Now that Brian VanGorder is out as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Irish fans are forced to look into the abyss of the rest of the season, while weighing the fate of head coach Brian Kelly.
Without many chances for big wins left on the schedule, it sure feels like Kelly is a dead-man walking.
But thanks to a six-year contract extension in the offseason, the best bet seems to be on Kelly getting a final pass for what will be a disappointing seventh season in South Bend, no matter what happens the rest of the way.
Make no mistake about it, though, this on-field turn could give the proud university the out it’s looking for with the coach.
There’s no shame at losing to Duke at home — in basketball. But in a desperate situation where a solid win puts a 1-2 start back on track, the Irish instead suffered an embarrassing 38-35 loss to the Blue Devils, who were 21-point underdogs coming in.
The inevitable Notre Dame victory was so uninteresting coming in that I declined to pick a winner against the spread in my weekly college football picks post.
But the Irish instead suffered their second loss to an unranked foe this year, sandwiched around a loss to Michigan State, which was drilled 30-6 on Saturday by Wisconsin.
The problem for Kelly is — despite now having a 56-26 record in South Bend — he came into this season with somewhere between 1 and 2 strikes against him.
That’s primarily because of off-field issues: Including academic scandals, arrests and the tragic death of student manager Declan Sullivan.
Plus, let’s face it: Kelly is an ass.
That’s not a unique characteristic for a football coach. You better be self-assured at this level, and where a coach falls on toeing that line is often judged through the lens of a biased observer.
It was on display on Saturday when he essentially blamed his players for the loss.
“Coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today, ” Kelly said, one day before firing VanGorder.
When things go bad, these things become a problem. Fortunately for Kelly, it hasn’t really gone bad for him at any point in his career, spanning successful stints at four schools.
So this is a new one for Kelly, and a new one for Notre Dame
Ironically, if Kelly is let go, it’s feasible that Duke coach David Cutcliffe could be among the candidates the Irish look at as a replacement. But expect the usual array of big names in NFL and college coaching circles to be rumored for the position if it does come open.
Greg Hudson, a former assistant at Florida State and Purdue and a Notre Dame alumnus, will take over as defensive coordinator.
The Irish will recover with some wins going forward, and have chances against Miami and Stanford.
But don’t expect anything to really change until the offseason, when we’ll find out how this proud university reacts.