Let’s face it…21st century Notre Dame football isn’t your father or grandfather’s Notre Dame football. It isn’t Knute Rockne, Joe Montana, or even Rudy’s Notre Dame football. Some would argue whether the Irish have even been playing the game of football for the better part of the last two decades.
The 2012 Irish are now, 10-0 though. Irish fans and the city of South Bend have been in a frenzy. The Fighting Irish are actually fighting again. How did it happen so fast?
While the Irish were fading into mediocrity, a young coach named Brian Kelly was just getting his career started at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Kelly coached 13 seasons at GVSU and turned the program into a Division II juggernaut. The Lakers won back to back Division II National Championships in 2002-2003, accumulating only one loss in those two seasons.
By the time Kelly was done at GVSU, he had amassed 118 wins to only 35 losses. A three year record of 41-2, along with the two national championships, obviously couldn’t be ignored and Kelly moved on to nearby Central Michigan where he was able to work his magic, again.
Kelly inherited a less-than-stellar team at CMU. The Chippewas had only won four games in the season before Kelly’s hiring. In 2006, only three years later, they won the MAC Championship and earned the right to play in the Motor City Bowl. After another impressive turnaround, Kelly was offered the job at the University of Cincinnati.
In his first season with the Bearcats, Kelly’s team had the second best season in school history, winning 10 games and earning the right to play in a bowl game. He was awarded Big East Coach of the Year. Cincinnati did even better in the following year by winning the 2008 Big East title and playing in the Orange Bowl.
In 2009, Kelly became somewhat of a household name when his Bearcats posted a perfect 12-0 season. The improbable season began with his team not even ranked in the top 25 and ended at the BCS Sugar Bowl as the number-three ranked team in the nation. Unfortunately, Kelly wasn’t able to coach that game.
Why? Because he took a job that seemed to be made for him. He was hired as the Head Coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The two are a perfect fit for each other. The Irish have been a punchline in recent memory and the die-hard Notre Dame football following certainly hasn’t grown. Many critics openly doubted that the Irish could ever compete again because the academic requirements and social restrictions Notre Dame expects their athletes to abide by.
Kelly has no problem with that. His young men at Cincinnati, who finished unbeaten, also accumulated the highest academic rating out of all the BCS teams in 2009.Kelly also knows more than just “something” about turning a collegiate football program from a dud into a contender. His time at GVSU, CMU, and Cincinnati wasn’t a fluke and someone at Notre Dame was paying attention.
And, so, here we are. It is Kelly’s second season at Notre Dame and they’re not just relevant again, they’re undefeated and are contending for the BCS National Championship.
He’s turned his programs into football gold wherever he has gone and if you ask people around the Golden Dome in South Bend, Indiana, they couldn’t be more excited and happy that Kelly is one of theirs.
After the mess Charlie Weis left behind, there’s only one way to explain such an amazing turnaround for the most decorated team in College Football history…
THE LUCK OF THE IRISH!
Joe Fries is a sports writer and golf pro living in Indiana. You can follow him on Twitter @The7thFreezer.