SOUTH BEND, IND. (AP) - This is all you really need to know about new Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly: His football teams win.
They win far more than they lose. They win more than they did before he arrived. They win championships.
The secret, if there is one, is this: Kelly is a smart and charismatic leader with an almost mystical ability to make any quarterback he touches play like an All-American.
But why get bogged down in the details? What truly separates Kelly from the last three Notre Dame coaches (four, if you count George O’Leary) is this number: .747. That’s Kelly’s winning percentage in 19 seasons as a college football coach.
For all those who have reveled in Notre Dame’s misery as the Fighting Irish suffered through 13 mostly mediocre seasons under Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis, the party just might be over.
It looks as if Notre Dame got it right this time.
“We need to start holding up our end,” Kelly said in an interview with the AP just a few hours before Notre Dame’s first preseason practice. “I kind of empathize with the sentiment out there that, you know what, there is no reason why Notre Dame football can’t be among the elite programs. We have all the things we need. Let’s go do it.”
Not since Lou Holtz replaced Gerry Faust in 1986 have the Fighting Irish hired a coach as accomplished as Kelly. And history shows some of Notre Dame’s best runs have come with coaches who were proven winners before they got to South Bend.
“When Notre Dame hires a successful college coach, national championships follow,” Holtz said recently in a phone interview. “When you go look at Frank Leahy at Boston College. Ara Parseghian at Northwestern. Dan Devine at Missouri. Myself at Arkansas and NC State, Minnesota and other places.
“It can’t be your first job, because of the complexities of it and the pressure of it.”
Neither Davie nor Weis had been a head coach before taking over at Notre Dame. As for Willingham, he had three losing seasons in seven years at Stanford before becoming the head man at Notre Dame in 2002. Willingham’s best records on the Farm were 9-3 and 8-4.
Kelly has had one losing season as a head coach (4-7 in 2004, his first season at Central Michigan). He won two Division II national championships at Grand Valley State. Central Michigan had won 12 games in four seasons before he arrived. It took Kelly three seasons to win the Mid-American Conference with the Chippewas.
Then it was off to Cincinnati. With the Bearcats, Kelly went 34-6 in three seasons with two Big East titles and two BCS appearances. If he can turn Cincinnati, with its disinterested fans and rundown stadium, into a national title contender, just think what Kelly can do when he’s got Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome on his side.
“What Notre Dame needed was a program changer and a coach who had a proven resume of doing such,” said former Fighting Irish offensive lineman Aaron Taylor, who works as an analyst for CBS College Sports Network.
“Brian Kelly is on par with the Nick Sabans and the Urban Meyers of the world: A proven program builder at every level he has been at.”