Semi-OT: Notre Dame

Submitted by Eye of the Tiger on February 8th, 2011 at 8:31 PM

Stewart Mandel has an article in SI arguing that they're back, or at least might be back.  He bases this on their late-2010 surge and their recent, defensively-stacked recruiting class, which includes 3 five-star DEs.

Now, I don't put too much stock in Mandel's opinion, as he's known for these kind of premature "could it really mean blah blah" articles.  But I think the question of where Brian Kelly has our rival's program headed is a good one.  Will Kelly be able to succeed where no one since Lou Holtz has been able to succeed?  After all, Willingham and Weis both had good results early before tanking...

What explains ND's troubles when they have such great recruits, year-in, year-out?  





February 9th, 2011 at 1:21 AM ^


Considering Notre Dame is included in the MGoBlog recruiting rankings for the "Big Ten +" and the fact that they're a yearly opponent and rival, I would say they are definitely on topic. I really don't know what makes you think this a bad thread.


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I'd like to hear the MGoCommunity's opinion on Brian Kelly. Personally, I think he's one of the better coaches in the country and that he'll take Notre Dame to BCS games. They will never be "back" according to their expectations because the world has changed since they were on top, just like there will never be a comparable Ten Year War.


February 8th, 2011 at 8:45 PM ^

Kelly succeeded at Grand Valley, CMU, and Cincinnati.  None of those programs have been nearly as successful since he left.  I have no reason to believe that he won't succeed at ND, a place where it is much easier to build a winner than it is at his previous stops.


February 8th, 2011 at 8:50 PM ^

Granted that he had Dan THE MAN LeFevour, but I'd say that CMU was more successful under Butch Jones than they were under BK.  However, we'll see how well they do with the recruits that BJ brought in now that what's his name is coaching there (and not doing too well after Y1 -- oh and the same w/ BJ at UC).

I just re-read what I wrote and that last sentence is a real screwjob.  I'm leaving work now.


February 8th, 2011 at 9:23 PM ^

Kelly also replaced a guy most, if not all, ND fans were happy to see go (as opposed to a guy who had been part of the program for 28 years).  And he got to coach a team with some decent talent.  And the folks at NDNation still hated his guts 3/4 of the way through the season and wanted him fired.


February 8th, 2011 at 11:31 PM ^


Notre Dame's defensive makeover, both on the field and in recruiting, came as a surprise to those who viewed Kelly primarily as a spread-offense guru. His last Cincinnati team ranked just 67th in total defense en route to a 12-0 regular season.

"In 21 years of being a head coach, most of the jobs I've had revolved around not just winning, but being exciting, being relevant, putting fans in the seats," said the former coach of Grand Valley State and Central Michigan. "None of those things matter at Notre Dame. I don't have to create an exciting offense, I just have to win football games, and defense goes hand in hand with winning."


February 9th, 2011 at 1:26 AM ^

Wins at USC and at home vs. #14 Utah were different. He got trounced by ND's version of MSU (Navy) but still beat their "Ohio State" in his first year. He also curbstomped Miami in a halfway respectable bowl.

Sadly, Brian Kelly will do well at ND. I'm just really hoping that Mattison is quite a bit better.


February 8th, 2011 at 9:59 PM ^

Chuck Martin isn't the coach anymore -- he's on Kelly's staff at Notre Dame, I think as defensive backs coach.

And to say Martin was just as successful isn't a very true representation of the situation. That's basically like saying Bill Stewart has been as successful at West Virginia as RichRod was because their overall win percentages at WVU are about the same. One guy built the program into a dominant power that has sustained itself; the other has ridden his coattails to a similar level of overall success.


February 8th, 2011 at 10:39 PM ^

It's a misconception that Kelly built GVSU from the ground up.  The program won at an incredibly high level under former coach Beck for many years, and won for a long time before him as well.  Two years before Kelly took over, the team averaged 480 yards of offense and 44.5 points per game.  At CMU, he was on the way up but left before we could see what would happen.  By no means am I saying that Kelly is not an outstanding coach.  As a Michigan fan, the guy scares me to death.  But I think the situation in Grand Valley was also one of sustaining, not building.  


February 8th, 2011 at 10:52 PM ^

I actually went to Grand Valley shortly after Kelly had taken over, and I know the program was good. I didn't mean to imply that he built it from a doormat to a national power ... but he certainly took it to never-before-seen heights, and he's done the same thing at each of his other stops since then.

That sort of fast, consistent, repeated success leads me to believe Notre Dame will be very good, very soon.


February 9th, 2011 at 9:35 AM ^

The comment that I was responding to was:

None of those programs have been nearly as successful since he left.

GVSU was as successful, if not more successful, in the 6 years that Martin coached immediately after BK.

As far as your WVU comparison, it doesn't hold water.  They have been an also ran under Stewart. 


February 8th, 2011 at 8:48 PM ^

Unlike Willingham and Weis, Brian Kelly knows how to recruit and coach, with great emphasis on the coaching part.  Oh, and he can recruit.  So, yeah.

Eye of the Tiger

February 8th, 2011 at 9:08 PM ^

Both Willingham and Weis were successful before they had their recruits lined up.  That is, while they both recruited highly-touted classes, they did much better better when playing with someone else's recruits. 

Weis, in particular, had success with Willingham's recruits.  Then he recruited well.  Then he tanked.  

I find this odd.  I find it comforting.  I hope it's some sort of divine curse.  I doubt it is.  I can't explain it though.  




February 8th, 2011 at 9:15 PM ^

Even if this class turns into a great one on the field (not just on paper), the results won't be in for at least another 3-4 years (especially when you are talking about defensive players).  By that time an opinion about Kelly will have already been formed by folks in the media and ND fans. 

If ND is going to be back any time soon, it will be because there is enough in the cupboard to put together a solid defense around Te'o and either Crist or Rees is able to become an elite starting QB over the next few years.  If that doesn't happen, Kelly likely won't get a chance to see this recruiting class reach its senior season.

Eye of the Tiger

February 8th, 2011 at 9:26 PM ^

This is the same sportswriter who declared, after we beat ND in 2009, that we were better than OSU and Pryor should have gone to Michigan.  The latter point I don't disagree with (though I'm glad we have Denard instead going into 2011).  But it was a ridiculous thing to write on the basis of one game against a not-great opponent.  

That said, I feel like the article is a good starting point for discussion of ND's future. They ALWAYS have good recruits, but even with a little early success, can't seem to put it together in the long-run.

What are the chances Kelly does so with T'eo, Crist, etc., and then sustains it with his own recruits?  This is what the last two couldn't manage.   


February 8th, 2011 at 9:47 PM ^

Willingham never really got a shot to sustain anything with his guys.  Who knows how things would have changed long term, but obviously they jumped the gun there and compounded the problem by giving Weis all the credit (in the form of a ten year extension) when Ty's young players matured into a ten win team as juniors/seniors. 

With the other guys, you have two coaches who probably never should have been hired in the first place.  Davie had never been a head coach and didn't really have a gameplan on offense.  They went back and forth from "let's go pass-happy to get Powlus that Heisman" to playing a series of option QB's Holtz had recruited without letting them run the option. 

Weis is/was a great offensive playcaller (who had also never been a head coach), but had no experience building or developing a college team.  He ran practices like an NFL guy (giving the overwhelming bulk of the reps to his first team) and as such ignored the young players who he would be depending on down the road.  I think he succeeded at attracting talent, but I don't think he was ever able to identify talent on a consistent basis (hence the high recruiting rankings with the limited payoff), especially on defense where other than Te'o I can't think of any really top-notch players they've had recently.

Kelly avoids the "never been a college head coach" problem (one that also doomed ND with Gerry Faust) so he's got a shot right there.  I'm not really sold on the guy but I wouldn't be surprised at all if he's successful there given a chance to build a program.  At the same time, he may have to make a BCS game in the next few years (and not get blown out) if he's going to get a shot to see it come to fruition.


February 8th, 2011 at 10:23 PM ^

I've heard it said (by some Domers in my office) that the early success Weis had was with some *Bob Davie* recruits.

I'm murky on the details, but the general idea is that Willingham was responsible for somewhere between two and three recruiting classes.  Charlie's most senior players (especially the first year) were actually Davie (not Willingham) recruits.

Willingham's two full classes (his last ones) were disasters by ND standards.

If I'm off-base here, would someone please set me straight?

- - -

There are some parallels with the current UMich situation.  I'll be genuinely surprised if most Michigan fans (especially Lloyd Loyalists) remember that all of next year's 5th-year players (e.g., Molk) and at least half of the 4th-year ones (e.g., Martin) are Lloyd's recruits.

I'm fully expecting some of the Lloyd Loyalists to scream "EMPTY CUPBOARD" if things don't go well next year.  (They've probably been wanting to do that for a long time, which is partly understandable.)  In a couple years, when the '09 defensive class and the '10 O-line class (currently one guy) are near the end, they'll be justified in doing so.


February 8th, 2011 at 10:58 PM ^

I was always under the impression that those classes were badmouthed because the rankings were low (and that this was a big reason Willingham was fired). 

The 2003 class looks a lot better when you look at the actual players the guys became rather than their recruiting rankings.  8 of the 21 guys went on to be NFL draft picks (Ryan Harris, Trevor Laws, John Carlson, John Sullivan, Brady Quinn, Victor Abiamiri, Chinedum Ndukwe, and Tom Zbikowski).  All but Sullivan and Ndukwe went in the first three rounds.  That list doesn't include Jeff Samardzija either.  You can't get much more out of a class than that and those guys were a huge part of Weis's early success.

The 2004 class and the split Weis/Willingham 2005 class both pretty much sucked balls (only four 4-star recruits in two years according to Rivals).  That '04 class had six 2-star recruits which, WTF?  Then Weis had a huge (28 guys), highly ranked class in 2006 that produced very little in the way of actually productive players (two 6th round draft picks on the o-line and a bunch of busts/transfers).




February 8th, 2011 at 11:57 PM ^

Recruiting "success" isn't about getting the most four- and five-star guys according to Rivals/Scout. It's about finding the guys who are going to be most successful on the field in your particular system.

I don't always agree with you, PurpleStuff, but I'll definitely +1 this comment. Thanks for taking the time to show what those classes actually became.


February 8th, 2011 at 9:31 PM ^

I believe that year in and year out ND makes recruiting services cringe at the results they produce on the field. I am still of the opinion they don't have the right QB their nor does the offensive line resemble anything that will be turning heads next year. Their defense much like ours can only get better.


February 8th, 2011 at 11:48 PM ^

God, I get so sick of hearing about how Notre Dame is back.  Their fans have been saying they're back since 1996.  Now a writer is claiming they're back before they're even back. 

Some late season surge in 2010.  Beating a 7-6 Army team, an 8-5 USC team and a 7-6 Miami team in a Who Cares Bowl.  Only at ND do you get praise for beating teams like that. 

Screw Notre Dame. 


February 9th, 2011 at 7:59 AM ^

No defensive recruiting efforts made under Weis.  Much like Rodriguez, an offensive genius, Weis was saddled with a piss poor defense.

And to even suggest that Willingham have been kept on, I give you Evidence Exhibit A.  The Washington Huskies deconstruction by Ty "On The Golf Course" Willingham.


February 9th, 2011 at 2:33 PM ^

Washington was 1-10 the year before Ty got there.  Hard to destroy an already broken program.  He got them to 2, 5 (with a near miss at USC), and 4 wins in his first three years.  In year 4 he lost to end of season #10 Oregon, lost to end of season #25 BYU on a missed extra point caused by a bogus celebration penalty, then lost to end of season #5 Oklahoma (the team that lost in the national title game).  Locker got hurt the next week against Stanford, the wheels came off, and Willingham got fired in mid-season.  Two years later, knucklehead Steve Sarkisian was able to take Ty's players (including a senior Jake Locker) to a third place finish in the Pac 10 and a Holiday Bowl win.


Eye of the Tiger

February 9th, 2011 at 9:25 PM ^

I was in Seattle for the whole Gilbertson and Willingham drama, surrounded by UW alums who started off thrilled about landing Willingham and then just flat out embarrassed by how his tenure ended.  

Yes, Willingham did take over a mess of a program from Keith Gilbertson.  But actually Gilbertson had only been there for 2 years, one of which was a 6-6 season.  Before that the program had consistently won--and recruited fairly well--under Neuheisel.  So when Willingham came in he wasn't forced to play Gilbertson's players, but Neuheisel's.  The first season was terrible, barely better than the one before it, the low point being the loss to an awful WSU team.

His second season (2006) was promising, and UW looked like it was going places until Stanback got hurt.  His third season was disappointing.

Then, finally, there was the horrific 0-13 season.  This was Willingham's fourth, when he had his own players and had plenty of time to instill the culture he wanted.  Sure Locker went down, but 0-13?? Again, he lost 13 games...with Don James' he became the only coach in UW history to post 4 consecutive losing seasons.  Any way you cut it, for proud UW alumni, this was an intolerable embarrassment and, really, a pretty bad coaching job by Willingham.