Now that Charlie Weis is out for good at Notre Dame the Irish will turn to their coaching search. Finding a successor is going to be tough for AD Jeff Swarbrick as Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops were the first to say no.
Winning ball games, academics, recruiting nationally are the three most critical areas to Irish fans. While they vary in their priority to fans they are the three spots that they'll agree matter. Lets examine our list of guys taking this into account.
In this edition we were supposed to eliminate TCU's Gary Patterson but as has been reported, the TCU coach just got his money right. He can be filed into the "not gonna happen" group along with guys like Stoops, Meyer, Saban and Carroll thanks to this showing of gratitude.
Thus in his stead we'll move on to everyone's favorite candidate; Brian Kelly.
Kelly's record is absolutely stellar at first glance, even awe inspiring. The guy has gone 41-22 in FBS, he went 118-35-2 in Division II and has won some form of a title at all three of his head coaching stops. He's got a national title at Grand Valley State, a MAC Title during his years at Central Michigan and now has one, on the verge of two, Big East Titles at Cincinnati. The guy is a winner when you put the numbers up on the board.
So where is his flaw when it comes to winning games? Similar to Chris Petersen, Brian Kelly's flaws don't necessarily lie within his record but rather in his amassing of the record. During his FBS years the coach has beaten only five ranked opponents.
Five ranked teams in six seasons, even with a win over Pitt on Saturday he'd only average one win over a top 25 opponent a season. The quality of his competition hasn't been great.
Although he's dominated the Big East for the last two seasons take a look at Kelly's record against BCS teams that don't reside in the confines of his league; 3-7. 2 wins over Oregon State and one over a bad Illinois team.
The losses include back to back losses to Indiana at CMU and thumpings at the hands of Penn State (CMU), Oklahoma and Virginia Tech. He hasn't fared to well outside of his respective league, hence the reason why his schedules average less than two BCS programs outside of league play a season.
Sure his record is great but he's not been tested, his best team to date, the 2008 edition, got smoked by Oklahoma and Virginia Tech manhandled them in the Orange Bowl. To put it another way, the coaches best win, in terms of beating a quality program, is beating Oregon State.
Read more about why Brian Kelly isn't such a "can't miss" coaching prospect for the Irish
Upon checking in on Chris Petersen I learned a lot about Boise State as a university. Well checking in on Brian Kelly was no different. The first, most striking thing that I learned was that Grand Valley State at #36 in the Midwest is without a doubt the best academic institution that Brian Kelly has been the head man at.
His current stop, Cincinnati, is not held up in very high esteem by the good folks at US News and World Report clocking in as a Tier 3 school. As this helpful answer cogently explains Cincinnati is a good school, better than a tier 4 school but not on par with a tier 1 university.
What does this mean in the grand scheme of the Notre Dame job? Well it means he's not prepared to deal with the academic restrictions that being a tier one school creates. To go from taking kids that barely get through the NCAA Clearinghouse to targeting kids who have reached the NCAA minimum by junior year is a huge jump. There is no comparison really, different type of kid, different athlete mindset and a different approach to the recruiting process.
While he is recruiting a higher tier of athlete than Chris Petersen he only requires the same amount of academic success. In keeping with the academic success theme a quick study of the GSR's shows that at his three stops Cincinnati's 75 is the highest, although still 21 points below Notre Dame's sterling 96. Central Michigan touted a 71 and Grand Valley State's highest rate was the latest 65 that was reported.
Now yes he got the kids in various stages however here are the facts. At GVSU the kids he recruited, upon his 2003 departure were included in this study and reached a level of 65. Arriving at CMU he shepherded kids through school during varying stages of the process at a 71 clip and here at Cincinnati he's doing the finishing portion of some of the degrees included. Should the next several studies show massive uptick at Cinci or CMU that would be a solid mark for him, however there was no such surge in Grand Valley State's numbers and I doubt there will be one at Cinci.
It is no mystery that Cincinnati is far from the national player in college football recruiting. They don't produce a ton of NFL talent, they aren't a marquee player in the college football world and this is no more evident than when they're lumped in with Boise State, TCU and other non-BCS schools as national title dark horses as undefeated teams. Kelly's best known player recruited is probably the starting quarterback of Central Michigan; Dan Lefevour who is rated the eighth best quarterback in what is considered a weak quarterback draft.
On the positive side he is a man who lived and has coached in the midwest for over two decades. He's worked in Michigan and in Ohio, two strong hubs for a Notre Dame support and player recruiting stand point. However, he hasn't been in the homes of the same kids. Whether it was Central Michigan or Cincinnati, Kelly has made his living with leftovers.
While some people might believe that an upgrade in program easily translates to an upgrade in recruiting they're quite wrong. Yes more doors open with the ND emblem, yes more high school football coaches are sending you tape and yes more kids are interested in you. That's a given, what isn't a given is the fact that your approach to kids must change.
No longer are you getting kids who were told they were too small (Mike Mickens, Mardy Gilyard) or not polished enough (Dan Lefevour) for the big BCS schools. Rather you're dealing with a set of guys that need to be sold less on the "opportunity to play big time college football" and more on the why should I pick you. There's a huge difference.
I'm sure Brian Kelly is a great coach; there's a reason guys like Pat Forde, Kirk Herbstreit and just about every Notre Dame blog out there is championing the Cincinnati coach as their best option. He's a midwest guy, at home with the core values of the Catholic culture that is Notre Dame. That being said, there's plenty of unknowns that should cast some doubt on to his ability to succeed at Notre Dame.
Most notably his academic record, or lack thereof should raise a red flag to the Irish faithful as asking a guy who has never done it to uphold the standards is no small task. To add to that doubt is the relative obscurity Kelly has existed in up to this point. Compared to Notre Dame the pressure to win at Cincinnati and Central Michigan is nonexistent. Those are programs satisfied with a bowl game each year and a 60-70% full stadium and no practice facilities.
Notre Dame is a bear of a job, Kelly has no experience running a bear. He's handled smaller animals but to put himself into the ring where his every move is scrutinized would be a true leap of faith on the part of the Notre Dame staff.