(WSCR) – When Brian Kelly became the new coach for Notre Dame, many people had hope in the Irish regaining their football dominance. Kelly said he couldn’t afford a five-year plan, that he needed a five-minute plan to turn the Irish around. Navy’s easy defeat of Notre Dame Saturday sent doubts of the team’s future back in their fan’s minds.
By RALPH D. RUSSO
NEW YORK (AP) Eight games into his tenure at Notre Dame and Brian Kelly is already dealing with one of those losses that make people wonder whether the Fighting Irish can ever again be what they were.
Navy didn’t just beat Notre Dame for the third time in four seasons Saturday in the swamps of New Jersey, the Midshipmen dispatched the Fighting Irish with relative ease.
Kelly was clearly exasperated after the game but – at least publicly – is sending a positive message. The vibe in South Bend, Ind., has been so negative for so long, the coach seems intent on not contributing to it.
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It was a great line, exactly what Notre Dame fans wanted to hear from their new coach. At his first news conference after being hired, Kelly said he couldn’t afford to have a five-year plan. He needed a 5-minute plan to turn the Irish around.
That line has the potential to be one that comes back to bite Kelly if he goes the way of Charlie Weis and Tyrone Willingham and can’t pull Notre Dame out of the cycle of mediocrity it has been in since Lou Holtz left in 1996.
Is there any doubt that some Irish fans were already wondering what the heck happened to the 5-minute plan while Navy was routing their team 35-17?
The reality is Kelly needs some time and this season is more about laying the foundation for the program than any return to glory. After the loss, he didn’t throw himself on the mercy of Notre Dame nation. He didn’t apologize for his team’s performance, a popular move by coaches looking to appease the angry mob.
Kelly was clearly unhappy with his players and his staff, but refused to make this game a referendum on the state of Notre Dame football.
“Look, there’s going to be enough criticism from the coaches to the players to go around,” he said. “We got each other. We got each other’s back. We’re going to have to continue to work hard and get this football program to where it needs to be and that’s amongst the best in the country. We’re not there yet.”
Notre Dame is 4-4 with games against Tulsa, No. 8 Utah, Army and No. 24 Southern California left. If the Irish can beat Utah and/or USC and get to seven wins, a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Fla., is a lock. All things considered, that would be a successful season.
Right now, 6-6 seems a lot more likely and that makes this season not all that much better than the last two under Weis.
The problems on the field are obvious. Notre Dame doesn’t have enough topflight defensive players beyond linebacker Manti Te’o, and the offense led by quarterback with Dayne Crist is good but needs to be great to make up for the defense’s shortcomings.
Kelly, who won consecutive Big East titles at Cincinnati before coming to Notre Dame, sees reasons for optimism, and not necessarily on Saturdays.
“Right now the things that are taking place are behind closed doors, you can’t really see them unless you’re with me every day. I like where we’re going,” he said. “Now where does that show itself? Absolutely in Year 2 and Year 3 and Year 4 and 5 and 6.
“You’re going to see what our team looks like on the field. I don’t have to spin it for everybody. I know what we’re doing, I like where we’re going. I don’t like losing football games along the way.”
Kelly was in a similar mode during his Sunday teleconference with reporters, talking about how he was encouraged by the trust his players and coaches have in each other.
He also made one other thing clear: While he would never say it directly, he knows it’ll take more than 5 minutes to get the Fighting Irish where he – and their fans – want them to be.
“We’re getting to know the way I want the game conducted and played and how we come to work every day,” Kelly said. “That’s work in progress and that’s not going to change depending on whether we win or lose the football game.”
– Akron and New Mexico are the only major college teams still looking for a victory after Western Kentucky snapped its 26-game losing streak, 54-21 against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Zips of the Mid-American Conference seem like a better bet to avoid a winless season. Their remaining opponents are 14-17. The Lobos have five games left and their best chances to win are probably Saturday at Colorado State or the next week at home against Wyoming.
– A four-game losing streak had some wondering if Georgia coach Mark Richt was heading for the door after 10 seasons in Athens. Since then, the Bulldogs have won three straight against SEC East rivals, scoring more than 40 points in each. The Bulldogs play slumping Florida on Saturday with a very real shot of winning the division.
– BCS projections with standings due out later Sunday:
Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Oregon.
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech vs. TCU.
Fiesta Bowl: Nebraska vs. West Virginia.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Wisconsin.
BCS championship game: Auburn vs. Boise State.
Oregon takes its No. 1 ranking on the road to face No. 24 Southern California. USC’s two losses came on last-second field goals. The Trojans’ porous defense could be in for another long day against Darron Thomas and the high-scoring Ducks, but Matt Barkley and the USC offense have the potential to keep up.
No. 5 Michigan State puts its perfect record on the line at No. 18 Iowa. It’s the toughest game left on the Spartans’ schedule.
Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrusso(at)ap.org.
Updated October 24, 2010