SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame football fans can take solace in the fact the Fighting Irish players and coaches are seeking the same goal as their fan base. They both long for success.
“This group wants to be remembered for something,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “They want to be remembered for being the team that turns this program in the direction that we all want it to go.”
For certain, the program needs its direction altered. After getting physically and mentally beaten down 37-14 by 16th-ranked Stanford (4-0) in South Bend on Saturday, the Irish (1-3) have lost 25 of the last 42 games.
Kelly arrived from the University of Cincinnati in December, heralded by many Notre Dame fans as a “sure thing.” His career winning percentage (74.7 percent) was viewed as proof-positive he could finally get the program back to the zenith of college football.
After the Irish administrators had whiffed on first-time head coaches (Bob Davie and Charlie Weis) and the victory-deficient Tyrone Willingham, one couldn't blame Irish fans for being impatient after suffering through 19 seasons with no visions of championships.
“There are a lot of 1-3 football teams around the country,” Kelly said. “Some are going to finish 1-11. Some are going to be 9-3. It's what you decide to do from here on out. I know where I'm going.”
Three defeats in the first four games is nothing new for Kelly. He also dropped three of his first four games at Central Michigan before turning the program around to heights not seen in Mount Pleasant before.
A statistic that could send shudders through the Irish Nation is the fact that Kelly's start is identical to the mark set by Davie and worse than Weis (3-1) and Willingham (4-0). But take comfort, Notre Dame fans, in that it is also the same as highly regarded Lou Holtz's record.
“We've played a tough schedule, let's make no bones about it,” Kelly said of facing Stanford, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue (only the MSU game was on the road). “Our kids have battled. There is going to be success down the road for them if they stay with it, and I'm certain that they will.”
Perhaps if Kelly can quickly turn the team around with wins in its upcoming games, at Boston College and home against Pittsburgh, the Notre Dame leadership will tear up his contract and reward him with a better one, as it did with Weis just six games into his tenure.
But that's doubtful. For now, Kelly, his team and its fans would simply like to win a game after losing its last three.
“We all want to win,” Kelly said. “We all want to be judged on successful ventures in playing the game. They are getting better. They are getting to the point where they can compete and think that they can win every game that they play.”