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  • Time to Answer the Door

    by Mike Coffey

    This started out as a WT&K column, but I found myself gravitating towards the same subject over and over and figured I may as well just write about it.  So those of you still unsure about what Mike Royko said will have to wait another week.

    When looking at the 2017 season so far, it’s tempting to hold it up next to 2016 and declare it an unconditional success.  We’ve won more than twice as many games, haven’t we?  The team looked stronger and beat a number of ranked opponents, didn’t they?  If we can’t be happy with a five-win improvement, what will make us happy?

    As they say in Monty Python, that’s as it may be, but it’s still a frog.  Or at least could be.  Ribbit.

    I refuse to use the 4-8 debacle of last year as any kind of benchmark of what Notre Dame football can and should be.  4-8 is supposed to get everyone fired, so doing better than 4-8 really doesn’t do anything for me.  If I walk down the stairs without tripping, it’s not an earth-shattering achievement, so I fail to see why I should consider improving from 4-8 to be one.  I’m not about to give someone credit for not crapping all over themselves, particularly when said crapping was, via the inappropriate retention of assistant coaches well beyond the point of reasonableness, completely within his control.

    Rather, this season should be compared against what we want and expect for Notre Dame football as a program.  On that scale, the opportunity remains to show progress, but there is still much work to be done.

    If the Fighting Irish can travel to Stanford and beat a decent Cardinal team, that will give them 10 regular-season wins and their first win in California in three years.  If they are selected to a quality bowl game (which, given all indications, they likely will be regardless of the result Saturday), turn in a performance to match, and bring home a victory, that would be the first time since 1993 they’d be able to say they did it.  Either one of those things would be reason to be happy.  But if they did both, that would be an 11-2 season with a bowl win against a quality opponent, which would represent a definite, undeniable, and incontrovertible above-the-line season.


    Games we’ve watched so far in 2017 give evidence the brass ring is well within reach.  But based on ND’s recent performances, the possibility also exists they’ll come home from Palo Alto on the wrong end of a 14-point game, and then look unprepared in Dallas or Florida as they get handled on national television on New Year’s Day.  That’s a 9-4 season, well in the range of Coacho Cinco territory.  We’ve seen that script before, multiple times.  At this point, should it come to pass, it’s very reasonable to consider that kind of season to be Brian Kelly’s ceiling.  Which would leave a discerning viewer to wonder what the point of a continued engagement would be.

    So there it is, opportunity knocking at the door.  Finish 11-2 and leave no doubt this rebuild deserves another season to see if it can be done consistently.  9-4, give Brian Kelly the Lane Kiffen treatment as the team plane heads back to South Bend.  10-3?  A lot more limbo-ey, but worth rolling the dice on if the team looks good while doing it.

    via GIPHY

    52 Responses to “Time to Answer the Door”

    1. Big Game Brian says:

      Mostly agree. One caveat, if they lose at Stanford, I’m not sure their bowl opponent will be anything better then another 3-4 loss Oklahoma St/Miss St. type. That would be a solid game but winning that wouldn’t be enough for mr. They need to win a “money” type game when something is on the line which Saturday’s will be or I’d clean house. It’s not because 10-3 isn’t a good season but it’s because again they look like a tired, beat up team in November.

    2. Stanford and Whatever Bowl are not in Kelly’s repertoire this year.

    3. Kevin Riley says:

      Totally agree – the 4-8 was his own doing so improving on that does nothing for me. 11-2 with a win on Jan 1 (or whenever these bowl games are now) is a must. Another loss in these last 2 games and we are where we have always been – decent team, decent record but can’t ever beat anyone when it really counts. A loss this weekend gets us to a tier 2 bowl and then it really doesn’t matter because the opponent will be mediocre.

    4. Being ranked after the last 10 quarters is a miracle… not only has play calling gone astray, but the “stand up” tackling approach reared its ugly head… the Midshipmen actually knocked our lads backwards and on very few occasions not fallen forward for 3 – 4 yards… the long gain on 3rd and 8 with the left wing back going in motion 8 yds behind the line and evading the extended arms for a 1st down … the FB going for 18 yds on 3rd and long…. then again, we could make a hole for our backs,… and where was #2… the team tho 9 wins, smells on the master of “MY SYSTEM” of not taking what the def gives us… on & on

    5. After the debacle at Miami on national TV I can’t believe their game planning and play calling will improve against Stanford. Kelly’s offense is too predictable and their secondary on defense is too soft. I hope I’m wrong because I really like Kelly and I’m afraid of who would replace him.

    6. John Vannie says:

      After eight seasons, there are some obvious truths about Kelly. Unless he has superior talent, he’s not going to win games against the better FBS coaches. In fact, he will inexplicably lose games to teams with inferior talent by getting out coached. He’ll also lose more often than not when the talent levels are relatively equal, mainly because he is so predictable and inflexible.

      The latest example was in Miami, whose roster is not better than Notre Dame’s. Kelly was also out coached against Navy, who dictated the game from the opening whistle. Only a severe talent deficiency led to a narrow loss in a game that should have been a 3-4 touchdown differential. Stanford has less talent than ND this year, but Shaw is a far better coach. I’m not overly optimistic about that game.

      • J Van thanks for input and being very honest. The truth is outcoaching has been at the core of why we can’t finish a season ready to compete at the end of the year. We are so beat up and tired because the coach and staff has no clue as to our strengths and weakness and how to get through a game at the end like Navy. Assignment football is not that difficult against the triple option of Navy. Beat up or not the coaching staff must provide a game plan for an easy win after losing to Miami.

    7. I agree with Kelly needing to go if he loses next two games. Especially if we look bad. I don’t see
      him getting fired though. They spent too much on new assistant coaches and they still got Kelly on
      contract for a few more years. They don’t want to pay another coach to go away. Not to mention we
      don’t have anyone better lined up to replace him.

    8. You move on. You already know what you have in Kelly you don’t need another game or another year.
      Gruden 10m up front, and 40m 5 year contract, minimum

    9. Stanford will take it to us.. Our Defense has weary legs after letting Navy manhandle them
      for 43 minutes.. Are you kidding me?

      Get off the field D. And if we can’t run the ball against Navy, we have no business being in a
      BCS Bowl Game.

      Not impressed over the last 3 weeks.. BK is not an “elite” coach..

    10. Stanford has a nice team. Decent running game, adequate, but inconsistent passing game, physical and sound defense, fair kicking game from punts, to coverage, kick-offs the same as previous. I think their punt return can be dangerous and their kick-off return also. That being said, the Irish should beat the Trees. ND seems to be the better team. Equal in all regards except their receivers are taller,
      Irish DBs shorter, the Irish running backs are better from a physical and ability standpoint. Stanford has a distinct edge at fullback since the Irish don’t acknowledge the position exists. And this is where the Trees have it. Comparing the coaching, and philosophy of the guy at the top, Stanford can muscle ND and Kelly can’t match up. Maybe 2.0 can but not sure if a tired defense with little depth, can overcome the negatives.

    11. irishhawk50 says:

      This note makes a 100% agreement with the article and the 9 responses so far. Are we all looking through mud colored glasses? Don’t think so.

    12. This article is spot on. No victory in improving rom 4/8. that unforgivable season was a disaster and it is on Kelly. NO excuses. If we win out this season then Kelly will have crossed a major hurdle. that is–he will have had to win a big bowl game and he will have to beat a good team on the road in Stanford. To date he has not shown he is capable of either. If we lose those games I agree he will not be fired but he should be. ND is lucky with the NBC contract. If NBC threatened to not re-up because we have been mediocre, my guess is Kelly have been gone by now but with the money guaranteed even with a poor season ND can take the “high ground” because there is no real consequence for losing.

    13. Iced Coffey says:

      CFB Playoffs:

      Irish v Buckeyes
      Alabama v Oklahoma

      But only if Wimbush is wearing a red-shirt on the sidelines against the Cardinal.

    14. If y’all are waiting for him to get fired after a 10-3 season, you’re going to have to wait a while. I doubt he gets fired after 9-4 either, but the program will definitely be in purgatory at that point.

      • JDM speaks the sad truth. The triumvirate of Johnny J, Swarbrick and BK along with the NBC contract have turned South Bend into a cash cow. We have sold our soul to revenues and not much else since the three have been in control. Let’s sign another long term deal with everyone and see how it goes. Not the ND i remember from my youth. Oldest son got a great degree from ND…only saving grace. Why can’t we get back to that. Great students…Great teams… Forget the revenues.

    15. Wow some great insight and comments here. I have never put faith in BK from the handling of season one and continued after all the big game losses over eight seasons. It started with Tulsa loss way back when after the first season debacle. Never thought he became an elight coach. I do however have to take into account that this Irish squad has suffered the same final drive fate for years. No coincidence they look tired and beaten up after every season as an independent traveling cross country to play the likes of Stanford, USC, Michigan, MSU, Oklahoma and Georgia. Now add ACC schedule teams and not a lot of room for any cream puffs. Irish are set up to be at this point most years as beat up and tired. I don’t like BK but I have to wonder if Independent schedule and our pride in playing such a season has taken a toll. I would gladly give up all that the NBC contract brings to get back to ND Football and
      Get in a conference that gives us some sort of an easier route to end of season and ready to play for a conference championship. It’s 2017 and obviously we need a change to be fresher and less banged up to compete at end of the year. Thoughts?

    16. Miami and Navy unmasked “Notre Dame 2016 deja vu”

      Unless nick saban shows up coaching w/ a Kelly mask at Stanford, ND loses by 17 plus.

      The bowl game will be irrelevant.

      Swarbrick just might wise up and replace him in January.

    17. WeNeedaRocket says:

      I hate to be the one to write this, but it’s not all coaching, ND still has a talent gap in speed, depth and passion. I don’t know a coach who can teach a tight end how to catch a ball, a QB to throw in rhythm with touch and receivers catch more challenging throws. At some point the players have to perform and here lies the talent gap. I love the Irish but we don’t have the characters and talent of the Rocket, Zorich, Lyght, Prichett and Watters. Today we have one or two but not a host of talent, ND needs to look inward and address that first and worry about coaching later. Lower the academic standards a little and ND would be a powerhouse again.

      Just look at this roster:

      Where’s the next Rocket?? His passion and confidence was second to none!

      • Mike Coffey says:

        And who is responsible for recruiting that talent?

        • It’d be interesting to see a list of guys who had committable offers who are playing elsewhere and imagine who could be on this team right now – there are definitely some players out there (thinking in particular of Ronald Jones, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Demetrius Robertson, and Caleb Kelly), but if I had to guess, probably more than half of the 5-stars out there aren’t even eligible to play at ND (including about 90%+ of the high-4 and 5-star defensive tackles). This was not the case in the heydey with the then-lower standards, so it’s a little silly to expect things to get back to Holtzian heights (as it seems most of the commenters here do).

          That said, we did indeed not get Jones/Fitzpatrick/Robertson/Kelly, the team is distinctly worse than it would be had we done so. And if we got distinctly better, we’d probably at least have beaten Georgia and would still be in the playoff race. So that’s on BK.

          In short: notwithstanding that folks here don’t like to hear it, it is indeed harder to win now than in 1988. But it’s not as hard as they’ve been making it look.

    18. WeNeedaRocket says:

      First, I think Kelly and his staff have done a great job recruiting within the confines of how they can recruit. But, you can’t recruit the top talent if they can’t get into the school academically. Top talent will go where it is easier academically and where they are already winning. If ND didn’t lower the standards during the Holtz era ND wouldn’t of been that talented and deep. That’s the point. Across the board ND does not have the depth of top talent. Coaching doesn’t dictate academic policies and standards. The realization is the best talented football players for the most part are not the best academically and they will take the path of least resistance, where hopefully these kids take academics more seriously in college but they won’t be accepted into school at ND. You can make a cake with salt instead of sugar and it will look the same but taste like crap.

      • Mike Coffey says:

        Horse manure. If you truly believe ND’s admissions standards are at stratospheric levels these days, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you’ll be interested in. Back in the days, players couldn’t even get a scholarship offer until they’d hit a qualifying test score. Not the case today. Brian Kelly has been given pretty much everything Urban Meyer asked for when ND went after him, and that comes right from someone who works in ND admissions.

        • Big Game Brian says:

          Listen most of us want Kelly gone but we can also be realistic about what he’s working with as well. Do you really see elite speed at the key positions? Watch any game and you can see LB’s who can move side to side much quicker then ours typically can. Do you see elite pass rushers blazing around the end? Do you see corners bump and running daring them to beat them over the top? We can get some of the elite offensive players but we never get the defensive ones. They end up at moron schools. This is one hundred percent true. Which is why the top of the SEC wins or plays for the title just about every year. Mix in Ohio St littered with top NFL defensive prospects and FSU and you have your finalists every season.

          • Mike Coffey says:

            If we don’t see elite speed at key positions, blame the people recruiting it. No, they can’t recruit everyone, but they can recruit a lot better than they’ve done, and they sure as hell can do a lot more with that talent when they come to ND.

      • WeNeedaRocket, I agree 90% with you. It is very hard to recruit well when our athletes have to meet the same academic standards as the rest of the students we admit, but I would take issue with the absolute term you use – “can’t”. The fact that our recruiting classes are in the top 25 year after year tells me it’s possible.

        Mike, the fact that ND’s student athletes have a 98% graduation rate suggests your opinion of my alma mater is somewhat uninformed. I also respectfully take exception with the tone of your response.

        I happen to support Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick, but I respect the opinions of those who don’t. I would like to ask that all of my fellow ND fans please take a deep breath and, while feeling free to express your feelings, please respect each other’s opinions. We are not the SEC.

        • Mike Coffey says:

          It’s my alma mater too, chief. The fact that 98 percent of student athletes graduate is a function of how hard ND works to give them a quality education and the emphasis they put on it, which is a good thing. It’s also not a binary condition vs. contending for and winning championships. If four or five losses a season is fine by you, knock yourself out, but it sure as hell ain’t fine by me.

          • Mike, I definitely agree that we can compete at the highest level AND keep our academic soul at the same time, but I don’t think anyone can reasonably disagree that holding our athletes to the same academic standards as the rest of our students handicaps us to some degree. I’m willing to accept that. I also think a 4-win season is unacceptable under any standard. I hope that point came across in my first comment when I pointed out it’s challenging, but not impossible, for us to recruit top talent.

            I will point out that our last 3 classes, including 2018, are all in the top 15 classes, according to 24/7 Sports.

        • I think there needs to be some sense from both sides here. There are certain things that we actually can’t do: given our we can’t recruit a truly balanced class that competes with the likes of Bama/Ohio State/LSU/etc. Weis had top-3ish classes in terms of overall rankings, but those were weighted towards offensive skill positions, which came back to bite us. The lack of balance is because we can’t consistently recruit top-tier DL classes; in order for us to get one of the three best DL classes in the country in any given year, we’d have to get basically all of the high-4 and 5-star recruits that can get into ND to come to us (note that this basically happened in 2011, which was a minor miracle and included Aaron Lynch, so it didn’t really work out in the end; in any case, it’s absurd to expect 2011-type DL classes consistently).

          What we can do, and what I think the posters from the RH hive mind are most right about, is to play to our strengths. That is, our strategy and focus as a program should be based around where we *can* somewhat consistently recruit top-3 classes in a given position: quarterback, offensive line, tight ends, linebackers.

          So, more running and more tight end play. Seems like they’re figuring it out (finally).

    19. WeNeedaRocket says:

      For this conversation, try to remove the coaching and recruiting perspective, and strictly look at the talent holistically with ND versus Alabama, Clemson or any consistent top tier program. Tell me why young kids wouldn’t come to ND? It’s not because they wouldn’t get exposure, ND is still a national brand and recognized, they are on TV every week even more than the two programs I listed prior. Unless we want to accept that ND just isn’t as desirable to young great football talent, what else can it be? Remember try to remove coaching and recruiting from this argument. And, what are some of the hurdles you would have? Throwing money, jumbotron and uniforms are not getting it done as you wrote and we have been searching for a “coach” for over two decades now. Why won’t a plethora of top talent come to ND for Football? Bring it back to a players level, we can’t catch, run or pass consistently as a top tier team needs to and that comes to ability of the players. Are the admission standards today at the level they were for Holtz?

      • Mike Coffey says:

        That’s like me asking why a child wouldn’t want to eat an ice cream cone and removing the ice cream perspective. Players want to go where they have the best chance to win, and when your team has sub-par coaching, that’s going to be a big strike against them. Notre Dame had high academic expectations prior to 2000 as well, and still managed to recruit. Charlie Weis got a top five recruiting class coming off a terrible season. So don’t tell me it can’t be done.

      • Mike Coffey says:

        And to answer your final question, yes, they are.

    20. In 2015 ND quickly fell behind 14-0 until a kickoff return by CJ Sanders cut the margin to 7. Given ND’s road woes against ranked opponents I wouldn’t be surprised if ND quickly finds themselves behind and trying to play catch up the entire game.

      I read that Kelly is now whining about how hard it is to win on the road against top 20 teams. So he’s telling the fan base not to expect too much from ND when they head to Stanford and probably expect to lose. This is a total loser mentality.

      If they drop the next two games then 9-4 would not be be a resounding success and miracle turnaround. That is not elite. ND should be 9-4 on an off year.

      It might be fine for Utah, Iowa or Mississippi, but it shouldn’t ok for Notre Dame. It seems like 8-9 wins is the new gold standard at ND as long as the money keeps flowing in.

    21. Big Game Brian says:

      Let’s be somewhat realistic and say a better coach should be able to have ND a consistent top 15-20 team who makes the playoff once every 5 years and wins a big bowl every 3. I would say that is the top of what any coach could do at Notre Dame in 2017. Still very solid and much better then Kelly but not the elite consistent team most of us think they can be.

      • Mike Coffey says:

        More defeatism. If “most of us think they can be” an elite consistent team, why can’t it happen? People assume ND only takes valedictorians and choirboys, which has never ever ever been the case.

        • Saying “we can’t be Alabama” isn’t defeatism; it’s realistic given the relative obstacles those respective programs face (demographically, academically, proximity to top recruits, etc.). I think one of the problems folks have with some people on this board is that it seems to promote the idea that ND can and should be a consistently dominant program like Bama, which is wildly (wildly, like super wildly) divorced from reality.

          Making the playoff every once in a while should be the goal, with playing in (and, about half the time, winning) major bowl games as average-to-good seasons, with some acceptable sub-par years thrown in there. That’s a realistic standard for the program, and BK hasn’t met that after 8(!) years. One can think he’s doing not a particularly great job without being like “WHY NOT A FEW NATTYS?!!?! GO GET GRUDEN!!!!”

          • To be clear, I’m not saying Mike is coming off as that unhinged person at the end; that’s more the style of some on the board.

        • Big Game Brian says:

          I’m not making any assumptions about the quality of every student-athlete. I’m sure there are some iffy kids let in. To show how delusional you are, you mocked the expectations I laid out despite them being much better then what we’ve seen for the last 20 years! You wouldn’t sign up for a playoff berth every 5 years, 1 big bowl win every 3 and a top 15-20 program every year?

          • John Vannie says:

            The expectations you laid out are much better than the results we’ve actually seen, so therein lies the disconnect. We haven’t made the playoffs yet, have not won a major bowl game since the 1993 season, and have been ranked in the top 20 only three times in the first seven seasons under Kelly. We finished #4 in 2012, #20 in 2013, and #11 in 2015. That’s it. Prior to 2012 we had not finished in the top 25 since 2006. By your own definition, you should be very unhappy with this lackluster performance.

            • Bye bye Kelly says:

              If your following the thread I was responding back to Mile’s comment that somehow my expectations are “defeatism” I am dissatisfied with Kelly and prefer we change but I do think we are to often expecting results that aren’t realistic. We can both be disappointed with his tenure and not also unrealistic of what their ceiling is no matter who coaches.

            • John Vannie says:

              It’s defeatism to suggest that a better coach isn’t out there who can achieve the expectations you have outlined. The bar has been lowered by a mediocre Athletic Director and a bumbling administration, but it can be raised if the right people are hired. We should not hold our breath, however, as long as the football cash machine continues to spit out money.

    22. Am believing Kelly’s inefficient or misguided recruiting is a big factor in the lack of depth at linebacker and defensive line positions. Looking at the skunk bears’ roster, Spartans’, Buckeyes’ and the high schools that their kids came from there are a lot of guys from schools ND had recruited. Lots of big, proven LBs especially. Many Catholic schools which mostly actually make kids earn grades to graduate. ND seems indifferent to these locations any more. Also, I question the development of recruits by their position coaches in the recent past. A head coach can have some guys on staff who are recruiters but needs people that can take kids to the next stage, or at least make them think they get to that step besides the recruiting ability. I don’t think BK has these in his criteria and, combined with his disinterest in defense, it has diminished the stature and success of the Irish program.

    23. WeNeedaRocket says:

      However it happens we need better defensive players and more consistent play, the coaching is better this year and the players are in the right spots, the players need to make plays, it’s really that simple if you have equal to better talent.

      Now, on a funny note, if ND beats Stanford, and if Alabama and Miami wins out, Oklahoma loses and OSU beats Wisconsin, ND is in 🙂 LOL

      There’s always hope!!!

      GO IRISH!! Beat Cardinal!

    24. Many good comments on here and strong opinions, I’ll offer mine. ND will not fire Kelly this year even if they lose the next 2, just not happening. I laugh when I hear about Gruden, he hasn’t coached for years and has a comfy gig now, why would he put himself in the grinder (like that) of coaching at ND? I’m all for ND having high standards and am very disappointed when stories break of student/athletes not meeting those standards and giving ND a black eye that many media and haters in general love to expound upon. If you look at history of ND and even in the Kelly era, having a strong running game and solid defense is the staple to success. Play power football! Run the ball and use a fullback, yes recruit some fullbacks and go to a two back set. Wait, you say, you can’t play that way now, you have to spread teams out… BS, seems to work okay for Bama, Stanford, Wiscy and others. SEC is the king of conferences and no one plays more power football than that conference. Scheduling, I’m not crazy for the ACC thing with the football team, would prefer seeing them play a real Indy sched. But how? You need 3 heavyweights each year, you will have USC and Stanford already, bring back Michigan or Miami. ND will play Navy every year, fine – play BYU, BC, play 2 of the 3 following teams each year – Purdue, Northwestern, Mich St. Play a MWC team each year, A MAC team each year and another non-power 5 school. You will get to 12 without much problem and you will have a minimum of 7 homes games per year. The schedule will be plenty tough enough to still contend for the playoffs and you can still get an occassional home/home with a TX or OU or SEC team. Recruiting, I believe ND gets good enough athletes now, I truly do, but I don’t always think they balance their recruiting and get enough linemen, nor do I think, in most cases that the staff has coached these guys up to improve. Like every other ND fan on here, I just want to see consistent success each season from the football team and believe it is absolutely achievable. Go Irish! Basketball team looks pretty good though:)

      GO IRISH!!

    26. Don’t be a Debbie Downer. If Wimbush can correct his tendency to throw high to wide open receivers we will beat Stanford. I will grant you that is a big IF.

    27. Thoughts heard thoughtfully on these posts. If you want to argue all the points about admission constraints and recruits and strength of schedule that’s fine. I just watched the Irish defeat # 6 in Maui invitational. Won the tournament when we were looking like it was over. If Brey didn’t instill that confidence to win… I must be blind. Bringing out the best in the atheletes you have is what Notre Dame is all about.

    28. I couldn’t agree with ND Chas and Mr. Coffey more. Those are the things that makes ND the place it is and education, athletics, and the atmosphere of doing what is right go together.