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Notre Dame Football: Is Brian Kelly on the Hot Seat?

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COMMENTARY | Well, let's just answer this right away: of course not.

So I apologize if my title trolled the audience a bit. But after barely escaping at home vs. Navy and then losing to an underwhelming Pitt squad, the Irish appear to be fading a bit.

Now in his 4th season in South Bend, Brian Kelly has cemented himself as the leader of the Fighting Irish, and he doesn't appear to be headed anywhere else. Of course, there was that offseason flirtation with the Philadelphia Eagles. Given the volatility of the NFL, there will be no shortage of available jobs in 2014 either.

If Kelly were to trade Saturdays for Sundays, that would be his choice. Given how low his predecessors set the bar, Kelly can continue to jump over it year after year. After all, he did lead the Irish to the BCS championship game in just his third season. But is there anything that could happen at Notre Dame that would put him on the hot seat?

It'll be a slow week for Notre Dame football, so let's take a look at five scenarios or events that could perhaps lead to Kelly's ouster:

A losing streak

Notre Dame's worst stretch under Brian Kelly came in the 2010 season, his first in South Bend. After beating Purdue to open the campaign, the Irish fell to Michigan, Michigan State, and Stanford. Only the latter game was a blowout, but it still might have been easier to stomach than the OT loss to MSU.

That was the infamous game in which the Spartans converted a fake field goal for the winning touchdown, a play that stopped the hearts of the Irish faithful. It had a similar effect on Dantonio, as he literally suffered a heart attack on the sideline following the game.

The 2011 season opened and closed with two losses, but all of that was forgotten in 2012 as the Irish went uNDefeated en route to a rout by Alabama. By and large, Notre Dame has won the games it was supposed to. But the Irish were supposed to beat Pitt. And if they should happen to falter against BYU, they would head to Palo Alto to face the heavily favored Stanford Cardinal on a two-game skid.

As unlikely as it is, three losses to end the 2013 season won't cost Brian Kelly his job. But it certainly won't help things. And for a team only one year removed from a national title shot, playing in the Little Caesar's Bowl might ring hollow to fans and alumni alike.

Continued bowl game futility

Including that aforementioned triumph in the Sun Bowl, Notre Dame has only 2 victories in its last 13 bowl games, a run that extends back to 1995. The other win, in the 2008 Hawai'i Bowl, snapped a 9-bowl losing streak for the Irish.

As a result of ND's popularity, it is at the top of the list when it comes to at-large berths in the BCS games. While that's good for the bottom line, ND has regularly been exposed by opponents that are far superior and has gone 0-6 in BCS bowl games.

So whether it's the Fiesta or the Fight Hunger, Brian Kelly needs to win a bowl game. Maybe losing a few games in the regular season isn't such a bad thing, as ND will not be an option for the premier bowls and might get to bully a weaker opponent.

Another controversy

Losing games is one thing, and even as big as football is at Notre Dame, a few defeats here and there won't tarnish the institution. A scandal related to the football program, however, could have disastrous effects. Thus far, Brian Kelly has come out of the controversy surrounding the deaths of Lizzy Seeberg, Declan Sullivan, and Lenay Kekua relatively unscathed.

But this isn't the University of Florida, where 31 players were reportedly arrested under Urban Meyer's watchful eye. This is Notre Dame, and the smear of another scandal can't be fixed by one of Rick Reilly's shiny bandages. Repeated little scandals, or perhaps another big one, could be more tarnish on the Golden Dome than even Brian Kelly can buff out.

An affair

I'm not talking about a dalliance of the extra-marital variety, but, rather, clandestine meetings with suitors from the NFL. The appeal of the sport's highest level cannot be denied, but Notre Dame and its fans still aren't going to look kindly upon it if their coach repeatedly gets googly eyed over another job. However, it's the Irish players and recruits who are the most important and most influenced in situations like these.

Losing the team

Games, sanity, dignity. A coach can often suffer the loss of one or more of these and still maintain his job; just ask Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State. But the one thing you can't lose is the trust and attention of your team. If the players quit on you, all hope for success is gone.

Whether it's due to the inability to translate a decided schematic advantage into player development and wins, or the continued flirting with other jobs, a coach can lose the trust of his players. Football is the ultimate team sport and requires that everyone is on the same page working with and for one another.

At this point, there's no doubt that Brian Kelly's players have faith in him, that they trust him to be there for them. But it doesn't take much to erode that faith: a job interview here, cover-up there. And once the team is lost, there's no getting it back.

Of course, this is all hypothetical. Brian Kelly has the Irish pointed in the right direction and there don't appear to be signs of strife in the program. But situations can change in an instant.

Can you think of a situation that might put him on the hot seat? Comment below.

Evan Altman is a freelance sportswriter with a vast collection of useless trivia and pop culture references. He grew up in Northwest Indiana watching the Irish on WNDU-TV and reading about them in the South Bend Tribune.
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