The 2012 college football season will be the third for Brian Kelly as the head coach of the University of Notre Dame football team. Prior to his hire at Notre Dame he had significant on-field success as the head football coach at Grand Valley State University, Central Michigan University, and the University of Cincinnati. By virtue of its history, exposure, mammoth fan base and equally mammoth expectations, coaching at the University of Notre Dame and returning the football program back to glory will serve as Kelly’s biggest challenge yet.
His three predecessors – Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, Charlie Weis (and a fourth, if you want to include him, George O’Leary) – had varying degrees of success but were not able to restore the program back to prominence. Each of them brought in their own unique football coaching and program management philosophies but ultimately proved they were not up to the task at hand.
There are two common threads tying the tenures of those three (or four) failed coaches together. One of them is the turnover of staff – offensive and defensive coordinators leave for promotions at other programs, position coaches either get promoted or don’t have their contracts renewed, and so on – and a lack of stability year over year. The second is that none of the four coaches had significant achievements and success as head coaches at prior schools or organizations.
Brian Kelly has the head coaching track record the others lack, significantly improving every football program for whom he was a head coach and winning conference championships and national titles. He even received two BCS bowl bids for winning Big East Conference titles while he was at the University of Cincinnati. Moving to Notre Dame is a big jump, but not so much that the job should be over his head.
But what else has set Brian Kelly apart from his predecessors? Instead of suffering from the churn that envelops college football coaching staffs and hiring high-profile coaching names for his staff, Kelly has managed to carry along coaching staff members from his previous stops at Cincinnati, Central Michigan, and Grand Valley State. “Anonymous” names such as Bob Diaco, Mike Denbrock, Chuck Martin have been with Kelly for a long time.
Most head coaches look to pluck the best potential coaching talent from other programs for promotions or bumps in salary, but Brian Kelly has surrounded himself with a staff that has been with him for many years and at multiple schools. It’s unusual, but is it a bad thing?
“Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.”
By maintaining a staff that (for the most part) has followed him to Notre Dame from Cincinnati and Central Michigan, he keeps personnel that have already bought into Kelly’s coaching philosophies and know how to work with him. Not only has Brian Kelly been winning games at every school he’s coached, but so has his staff. He keeps coaches around that know his style and expectations, so there’s no growth curve through which the program has to suffer.
In addition, the staff has witnessed firsthand the success that Kelly has brought other programs and they’ve all been a part of it. By following a winning philosophy and retaining a staff that has bought into the philosophy, Brian Kelly is setting himself up with a significant advantage.
After two straight 8-win seasons at Notre Dame, will Kelly’s coaching philosophies bring the winning tradition back?