By: Phil Houk of Fighting Irish Preview
When I was a kid, I would spend hours reading anything I could get my hands on about Notre Dame football. Books, magazines, programs, media guides, if there was an ND on the front, I was in it. It was easy to Christmas shop for me, still is!
Anyway, one number that always stuck in my head was 105. As in Knute Rockne won 105 football games as head coach at Notre Dame. That number of wins was unfathomable to a kid whose own age was in the single digits. That, coupled with the fact that Rockne had lived decades before I was even born gave that number, and Knute himself a mythical aura.
Well, let this sink in. Brian Kelly has now coached Notre Dame to 105 victories. And different from the 105 that Knute won, I have lived through and covered every single one of those games. Brian Kelly is as real to me as my next door neighbor.
Asked about the feat, post game last week, Kelly deflected the spotlight. He credited ND President Father John Jenkins and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick for their consistent leadership. Asked on Monday where he sits in Notre Dame history he responded matter of factly, “I can tell you exactly where I sit in Notre Dame history, the coach who won more games that hasn’t won a championship.”
Now that’s a man who is comfortable in his skin.
Despite Kelly’s refusal to take a victory lap, winning 105 games is a tremendous personal accomplishment at a pressure cooker place like Notre Dame. It is a tribute to Brian Kelly’s political acumen, perseverance, and coaching prowess.
No doubt, I have had a front row seat to some remarkable Notre Dame Football history.
Would other coaches have been able to do the same thing given such a long tenure? Maybe, but not many. Brian Kelly is an elite coach and seems to have been the right man at the right time.
I am asked all the time if Brian Kelly will ever win a National Championship. With all my being, I hope so. But I don’t know, the current structure of College football has made it difficult for an institution to like ND to break into the elite tier of talent necessary to compete with the Alabamas, Ohio States and Clemsons of the world. But that is not going to stop Brian Kelly from trying. Anyone that watched the transformation Kelly put the program through after the 2016 season and the annual button pushing since, knows that.
One of the things that makes Brian Kelly such an outstanding Coach is his ability to,across the board, control the things he can, and he has mostly done that brilliantly. But there are some things that he can’t control, so he may never win it all. There I said it. What I do know though is that the Notre Dame football program is on firm footing and is enjoying consistent success like it has not seen since about 1995, and watching Notre Dame has been FUN.
Winning is fun and 105 career wins, 26 straight at home and a 46-8 record after 2016, has been A LOT of fun. The fans who complain all the time about Kelly and the lack of National Championships frequently strike me as folks who just don’t know how to have fun. One can only imagine what their lives would be like if they were instead fans of any one of about 125 other FBS schools!
A couple of years ago on the Fighting Irish Preview radio show, Tim Prister and I ran a series called, “Be thankful you are not a fan of…” Featured were the trials and travails of such blue blood programs as Nebraska, Florida State, Texas and others. You get the idea. Those fanbases would do ANYTHING to have enjoyed the kind of success ND has under Brian Kelly.
This week, Brian Kelly looks to break the all-time wins record at Soldier Field. That stadium is a place Knute was very familiar with. After all, Rockne coached ND in that stadium seven times in his legendary career, so it would be fitting for the record to fall there.
And somewhere, Knute Rockne is toasting the accomplishment of his successor and is having FUN because this year’s Irish are 3-0… and Brian Kelly wins A LOT of games.