoffs, although until Notre Dame actually join a conference it’ll be hard to do. But that’s a discussion for a different time and place.
The two hottest names are Tom Herman (Houston) and P.J. Fleck (Western Michigan). Herman is almost a lock to join Texas once they fire Charlie Strong, and Fleck is probably a bit too untested beyond the realms of the MAC, despite the undefeated Broncos this season. for Notre Dame to gamble on. Les Miles is 63 and Notre Dame don’t want someone that old. In short? Brian Kelly is probably keeping his job despite the dreadful season, but it has more to do with the lack of good options to replace him than actually faith in his ability to turn things around.