College Football’s Most Overrated Coach? It’s Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.

On December 10, 2009 Brian Kelly was announced as the new head football coach at Notre Dame, replacing Charlie Weis.  He came in and said the same things every coach says when they take over a new program: change the culture, get back to winning ways, the tradition, etc.  In his six seasons at Notre Dame, Kelly has accomplished very little, though as many Kelly Kool-Aid drinkers will say, he’s been better than his three immediate predecessors (Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Weis).  While true, the bar was not set too high.  Kelly’s greatest accomplishments at Notre Dame are almost accomplishing things.  For some reason the fans love him, the athletic department loves him and the media loves him.  This is why he’s the most overrated coach in college football.


Kelly’s first two seasons saw mediocre 8-5 records with a Sun Bowl win over Miami and a Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State.  But he was taking over a program that was in poor shape after five years of Weis so most were willing to give him time.  The 2012 season began with higher, but still relatively low, expectations.  The Irish disregarded all of that and went 12-0, winning some huge games along the way (a dramatic OT goal-line stand against #17 Stanford, going to Norman and beating #8 Oklahoma and another goal-line stand against USC to clinch a berth in the national championship game).  However, the Irish were simply outclassed, outmanned, and outcoached by Alabama and lost 42-14.  2013 rolled around and the Irish dropped to 9-4, winning the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.  In 2014 the Irish started 6-0 before completely going off the rails after a controversial offensive pass interference call against Florida State.  They finished 8-5 and beat LSU in the Music City Bowl.  2015 was a good year as the Irish very nearly made the College Football Playoff, losing heartbreakers at Clemson and at Stanford, before getting mashed by Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 10-3.


Kelly’s record at Notre Dame is a decent 55-23, but it could be so much better.  Kelly is not only the head coach, but also the play caller.  He’s had a slew of good quarterbacks, but he can’t seem to get any of them to stick around or stop throwing interceptions (since 2010 ND quarterbacks have thrown a combined 78 interceptions, an average of one every single game).  But Kelly’s biggest failing as Notre Dame coach is his failure to have his team ready to play in big games.  In the biggest game of his career, he got laughed out of the building by Nick Saban.  In 2014, they had a road game @ #11 Arizona State.  They were promptly down 38-3 at halftime and lost the game 55-31.  They closed out that regular season by getting smoked 49-14 by USC.  2015 was a great year, but Kelly’s failure to prepare the Irish cost them a shot at the Playoff.  First loss of the season was against Clemson, where the Irish spotted Clemson a 14 point lead after two minutes.  They almost came all the way back in the fourth quarter, and would have won if not for a pair of idiotic two point conversion play calls (the first one did not have to be made, but because of it the second one did).  Against Stanford, the Irish gave up scores the first three times Stanford had the ball.  That being said, Notre Dame’s final drive of the game was a masterclass of play calling from Kelly, as the Irish held the ball for almost the last 5 minutes of the game, before scoring a go-ahead TD with 30 seconds left.  The defense fell apart and Stanford won on a last second FG.  The Irish then played Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and again went down 14-0 in the first five minutes of the game and ended up getting crushed 44-28.


Beyond just not having his team ready to play, Kelly is a terrible road coach.  As mentioned above, his overall record is a decent 55-23.  At Notre Dame Stadium, he is a stout 29-8 (including an impressive 21-3 the last four years).  But his record in true road games is an appalling 14-11.  Furthermore, his record against ranked teams is shabby at best.  Overall he is 11-13 against ranked teams, and in road games against ranked teams he is just 3-7.  His record against good coaches is also terrible: 0-1 vs. Nick Saban, 0-1 vs. Urban Meyer, 0-2 vs. Jimbo Fisher, 0-1 vs. Bobby Petrino, 0-1 vs. Jim Harbaugh, 0-1 vs. Pat Fitzgerald, 2-3 vs. David Shaw and 2-2 vs. Todd Graham.  For whatever odd reason though, he owns Mark Dantonio going 3-1 against him (fun fact: when Brian Kelly took over at Cincinnati in 2007, he replaced Dantonio).


It’s mind-boggling how people can think so highly of a coach who has done so little.  His bowl wins are the 2010 Sun Bowl, the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl and the 2014 Music City Bowl.  He has won just as many BCS/NY6 games as his three predecessors (that would be zero).  He’s built up a cult following by almost beating good teams and pulling out miracles against bad teams (see 2015 game against Virginia).  For a coach that makes $4 million a year in total compensation, these results (or more accurately the lack thereof) are unacceptable.

Lawrence Dockery
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Lawrence Dockery

I was born in Las Vegas and moved to the Memphis area in 2005.I became a soccer referee in 2006 and am currently a Grade 8. I write for two soccer websites: World Soccer Talk and Soccer Referee USA, in addition to writing several pieces for the Rogue Squadron (the supporters group for Memphis City FC).I did commentary in high school for football, basketball, baseball and soccer at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis and did commentary for Lafayette High School football in Oxford, MS for two seasons.
Lawrence Dockery
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2 thoughts on “College Football’s Most Overrated Coach? It’s Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.

    • That’s incorrect. In his time at Notre Dame he is 0-1 against Jim Harbaugh. Kelly’s first year in South Bend was 2010, which was Harbaugh’s last year at Stanford. Stanford won the game 37-14. Kelly has not coached a game against Harbaugh since then.

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