Sunday, November 20, 2016

Expiring Irish

Remember last week, when the Blob surmised that, after Indiana's basketball team took down Kansas, the web domain was likely available?

That's probably not true anymore.

The word out of South Bend this morning is that Fair Catch Corby's statue came to life, claimed it and renamed it

This after the Expiring Irish wove gold into straw again, blowing yet another lead in yet another home game in a 34-31 loss to Virginia Tech. The Irish led 17-0 at one point and still led by 10 going into the fourth quarter, but the defense couldn't stop Tech when it mattered and the offense came apart like a cheap watch in the second half, scoring just seven points as quarterback DeShone Kizer completed just three passes after halftime.

Bad enough that the high-dollar alums on the 50-yard line had to sit through snow showers and a razor wind express-mailed from January. At least in the Lou Holtz days they usually got a win to warm their chilled bones.

The Kelly days, on the other hand, have been unraveling slowly since 2012, when the Irish went undefeated and played for a national championship for the first time since 1989. It was exactly what the Irish brain trust brought Kelly aboard to do -- make Notre Dame football relevant again -- and it would have locked in the guy for future statuary had Alabama not crushed Kelly's top-ranked Irish 42-14 in the championship game.

Since that year, Kelly's gone 9-4, 8-5, 10-3 and, so far this year, 4-7 with a likely loss at red-hot USC to come. Across that span of 50 games, Notre Dame has beaten a top 15 team only twice. Even last year, when they semi-returned to the semi-glory of 2012, they were again revealed to be college football's version of fool's gold, losing easily to Urban Meyer and the big boys from Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

The unavoidable conclusion is that Kelly has brought ND back to a place where it can (until this year, anyway) reliably beat opponents it should be expected to beat given its advantages in resources, prestige and virtually unmatched tradition. But it remains a clear level removed from the true elites like Alabama and Ohio State.

Whether or not this is all Kelly's fault and not simply the way of things now in college football remains open for debate. What isn't open for debate is that the aforementioned resources, prestige and tradition enable Kelly to, year after year, bring in recruiting classes on par or sometimes better than those of the elites. And yet, year after year, those same recruiting classes never quite produce teams capable of beating those same elites.

How else to read that except that the coaching must not be up to snuff?

Plenty of Domeheads have almost certainly come to that conclusion, and nothing that happened yesterday is likely to change their minds. Fair Catch Corby may not actually be revving up, but more and more his signature pose looks less like Fair Catch and more like Hey, Jack Swarbrick, Over Here. I'll Coach The Boys If You Like.

Not that a coaching change seems imminent. Notre Dame remains saddled with that absurdly chunky Charlie Weis divorce settlement, and another with Kelly would cost it dearly again. For just how many ex-wives can even a school like Notre Dame afford to be on the hook?

Look. For all Kelly's drawbacks -- not the least of which is his disagreeable habit of pushing players and assistant coaches into the path of oncoming Greyhounds -- he has gotten the Irish to their only national championship appearance in 27 years. And he's taken them to five other bowl games and won three of them, after Notre Dame had lost nine times in its previous 10 bowl appearances.

So, yes, he has gotten Notre Dame football back to a certain level. And is there really anyone out there right now -- someone Notre Dame could reasonably expect to get -- who could take it to the level?

Tom Herman, the latest hot ticket, seems bound for Texas now that the Longhorns' loss to Kansas seems to have sealed Charlie Strong's fate. The irrepressible P.J. Fleck at Western Michigan might be a good fit, and Domer Nation would love him, but the sample size might be too small for some, and the MAC to ND might be deemed too big a step at this point. Other than that, who do you get for a job that is, let's face it, still a plum but not as juicy a plum as it used to be?

Think about it. In the two decades since Lou Holtz stepped down, Notre Dame has had four football coaches. None of them either were or have been the answer, or at least close enough to the answer the faithful seek. Which raises an obviously uncomfortable thought.

Maybe close enough is all you're gonna get these days.

No comments:

Post a Comment