Notre Dame is 2-5 in 2016, with wins over Nevada and Syracuse. After last week’s bye week to regroup, the Irish need to go 4-1 down the stretch to reach a bowl game. That’s a tough stretch that includes games against Miami, Virginia Tech, Navy, and USC. Notre Dame’s postseason chances appear slim.
Brian Kelly received a vote of confidence from Notre Dame’s AD. Though, the fact he needed one speaks to the situation’s urgency. We hear from Notre Dame how Kelly and the team “really care about each other and have a great relationship.” Then we see Notre Dame play like they quit on the coaching staff and Kelly throw his players under the bus afterward.
This season has not been a good look for Kelly, though parting with him is not so simple. He’s a proven head coach with 20-plus years of head coaching experience. He has worked his way up, winning at multiple levels. He got Notre Dame to a BCS title game and had them in the playoff mix last season. That said, he’s also had 8-4 or worse seasons in five of his seven years.
Notre Dame doubtless wants to keep Kelly if it’s tenable. But, how do fans and, more importantly, players and recruits react if Notre Dame finishes out 3-9? We’ve already had one recruit flip to Michigan, accuse Brian Kelly of being aloof, and assert he didn’t want to play for an “average” program.
The other part of Notre Dame’s calculus: who could they get to replace him? It’s hard to see Tom Herman lasting beyond LSU and a probable opening at Texas. Urban Meyer is not leaving Ohio State. The plausible candidates pool is not dry. But, there isn’t an immediate name that jumps out as better than Brian Kelly.
Les Miles [Unemployed]
Why To Hire Him: Miles has experience operating a program of Notre Dame’s magnitude. He would be great with the media. He would be a tremendous presence on the recruiting trail. People would be talking about Notre Dame football. It’s hard to see Miles taking a tire iron to one of his players at a post-game press conference.
Why Not To Hire Him: Nick Saban adapted. Les Miles, two years younger, could not. Miles is stubborn. He’s past 60. If “Miles plus an updated modern offense” was that simple, he would have made it work at LSU. Ed Orgeron is (or should be) embarrassing him right now.
Why He Would Take The Job: Miles said he wants to stay coaching. It’s hard to see a better job coming available for him than Notre Dame. If he can stomach rivaling his alma-mater, this seems like a deal that could happen.
Dan Mullen [Mississippi State]
Why To Hire Him: Mullen can coach. He took over the worst job in the SEC West and has done more with less. He had the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 overall in 2014. When he’s had a quarterback, Mississippi State has been Top-20 ish. What could he do at Notre Dame with greater resources and fewer road blocks. He’s still only 44.
Why Not To Hire Him: Reports about his personality and collegiality from his time at Florida may be worrisome. The Gators declined to pursue him twice since he left. That hasn’t been an issue for him at Mississippi State. Though, Mississippi State may be more accommodating of him than Notre Dame would.
Why He Would Take The Job: Mullen has peaked in Starkville. Florida hired away his AD Scott Stricklin. He’s a northerner and a former Notre Dame graduate assistant.
P.J. Fleck [Western Michigan]
Why To Hire Him: Fleck is sellable to your fanbase. He’s young, exciting, and energetic. He can recruit. Western Michigan won one game his first season. They could go undefeated in his fourth. Disciplined, motivated football would be a novelty in South Bend. The Broncos lead the nation in fewest turnovers (3) through eight games.
Why Not To Hire Him: Fleck is only 35. He was never a full coordinator before getting the Western Michigan job. He’s proven himself worthy of a better job. But, Notre Dame would be a major leap. Maybe you’re getting a young Urban Meyer. But, maybe you’re not.
Why He Would Take The Job: Coaches leave MAC jobs. He could triple or quadruple his salary and still come at a quite reasonable cost. Notre Dame is probably the best landing spot Fleck could hope for. Geography may also play into Notre Dame’s favor with his family situation.
Bob Diaco [UConn]
Why To Hire Him: Diaco was Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator before taking the UConn job. Irish fans know what they are getting with his work ethic, recruiting, and talent development on defense. A St. Augustine-quoting Catholic, he’d also be a great cultural fit.
Why Not To Hire Him: He inherited a tough situation at UConn. His teams have been competitive. Still, 6-15 in the AAC through his third year is not a performance that will thrill Notre Dame fans. The “Civil Conflict” saga was also a little weird.
Why He Would Take The Job: Diaco once termed Notre Dame the “pinnacle of college football.” There’s a lot of familiarity there. It’s hard to see him turning it down.
Names That Would Spring Up But Probably Wouldn’t Happen
Chip Kelly [San Francisco 49ers] Kelly is 1-6 with San Francisco. The NFL thing doesn’t seem to be working out. He still has a rock solid reputation as a college coach. But, Notre Dame just isn’t a great fit. He did not like recruiting travel, hobnobbing with donors, or dealing with the media. He could work around that at Oregon, but not at Notre Dame. The show-cause penalty in his past may also be an issue.
Jim Tressel [Youngstown State-President] Jim Tressel’s five-year show cause penalty expires after this season. He finished ranked in the Top 5 seven of his last nine seasons at Ohio State. Notre Dame has done that once since 1994. But, he has been out of the game five years. It’s hard to see Notre Dame overlook his past transgressions.