Brian Kelly Leaves Notre Dame: Biggest Wins and Losses Part 1


brian kelly notre dame

(Repost from late 2020)

Yesterday, in a blowout of Syracuse on Senior Day, Ian Book become the all-time winningest quarterback in Notre Dame history. He led the Fighting Irish to victory number 30, by the score of 45-21 over the Orange, and now the ACC Title Game against Clemson awaits a week from Saturday.

As one ND victory record falls, another one approaches. Head Coach Brian Kelly is just now three behind Knute Rockne for the most wins all time by a Fighting Irish Head Coach.

So an ACC title game win, plus two College Football Playoff victories and he would end the 2020 season knotted up with the Godfather of ND Football.

Then 2021 would provide the opportunity for Kelly to reach #1 by his lonesome. In a case of very strange coincidence, or perhaps just the circle of life, Rockne’s first season in charge was 1918. And as you might have read about online, or seen on the news, 1918 and 2020 have something in common.

It would certainly be very fitting if Book, dual threat QB that he is, and this current group of seniors are involved with Kelly making history. Said tight end Tommy Tremble of Book in postgame last night, “he’s a baller man.”

Said Jack Kiser of this senior class: “they have set the bar, they are the bar.”

Brian Kelly reflecting on this strangest of regular seasons, the first within a conference in Notre Dame history:

“As it relates to the ACC, we’re obviously extremely grateful for Commissioner Swofford and giving us this opportunity, and then it’s like anything else, take advantage of the opportunity, and we’ve taken full advantage of the opportunity, have played the 10 games that we have in front of us, and now we’re playing for an ACC Championship.”

“Have been really impressed with the procedures and protocols that the ACC has put in place during this COVID time, and excited to go to Charlotte and play for an ACC Championship.”

As it is now bye week, and we have loads of time to get to the ACC Title game preview material, let’s take a look back at the Brian Kelly era, and remember some of the biggest highs and lows of that decade, season by season.

2010 8-5, Sun Bowl, Beat Miami 33-17

Kelly was fortunate to retain his job given what transpired off the field in his debut season. We don’t have the time and space to get into that here, as we covered all of that extensively at the time. However, a 1-3 start, plus losses in back to back weeks to Tulsa and Navy, provided a rocky start to the Kelly era.

They did, however, also blow a top 15 ranked Utah side at home, and they won both the Holy War and Jeweled Shillelagh games. And they ended the term with a bowl win in the Catholics vs Convicts rivalry.

2011 8-5, Lost to Florida State 14-18 in Champs Sports Bowl

The season opening upset loss to USF, and its massive delays due to a lightning storm, is unforgettable. An early blowout home win of Michigan State was impressive, as that Spartan team would go on to play in the inaugural Big Ten Title game.

Overall though this season, despite its highs and low wasn’t all that consequential and memorable, in the grand scheme of things.


2012, 12-1, Lost to Alabama 42-14 in the BCS National Title Game, Final AP National Ranking #4

The Irish finished with the number one defense in the country, giving up just 10.3 points per game, led by Manti Te’o, the Butkus award winner and a Heisman finalist. He would go on to play a few years in the NFL, but he’s kind of more known for something else.

Again, as TMZ as that whole thing was, we covered that plenty enough at that time, so let’s move on to what else happened that year.


Because of what happened in the national title game, a result that was actually more lopsided than the final score indicates, many questioned whether or not ND deserved to be there. Half of their wins were by a one score margin, and two of those required overtime.

So they weren’t dominant, no, but they were 12-0 heading into the championship game and they did have four top 20 wins, including a blowout of #8 Oklahoma.

2013, 9-4, Beat Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl 29-16

Before we proceed, it’s worth noting that all wins in the 2012 and 2013 seasons were later vacated for use of ineligible players. And yes, OMG, Rutgers played in a decent bowl game once upon a time? and it wasn’t all that long ago? Wow!


Once again, an early season victory over Michigan State aged really well over time. If not for their September slip up in South Bend, the Spartans would have been in the mix to play for the national title.

Overall, this team was 1-3 versus opponents ranked at the time, 8-1 versus unranked. That kind of speaks to who they were- just kinda good, or solid maybe, but nothing special. Tomorrow, in part two, we’ll cover 2014-2020, so check back for that.

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram

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