Notre Dame Football Program Sets High Standards
In terms of success – both in sports and life - it’s difficult to beat Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly this season.
In his third year at the helm of the legendary Fighting Irish football team, Kelly has led the team back to glory for the first time since the 1990s. He’s also built a team known for student achievement.
The Fighting Irish finished the regular college season 12–0, including wins over Michigan, Stanford and Oklahoma. By November, the team reached the top spot in the college football polls – the first time Notre Dame has been #1 since 1993.
Kelly won the Associated Press Coach of the Year award in December.
Notre Dame’s season culminates tonight when the Fighting Irish take on the Alabama Crimson Tide for the national championship at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla.
Kelly’s road to the championship game provides lessons for students and business leaders – or anyone facing a challenge – in commitment and dedication, as well as having a strategy and executing it properly.
Notre Dame’s success also proves the value of emphasizing the “student” part of student-athlete – making the Fighting Irish football team the first team ever to rank first in football and first in student graduation rate (a whopping 97%).
Challenges Faced by Kelly When He Arrived at Notre Dame
Kelly arrived at South Bend, Ind., in 2009. He already had enjoyed a solid collegiate coaching career. He coached three seasons at the University of Cincinnati and led the team to a 34-6 record and two Big East Conference championships. He had previously won a Mid-American Conference Championship in 2006 as head coach of Central Michigan University’s football team.
Still, Notre Dame was a step up in terms of prestige. And he faced challenges. According to the University of Notre Dame Website, his challenges included:
Shoring up a defense that ranked 86th in the nation in yards allowed per game.
Improve the team’s mental and physical stamina – they were having difficulty winning games late in the season.
Cut down on sloppy play that led to the team losing games that they were leading at half-time.
Turning Around a Struggling Team
Kelly immediately turned around the defense. In his first two years, he focused on improvement to the defensive squad and oversaw a unit that was one of only 13 in all college football that gave up less than 21 points per game.
Overall, Kelly created success at Notre Dame in his first two years – to a point. Both teams finished 8-5 and made bowl appearances: a victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl in 2010, and a loss to Florida State University in the Champs Sports Bowl to end the 2011 season. Kelly was the first Fighting Irish coach to win a bowl game in his first season.
Not only did the defense improve, the Fighting Irish record when leading at half-time soared to 15-3. The team also has lost only one game in November since Kelly took over, a vast improvement.A New Focus on the Players
At the outset of the 2012, Kelly returned to being more hands-on in coaching his team. Also, to improve the stamina of his squad, he elevated the strength and conditioning coach to a higher position within the organization.
Kelly himself spent more time with the players and learned their strengths and weaknesses. He also emphasized academics, something that has been as much a tradition at Notre Dame as the football itself. Overall, the Fighting Irish athletes have a 99% graduation rate, with the football team at 97%.
Those are incredible numbers, particularly considering the atmosphere at other programs and also a Tweet in the fall of 2012 from an Ohio State University quarterback, Cardale Jones, who questioned whether football players should have to attend classes at all. He called classes “pointless.”
Notre Dame’s graduation rate put the school at No. 1 both in the football polls and in graduation rates. That has never happened before.
The school achieved that goal by setting high standards within the university for graduation rates, standards that exceed those required by the BCS and their conference. Part of the success comes from Kelly’s effective leadership and focus on winning.
Both Kelly and Notre Dame have a well-deserved reputation for caring about players beyond what they achieve on the field.