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Some 'big picture' questions w/r/t Kelly

by Mike (bart), Monday, November 24, 2014, 07:48

I was only able to catch bits and pieces of the game Saturday, but it didn't look like we played terribly. Had we won the NW game we would probably all feel a lot better right now. Still, the fact or the matter is we lost at home to a 7-3 team starting its true freshman backup quarterback, and we've now lost 3 of 4 and are 16-9 in our last 25 games (.640). That's basically two full seasons of <.650 football.

We can go a lot of ways from here. It is fully possible -- perhaps even likely -- that this year's collapse is a simple result of inexperience and injuries. It is also fully possible that other things are at play as well. We don't really have any indicators at all that this program is moving in the right direction right now, we only have some intuitive explanations for the absence of positive indicators. Again, I hope the sky isn't falling, but that's not where we wanted to be in Year 5 of the Brian Kelly Era.

My biggest concern is that Kelly actually finds himself in uncharted waters. Three years at CMU, three years at Cincinnati, the first set of years at ND --- right now we are looking at Brian Kelly's first experience dealing with his own roster since Michael Jordan was playing basketball. I think we should consider the possibility that Kelly might be a skilled turnaround artist rather than the long-haul "program builder" we have been viewing him to be. I mean stuff that has been a hallmark of Kelly's tenure -- discipline, tackling, player development, improved November play -- is falling away from this team like ribs off the bone right now. Kelly is a pretty tough-ass coach, and I think there is a possibility that the model of "Ok, fuckers, you've got a real coach now. Listen, up, buy-in, or get the fuck out; this losing bullshit stops here" is a lot more effective with a hybrid roster (where you have older guys who actually lead the buy-in process) than it is with a roster of players Kelly and staff recruited themselves.

In fact, one of the first comparisons that popped into my head when looking at the weird trajectory of Kelly's tenure here was that of Scott Skiles with the Bulls. Skiles took over a somewhat similar situation to Kelly (proud institution fallen on embarrassingly hard times) and here's what he did:

CHI 2003–04 66 19 47 .288 8th in Central

CHI 2004–05 82 47 35 .573 2nd in Central

CHI 2005–06 82 41 41 .500 4th in Central

CHI 2006–07 82 49 33 .598 3rd in Central (beat defending champion Miami Heat in the playoffs)

CHI 2007–08 25 9 16 .360 (fired)

Obviously Kelly has had more success than Skiles did, but the trends were somewhat similar: a tough leader who cut the bullshit and took the team back to respectability. As happens somewhat frequently with hardass coaches, the sense of improvement could only be sustained for so long. After a while progress plateaued and the drama and intensity flatlined from a marginal returns perspective.

(I will reiterate that I'm just throwing this idea at the wall to see what of it sticks and what does not, and that I fully understand the catastrophic attrition ND's dealt with this year. I'll only add on to that a small objection that 'program-level' holes like what we've dealt with were supposed to be to some extent a thing of the past --- not that they would be wholly avoidable but that sensible, even recruiting and meaningful player development would have created a more resilient roster.)

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