MUNCIE – Ever since Notre Dame watched its beloved coach Lou Holtz waltz off into a northern Indiana sunset, the Fighting Irish leadership has sought just about every demographic to solve its conundrum of how to remain relevant in the national football picture.
Those in charge tried the young, handsome assistant that had never served as a head coach before (Bob Davie).
Davie had moments of success, but the job proved too much to handle.
Notre Dame tried the briefly successful head coach from a similar institution (Stanford).
Willingham had moments of success, but the job proved too much to handle.
The Irish then tried the veteran NFL assistant – again, with no head coaching experience - with Irish ties even (Charlie Weis).
Weis had moments of success, but the job proved too much to handle.
Two seasons into Brian Kelly's tenure, he has had moments of success, but will the job again prove too much to handle?
One of Kelly's former players doesn't believe so.
“Being the coach at Notre Dame is something that no one on this Earth can even fathom,” Notre Dame graduate Brandon Newman said. “Only the coaches that have coached at Notre Dame can realize that. There is no way that you can train as a coach to be the coach at Notre Dame.”
Newman spent the past four seasons playing under both Weis, who recruited him, as well as Kelly. The defensive lineman is spending his final season of eligibility at Ball State this coming fall. Despite having seen little playing time at Notre Dame throughout his career, as well as having endured a trying circumstance last season with some of his older teammates that were not recruited by Kelly, Newman believes that the veteran coach will ultimately succeed in South Bend if given enough time.
“You have to go through (coaching at Notre Dame) and make your mistakes and then learn from them,” Newman said. “The reason that I say that coach Kelly is the right guy is that he is learning from those mistakes.”
In late October of last season, Kelly made a reference toward the players that he had not recruited that the older Fighting Irish players took offense to. Kelly quickly apologized to the team and the program moved forward relatively well. Newman pointed to that situation as a learning experience for even Kelly, who now has over two decades of head coaching experience.
“When coach Kelly first came in, I didn't see how he wouldn't be here until he is older,” Newman said. “As the years went by and things happened; like the whole debacle with the older guys and “his guys;” it all left a bad taste in our mouths. That was an interesting problem. He is learning in a sense of relationships with players, relationships with coaches, and how to coach the games.”
One would think that Kelly would have a sense of how to coach a game after doing so 229 times as a head coach. However, Newman said coaching games while leading the Fighting Irish is vastly different than any place else.
“Notre Dame isn't the (Mid-American Conference),” Newman explained. “It isn't the Big East, and it isn't a conference game. Every game is a bowl game (atmosphere).”
Newman's point is well taken.
Notre Dame plays its games across the country, in the biggest stadiums, in front of national television audiences and every game is treated like a circus coming to town. Last season the Fighting Irish played a simple regular season game at Wake Forest and many around the Demon Deacon program referred to the Irish coming to Winston-Salem as the biggest night in program history.
“That is something that we prepare for and the coaches mention,” Newman said. “(But) Even when coach Kelly would say in his first year (at Notre Dame), 'This is a big game because this team wants to beat Notre Dame,' I think that he realizes now how big it is. Especially after the Navy game.”
Ahhh, the Navy game of 2010.
Under Weis, the Irish Nation had grown accustomed to losing to ridiculous opponents. Navy, Syracuse, North Carolina, Purdue, Air Force, UConn, and narrowly defeating San Diego State, those games all seem to run in a never-ending loop of nightmarish sequences through the minds of Notre Dame followers. But Kelly was supposed to put an end to such non-sense.
However, in that first season Kelly's team lost to Tulsa in moronic fashion, which was preceded by a 35-17 drubbing of the Irish by the Midshipmen.
“Navy came with something that we hadn't practiced at all,” Newman said. “We had to make checks to a completely new offense.”
Though Newman believes in Kelly's ability to lead the Irish, he – or any other future Notre Dame coach - is going to require assistance from higher ups according to Newman. Really high higher ups.
“The responsibility, on and off of the field of being the Notre Dame football coach,” Newman explained, “God bless whoever is in that position. They are going to need God to be with them. That is something that is so mind-blowing.”
From a more practical standpoint, Newman said that the Notre Dame administration must tune out the noise from the media, fans, chats and blogs and simply let coach Kelly do his job.
“With this (2012) schedule coming up, I can't say that there won't be coaching changes in the future, be it the head coach or assistants,” Newman said. “That is one of the main problems with Notre Dame. You see other programs that have continuity. There is a certain consistency, where a guy that played eight years ago and the guy that plays now, it's the same coaching staff and they do the same things on the same days. That helps a program, it really does. You are going to have conversations about how many games Notre Dame will win or lose because of (always having) a new coaching staff. It really is a problem.”