It’s hard not like some of the off-season moves by Brian Kelly, but hell, any moves look good next to a 4-8 debacle and three years of terrible defense.
What’s apparent from all sources is that Longo and Booker have been a problem for years. Brian Van Gorder, from the FSU game on, has been a disaster as a defensive coordinator. One can make a very good case for the hires of Mike Elko and Brian Polian. The latter coached special teams under Harbaugh at Stanford and was recruiting coordinator for their best recruiting class in history. But now, with the news of Mike Denbrock leaving*, it’s clear Kelly hasn’t evaluated himself on offense as he’s evaluated the rest of the team.
While he was known for his offense at Cincinnati, his defenses were actually better than his offenses in two of three years. Kelly’s early offenses were at Notre Dame were middling to terrible. He consistently asks his quarterbacks to shoulder too much of the load which leads to inevitable breakdowns. Even his best offense in 2015 couldn’t push around a depleted Ohio State defense at the line of scrimmage. It was embarrassing.
Kelly has proven himself to be a constant meddler and tinkerer, pushing Notre Dame into a precision passing game (which is an oxymoron in college football with 20 hours a week to practice.) Last year’s three ring coaching circus starting with two quarterbacks starting the year was hideous to watch. Sanford was the OC, Denbrock called the plays (or whatever th F&$%’was going on) and Kelly was in the middle of the mess making it messier.
Kelly hasn’t shown the CEO ability to hire the right guy and then coach him to establish an offense with a power identity. Instead he tricks himself into thinking his plays could work… if only … much like Weis and Van Gorder did as noted a previous columns:
his players don’t have enough practice time to be able to execute what is schematically possible, however enticing, without a high risk of error. Charlie Weis always bemoaned what was possible and that his players just weren’t able to execute the plays that were possible; seemingly forgetting that there are more moving parts on pass plays and thus more risk.
When the highly predictable breakdowns occur, Kelly screams at players rather than his own inability to see his scheme and play calling as the real problem.
Kelly’s only “Notre Dame worthy season” came when Martin became OC and established the run and protected the defense. And even though that offense was putrid from an output perspective, it held the ball, wore down opponents and helped toughened up the defense which was among the top in the country. When your defense is constantly practicing against such a passing efficiency based offense, it’s hard if not impossible to develop the rock hard mentality needed to trudge through a season undefeated. So Kelly’s offensive choices are affecting the defense’s ability to perform.
Despite that success while running the ball, Kelly, ever the tinkerer, seems determined to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. You can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem. Perseverance is one thing, myopic arrogance is another. Einstein, Kelly is not. He can be a tough-nosed bulldog and he certainly has good enough players to win if has the self-awareness to see his offensive passing fancy as the problem.
Does Brian want to be known as a head coach or an offensive tinkerer?
If it’s the latter, his epitaph is already written.
*This is not an endorsement of Denbrock as his track record as an OC, outside of the LSU bowl game(a thing of beauty), is very unclear.