Brian Kelly Leaves Notre Dame: Biggest Wins and Losses Part 2


(repost from late 2020)

For #2 Notre Dame the ACC Title Game, against #4 Clemson kicks off Saturday night in Charlotte. The 10-0 (9-0 in ACC play) Fighting Irish handed the Tigers (9-1, 8-1) their only loss of the season back on Nov. 7. Yet the Irish are underdogs here again, almost as substantially an underdog as they were last month when the two teams clashed in South Bend.

The Irish were 8 point dogs heading into the big upset of the then #1 Tigers. For this game, the moneyline prices them at +260.

Head Coach Brian Kelly is just now three wins behind Knute Rockne for the most all time by a Fighting Irish Head Coach. So an ACC title game win here (game preview at this link), plus two College Football Playoff victories and he would end the 2020 season knotted up with the Godfather of ND Football.

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.

Kelly reflected 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 we now head into one of the biggest games in recent ND history, 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. Part 1, covering 2010-2013, can be found at this link.

We now present part 2, 2014-2016.

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2014, 8-5, Music City Bowl win 31-28 over LSU

They started the season with a 6–0 record, climbing as high as No. 5 in both polls, with a blowout win over arch-rival Michigan. A 17-14 victory over then No. 14 Stanford was impressive as well.

Their final win before the season went off the rails was a very memorable 50-43 home victory over North Carolina that included an infamous “roughing the snapper” penalty.

They then lost at #2 Florida State, in narrow and controversial fashion, and just never recovered. The blowout in the desert at Arizona State was embarrassing, but still nowhere near as bad as the home loss to sub .500 Northwestern team in overtime.


The annual USC clash was one that almost every Irish fan would like to forget. However, this campaign ended on a high note. Malik Zaire made his first start at quarterback count as he led the Irish to an 8 point upset over #23 LSU.

It was the first bowl over a ranked team for ND since 1993 and the first win over a SEC opponent since 2005.

However, it is worth noting just how off the Tigers looked that day, especially so on defense, and that makes perfect sense given how we all learned after the game that their defensive coordinator was leaving for Texas A&M.

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2015, 10-3, #11, 44-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to #7 Ohio State  

One of the most offensively explosive teams that Kelly has ever had, they were in the national title conversation, at least on the periphery, until the final week, when they fell 38-36 at #13 Stanford. Their only loss previously was at #12 Clemson in week five.

There was no shame in that.

All in all, their wins this season didn’t hold up too well as the season rolled out. Although they did take care of business at a good Temple side and at home versus a solid Georgia Tech squad.

The Holy War win this season came at Fenway Park, so you also have the novelty of that.

However, the New Year’s Day bowl woes continued. Instead of getting whomped by a southern school, this time it was a fellow Midwestern institution that throttled them, Ohio State.

Overall, it was a strange game on the very first day of what would be an Earth shattering calendar year, as the top NFL talent on both sides left the game early due to either injury or ejection.

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2016, 4-8

This was the season where Kelly had to make the adjustments that would redefine his legacy at ND. it was a crossroads, make-or-break term. He fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder in mid-season, and had he not done that, his own seat was set to be scalding hot.

He also found himself changing his approach quite a bit. Less temper, more calm in his outward demeanor. He also did more delegating to assistants, and realized that he had to abandon a more pass happy kind of offense, in order to better play to the strong suits of the roster.

This was a bad team, one that was forced to play NC State (where they lost 10-6) in the middle of a hurricane for some odd reason. The loss to Navy in Jacksonville, and at home to Duke, were also on-the-field lowest of the low points for Kelly at ND.

In 2017, Kelly took the greatest depth and biggest strength of his team, the OL, and built everything around it. He made the adjustments he needed to keep his job, as they would become the first of the sort of dominant power running ND teams we’ve grown accustomed to seeing since then.

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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