No one ever knows whether a coaching hire is going to work; even can't-miss marriages sometimes do.
A college can only hire the guy who answers the most questions, the candidate who has the fewest doubts possible. That man for Notre Dame is Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, a hiring I called for last month when it was clear Charlie Weis was a goner. Now that it's official, there should be joy in South Bend.
Kelly has extensive experience as a head coach – 20 seasons of it. He's a proven winner, putting together championship teams at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan, mid-major Central Michigan and BCS affiliate Cincinnati.
He's a known recruiter, particularly in Notre Dame's Midwestern base. He understands all of the peripheral duties that come with college coaching – alumni, faculty relations, media, etc.
Weis, when he was hired as the offensive coordinator from the New England Patriots, had done none of these things. He proved capable at some of the jobs, but not enough. In the end, despite recruiting some great talent and putting together an explosive offense, he couldn't win enough games. Notre Dame was 6-6 this year.
Weis was a gamble for Notre Dame. Kelly is a safe – yet no less exciting – choice for the Irish. It's certainly possible it won't work, but there are simply no signs to suggest that.
No matter the endless chorus of detractors, Notre Dame remains one of the dozen best jobs in college football – a combination of resources, tradition, facilities, media exposure and scheduling flexibility. It may not be No. 1, but it isn't just any old place either.
Weis should be forever thanked for proving that highly sought recruits still want to play in South Bend. His problem wasn't beating Southern California or Florida for talented high school prospects, even with Notre Dame's higher academic standards. Indeed, only Florida, Alabama, USC, Tennessee and Ohio State signed more Rivals.com five-star recruits the past four years than Notre Dame.
Weis just couldn't coach them well enough, losing multiple games each season to lesser-talented clubs such as Navy, Syracuse, Connecticut and so on.
It's why one of Kelly's chief attributes should be so valuable – he knows how to win with other people's players.
This isn't Rich Rodriguez going to Michigan and demanding the roster change dramatically for him rather than he change even a little bit for it. Rodriguez wants to run the spread and the spread only and if that meant watching a guy such as Ryan Mallett, possibly the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL draft, transfer to Arkansas, then so be it.
Of course, so be it meant 1-7 in Big Ten play for the Wolverines.
Kelly has won with every kind of roster imaginable. He's a coach, not a system. In Division II you adapt your game plan to your players because you can't just go out and get the perfect group of players.
He's always been about scanning his roster and finding guys he could make better. He develops what he has, not curses what he doesn't. That included not just this year's starting QB, Tony Pike, who was once a fifth-stringer for the Bearcats. It includes Pike's midseason replacement, Zach Collaros, forced into action when Pike was injured.
Kelly's teams don't miss a beat.
It's why he should make an immediate impact on Notre Dame next season. Losing quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate to the NFL doesn't help, but Weis didn't leave a bare cupboard.
Clausen's replacement will be former five-star recruit Dayne Crist, a redshirt sophomore with NFL potential. Game breaking receiver Michael Floyd and star tight end Kyle Rudolph also return. The defense should be more experienced and, of course, better if only because they can't be much worse.
There is a strong recruiting class that can still be salvaged. The schedule is promising, just three true road games.
Kelly, 48, and a native of the north shore of Boston, is walking into a very good situation and when he's done that before he's won. This is not a guy who kicks away talented teams. If his clubs aren't overachieving, they're at least achieving. He just went a ridiculous 34-6 at Cincinnati, of all places.
He ought to be able to duplicate the immediate success that sent the Irish fan base into a tizzy when both Weis and Tyrone Willingham had big first seasons. The difference is Kelly should be able to sustain it.
At least that's what the track record says, which is all you can judge at this point.
Notre Dame just hired a proven winner, a proven coach. That's what they desperately needed.
Brian Kelly, the self-made man, has done everything in college football except win a BCS title game.
If that for some reason proved to be the only hurdle he can't clear, well, after the last 16 years the Irish will more than live with it.
- Notre Dame
- Charlie Weis
- Brian Kelly