These are turbulent times at Notre Dame. Five games into the regular season and the Irish are not in the Top 10, not in the Top 25, not even at .500 as their 2-3 record going into Saturday's game at North Carolina State will attest.
Coach Brian Kelly has already made a major move by firing defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder after games in which the Irish' defense was taken apart by Texas, Michigan State and Duke[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
The shaky start prompted ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick to talk to a South Bend television reporter last week and utter the dreaded vote of confidence
.""Coach Kelly has my complete confidence,' Swarbrick said. "It's a long season. I think the program is in great shape.''
The program? Yes, It is still Notre Dame. But what about Kelly, who is now in his seventh season under the spotlight of the Golden Dome?
Of the 31 head football coaches ND has had in its long and storied history only Knute Rocke (13 seasons), Frank Leahy, Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian (11 seasons) have coached longer in South Bend.
But here's where the history becomes murky for Kelly. In his six seasons at Notre Dame, Kelly has lost four or more games four times. In contrast, Leahy and Rockne only had one season in which they lost four or more games, Parseghian didn't have any and Holtz had only three.
Conversely, coaches who were fired, included Joe Kuharich (four or more losses in each of his four seasons) and Gerry Faust (four or more losses in each of his five seasons).
On the surface, Kelly is handling the turmoil (if you can call it that) like it is part of the price of coaching, which it is.
In Tuesday's press conference, he joked about new defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, describing his personality as "the kind of the guy that jumps out of the cake.''
He talked about a record number of freshmen starters ND has been forced to use. He talked about the defensive lapses that are not unique to ND.
""There's a lot of good programs giving up a lot of points'' he said, perhaps referring to schools such as Oklahoma, Texas and USC, all of whom have gotten off to sluggish starts because of leaky defenses.
Although Kelly has a defensive pedigree in his background as a player and coach, he said he realized early in his coaching career he identified the priorities a head coach must have. ""About my second year,'' he said, "I realized the head coach should be responsible for the ball (offense).''
But when trouble develops as it has at ND this season when the other teams have the ball, Kelly takes on more responsibilities. He says he will probably tinker and be the overseer for the defense the rest of the season. As much as Greg Hudson, who joined the Irish last spring as a defensive "analyst'' may have the right personality, Hudson, a former ND linebacker, became available after he was fired as the defensive coordinator at Purdue following a 2-10 season.
Kelly, who will turn 55 later this month, doesn't know what will happen on Saturday against NC State
""A good team that has got good players,''said Kelly in classic coach speak.
It will not get any easier after the game against the Wolfpack. The Irish will then take on Stanford and Miami in their next two games, two more "good teams with good players.''
Which leaves open the question about Kelly's future. Another four plus loss season is very much a possibility, which will make 5 in 7 seasons in South Bend.
Football at ND is very much a bottom line business. One only can wonder how much support will come from Swarbrick and the Notre Dame administration with that as the latest line in Kelly's coaching resume.[/membership]