In today’s piece, I respond to a comment made by loyal reader Irishize that called into question Brian Kelly’s ability to coach the quarterback position. In six seasons since Brian Kelly came to South Bend, the Irish have played in, and lost, one national championship game and one major bowl game. They’ve won fifty-five games and lost twenty-three. But what does this mean for Kelly’s success with the quarterbacks?
To answer the question of whether or not Brian Kelly can coach quarterbacks, I went back and looked at the career statistics of Notre Dame’s quarterbacks going back to 1956, thanks to the good people at sports-reference.com. 1956 likely falls far enough into the past that we can be certain that any quarterback worth comparing to those coached since 2010 are included in the group. Joe Theismann, Tony Rice, Joe Montana, John Huarte, and Kevin McDougal all played since then. Great offensive minds roamed the sideline, too. For example, Charlie Weis came in with the reputation of being a quarterbacks guy. He was also a quarterpounder guy, but that’s of no moment.
The all-time yardage leader among Notre Dame quarterbacks, and one swell looker, is Brady Quinn. He attempted 1,602 passes, completing 929 of them for 11,762 yards. His career rating is 134.4. He threw 95 touchdowns against 39 interceptions. AND BRIAN KELLY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. Point to Irishize.
In second place among Irish QB’s is Jimmy Clausen. He attempted 1,110 passes and completed 695 of them, a 62.6 percentage, for 8,148 yards. His quarterback rating is 137.2. He threw 60 touchdowns to 27 interceptions. AND BRIAN KELLY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. 30-0, Irishize.
Brian Kelly, and circumstance, though, had a lot to do with the third-most prolific passer in Notre Dame’s history: Tommy Effing Rees. Tommy No hucked it 1,048 times for 7,670 yards and a completion percentage of 59.8. He connected for 61 touchdowns and 37 interceptions, seven fewer than the school’s all-time INT-leader, Steve Beuerlein who threw 44 picks from 1983 through 1986.
Coach Kelly has also had a hand in your seventh-, fifteenth- and nineteenth-most prolific passers, Messrs. Golson, Kizer, and Crist. Everett completed 745 passes for 5,850 yards, a rating of 138.2, 41 touchdowns and a completion percentage of 59.5. Kizer completed 210 passes for 2,880 yards, 21 touchdowns, a 150.1 rating and a completion percentage of 62.9. Crist completed 199 passes for 2,327 yards, 16 touchdowns, a rating of 127.0 and a completion percentage of 58.9.
Coach Kelly’s greatest measure of how well he coaches and manages the signal-caller position is how he plays the cards he is dealt, year after year. His rotational-system in 2012, in which he spelled an overheating Everett Golson with a cool Tommy Rees, resulted in a perfect regular season. His development of DeShone Kizer meant that the kid was not only ready to step in for an injured Malik Zaire and win the 2015 Virginia game but ready as well to run the team to the Fiesta Bowl and within wishing distance of the playoff. His readjustment of the 2013 offense pulled nine wins out of the hat when the loss of Everett Golson to academic decision-making put the prospect of a losing season very much in play. Only Lou Holtz’s management of the Powlus-to-McDougal succession even mentions comparison to Kelly’s ability to handle the quarterback position.
I didn’t think there was much doubt about Brian Kelly’s ability to develop and coach quarterbacks – the very notion that the larder is stocked with the talent it is at the moment is testament to that. But looking at the record books, it’s impressive to see where the performances of Kelly’s kids stand.