Comparing Kelly to Holtz: Three Years of Data Over the Years

Coach Lou Holtz [Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Allsport]

Coach Lou Holtz [Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Allsport]

Just about the only thing Notre Dame’s Head Football Coach Brian Kelly didn’t do in his first three years on the job that Lou Holtz did is win a National Championship. While Notre Dame Film, Television and Theatre Professor Ted Mandell has already identified the salient (and somewhat eerie) similarities between the two regimes, I thought I would go a little deeper and compare the two coaches’ offensive production numbers to get an idea of how Kelly stacks up against the Lisping Lion, Lou Holtz. Frankly, I was surprised to see that Kelly’s three-year average beats any of Lou’s three-year averages, excluding the run game.

Again, using’s remarkable archive for my source material, I compared each coach’s first three seasons in total yards, total passing yards, total rushing yards, points per game, and players drafted by the NFL. Though I will concede that the NFL metric is not very “coach-related,” especially in the first couple of years of any coach’s tenure, I thought it interesting, nevertheless, to see how ND’s draft-rate is as solid today as it was after Holtz’s first three years. In any event, here are the numbers:

1986 4527 2444 2083 27.2 4
2010 4936 3290 1646 26.3 1
1987 4191 1418 2773 29.9 5
2011 5369 3284 2085 29.2 4
1988 4268 1430 2838 32.6 5
2012 5358 2896 2462 25.8 6

HLS EFS CSC Kelly ScreamWhat you see is that the hype about Brian Kelly knowing how to move the ball was real. In 2011 and 2012, BK’s offense was remarkably consistent in total production and experienced a significant increase in yards on the ground, going from 2085 in 2011 to 2462 in 2012. These numbers illustrate the main difference, as I see it, between the two coaches: Lou ran the ball and fashioned his teams with that in mind, while Coach Kelly is looking to move the ball, however he can. I expect that as the quality of our backfields improve over time, our rushing and passing totals will reach a rough equality.

As you can see in the next table, BK’s three-year average offensive numbers stack up pretty well against Lou’s.

Kelly 5221 3156.67 2064 27.1
Holtz 4328.67 1764 2564.67 29.9

Using Coach Kelly’s three-year average, I then set about comparing it to any three year period from the Holtz years. While the Holtz years saw higher points-per-game averages and higher rushing averages, Kelly’s three year average beats them in total yards and passing yards.

2010-2012 5221 3156.67 2064 27.1
1987-1989 4459 1404.67 3021 32.1
1988-1990 4557.67 1543.33 3014.33 32.7
1989-1991 4957.33 1812.67 3197.33 33.7
1990-1992 5076 2052 3076.67 34.8
1991-1993 5122 2059.67 3115 36.4
1992-1994 4709.67 1993 2776.67 34.2
1993-1995 4524.67 1920.67 2604 32.9
1994-1996 4848 1912 2636.33 33.1

After his first three years, Coach Brian Kelly compares quite well with the last coach to join the pantheon of ND greats. Two things Kelly lacks are, obviously, a championship and longevity. Who knows if last year’s flirtation with the NFL will be repeated or finally consummated. But if Coach Kelly keeps winning, he may just go on to surpass Lou’s legend. Here’s hoping his great reward is better than Mark May.HLS EFS CSC Holtz May

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  • Dick Angelotti

    Holtz proved the theory that you win with defense and running the ball. Interesting how in each year Kelly had more yardage but fewer points.

  • Stoner

    To be a true comparison, you’ll need yards per game, since Kelly coached more games than Lou.