As Brian Kelly enters the 2014 season as the Notre Dame football coach, Irish fans will get their first opportunity to see the real Brian Kelly. Up until now, Kelly has had to coach a team that is made up primarily of players from the Charlie Weis era.
When a coach inherits a team, especially in a setting like Notre Dame, he is not in a position to make wholesale changes. He must honor past commitments, and he must do the best with the players he has inherited. Still, the expectation is also to produce a winning team.
Kelly has done all of those things, with some degree of success, and what is particularly noteworthy is a trip to the national championship game in 2012.
It does not change the fact that when a coach inherits a team he is expected to make something special out of players he didn’t recruit and players who he probably would not have recruited. It is not that the players he had to work with were not good players, but simply they may not have been the type of player he needs to play in the style he want to play in. In 2014 Kelly will finally be playing football with a team of Kelly recruits.
In a recent interview with Bill King, Kelly tells Irish listeners that going into next season he will finally have the right quarterback in place and he will have the right balance of skill players he needs to run the type of offense he is comfortable running. In addition to this, he will be doing all of the offensive play calling in 2014 to become more involved in the offense.
These announcements signal a new era in Notre Dame football and increases the pressure tremendously on Kelly and his staff. In 2014 there will be no Tommy Rees to blame for poor execution. The expectation will be that the Irish offense will finally begin to resemble the offenses that Kelly has been noted for over the years, high powered, high scoring with aggressive play calling.
Irish fans can certainly expect major changes in the offense in 2014, but what about the defense? In 2012 the Irish made it to the national championship game on the strength of their defense made up primarily of Weis recruits with a sprinkling of Kelly recruits. With Brian VanGorder being announced today at 3pm as the new defensive coordinator it will be interesting to see if the 2014 team will look to outscore teams in shootout games or if Kelly, VanGorder and his staff will deliver an equally aggressive defense.
Going into the 2014 season, expectations will be high as usual, but more scrutiny will be placed on Kelly and his staff than they have faced since their arrival. Irish fans and Jack Swarbrick will probably expect a playoff appearance or two in the future and anything short of this, barring a rash of injuries to key players, may put Kelly’s future at ND in jeopardy.