Fittingly, I hope, we end this year’s installment of Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy with the position that defines an era: Coach. Years, if not decades, are defined by the men at the helm of the program. Rockne connotes herky-jerky newsreels and chamiponships. Leahy, Parseghian, Holtz, Devine, Willingham, and Weis each conjure images or feelings. Entering his fifth year at the head of Fighting Irish, the big fig himself, Brian Kelly’s name is beginning to define the times. One ignores the centrality of scandal at one’s own peril, but there as an unmistakable aura of success permeating the place, too. Whether it be the continuity of lofty graduation rates or the return of multiple players to the NFL Draft, or the legitimate presence in the national title discussion, and, in 2012, in the game itself, Brian Kelly’s hands on the tiller have begun to turn the Titanic. Whether there be more icebergs lurking is unknown.
THE IRISH: BRIAN KELLY, FIFTH SEASON, 37-15 overall
My introductory remarks about coaches conjuring images was, like much of what I do, deliberate, for few coaches immediately force a face, a purple, rage-twisted face, on the Irish faithful. That a new coach could be taken to task for screaming struck some as appropriate, others as offensive as the language the networks took pains to show. I don’t know if Coach Kelly has ever recovered from that uneasy place before us and frankly wonder if he wants to. He is a man comfortable in the front of his guys and he clearly buys into his players and his program, with the program always the more important. That dedication to the “next-man-in” philosophy saw him through the loss of Everett Golson at the start of last season, and now the loss of three other starters at the start of this one.
Kelly has the most wins of any Irish coach in his first four seasons in history, and he is second to only Bob Stoops in total number of wins since 2001. He is the second-youngest and fifth-fastest head coach to win two hundred games and he’s brought the Irish to a bowl in each of his four, Tommy Rees-dominated seasons. Still, there are many who still question his control, his supervision, and his methods.
Without question, though, Brian Kelly has brought Notre Dame results and the program is in a better place than it was when he arrived. Gone are the years of lost recruiting-classes and empty NFL drafts. While I don’t think the sun is yet at its apex on the Kelly years, I wonder if it won’t begin to set after the series with Georgia, when Brian Kelly can say he brought the Irish back to relevance, to the championship, and into the SEC, and walked away a winner.
THE ENEMY: DAVID SHAW, STANFORD, FOURTH SEASON, 35-6 overall
David Shaw graduated from Stanford in 1995. Let that sink in, sports fans. When I was starting my law school career, Shaw was starting off his coaching career at Western Washington, where ran the outside linebackers and tight-ends. From there, he went to the NFL, through stints with the Eagles, Raiders, Chargers, and Ravens. Finally, back at his alma mater in 2007, he was the Offensive Coordinator and, since 2011, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.
You see? That’s why Stanford and David Shaw make me nuts. N-V-T-S nuts. The don’t have a head coach, they have a Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. There’s just that little je ne sais quoi of asshat-ery about Stanford and David Shaw that makes me want to crush them every single year. But we don’t. Every year, win or lose, it’s a tough, physical game. And one for which Shaw always has his troops ready.
His record going into his fourth season as a head coach is very impressive. He’s won back-to-back Pac-12 Championships and the Rose Bowl, over Wisconsin in 2012. His list of personal accolades even more so: the 2013 AFCA Regional Coach of the Year and Eddie Robinson Award finalist, the 2012 and 2011 Pac-12 Coach of the Year. His team’s academic performances are superlative across all metrics.
Still, Shaw’s smug disappointment after Notre Dame’s epic stand to steal seal a win in 2012 was for the ages. Watch it again, below, and listen to crowd’s roar drown out the whistles of the phantoms:
- Finding Flaws in a Diamond: Clemson’s Rushing Offense - December 17, 2018
- Why Nobody Will Cotton to Notre Dame - December 3, 2018
- Irish Finish Regular Season Perfect 12-0 - November 26, 2018