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Nirvana or Purgatory?

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Every few years I get to write a piece on the next "Great Hope" for the Notre Dame football program. With the frequency at which these columns are coming, the question must be asked -- Is South Bend where coaches go to become immortal heroes, or where they go to be unceremoniously labeled a villain for all eternity?

Some of college football's all-time greats have walked the Notre Dame sidelines, from Jesse Harper (1913-17) and Knute Rockne (1918-30) early in the 20th century, to Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53), Ara Parseghian (1964-74) and Dan Devine (1975-80) later on and finally Lou Holtz (1986-96).

While those coaches had a great deal of success and some even became part of the fabric of college football history, there are others who never were able to elevate the program and by association themselves to the high standards which are expected in South Bend.

Brian Kelly is charged with bringing the Irish back from the college football abyss.
Following Devine's successful stint which ended with his resignation in 1980, the Irish brass made an unusual pick as a successor in Gerry Faust. An unknown outside of Ohio where Faust was a legendary high school coach (four prep national titles and five Ohio State championships), he failed to deliver at the collegiate level, going just 30-26-1 in his five years at the helm.

Bob Davie was another coach who followed one of the greats, taking over for Holtz in 1997. Davie was a defensive genius, serving under Holtz for three seasons while also orchestrating some of the best defenses in the country year-in and year-out at Texas A&M. Despite three bowl appearances, Davie was only able to amass a 35-25 overall record in four years, not exactly stuff legends are made of.

Even more recently have been unsuccessful bids at the job by Tyrone Willingham (2002-04), who was given three years to make ND relevant again, and Charlie Weis (2005-09), the recently deposed head coach who failed to deliver in his five years in charge. Both showed flashes of what Notre Dame could be, but neither sustained that success and were abruptly dismissed.

Where exactly then does Notre Dame football stand in the big picture now?

Well, make no mistake about it, there is a lot of rebuilding to do. The Irish have posted just two 10-win seasons since Holtz left in 1996 and a mere two 8+ win campaigns over the last seven years. Notre Dame has not won a significant bowl game since the Cotton Bowl following the 1993 campaign and just recently snapped a nine-game losing streak in postseason affairs last year with a win over Hawaii in the South Pacific.

It's obvious that there is a great deal of work ahead and it won't be for the faint of heart.

Enter Brian Kelly, who is sure to receive no patience from the school or fans alike as he is charged with bringing the Irish back from the college football abyss.

The cupboard won't be entirely bare, but Kelly is already down two of the nation's premier players, as QB Jimmy Clausen and WR Golden Tate have decided to forgo their senior seasons in 2010 and join the NFL ranks a year early.

So, is Kelly the next great Notre Dame coach, or just another in a long line of failed choices by the powers that be in South Bend?

Bob Stoops made it quite clear he had no intentions of leaving Norman and why in the world would Urban Meyer ever leave the Sunshine State? Those would be the only names that would peak more interest than Kelly. In the 48-year old Cincinnati coach, Notre Dame has landed a known commodity, with a huge upside. Kelly has recently finished his third season with the Bearcats (will not coach in the bowl game) and has an impeccable 34-6 record with the school. He has led Cincinnati to back-to-back Big East titles, including a 12-0 record this year and a berth in the Sugar Bowl against reigning national champion Florida.

In 20 years as a coach, Kelly has had success everywhere he has been. He won back-to-back Division II national championships (2002-03) at Grand Valley State and won 19 games in three seasons at Central Michigan, winning the Mid- American Conference in 2006 before taking over at Cincinnati. The rebuilding process was short with the Bearcats and I'm sure the hope among the Irish faithful is for similar results when he begins his tenure at ND.

Only time will tell if Kelly's name will go down as one of Notre Dame's most revered and beloved leaders, or will it be just another coaching career burned in effigy at the altar in South Bend?

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes
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