The History of Notre Dame Football: Are They Back For Good?

Written By: Kellen Sharpe

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are as historic as historic can be. Having some of the all-time great players like Joe Montana and Alan Page and all-time great coaches like Knute Rockne and Ara Parseghian. But, the program hasn’t been the same since the departure of Lou Holtz in 1996. Since then, the Irish have only six bowl games with only two of those coming against ranked opponents. I have lived in South Bend for my entire life and because of that, I know all about the legendary history of the Fighting Irish program. I respect and appreciate the history of success that Notre Dame has. I think the past 20 years of the Notre Dame program is an absolute disgrace to the legends that have gone through that program. Growing up in South Bend, there is a lot of pressure to fall into the trap of thinking Notre Dame is a contender every year. But, I thank my father for showing highlights of 80’s Penn State football and converting me to a Penn State fan early on. But, along with showing me Penn State highlights, I saw clips of Notre Dame’s Hayday. Through those experiences, I’ve grown critical of the current Notre Dame program because I want them to win and in this article, I will go through the Charlie Weiss and Brian Kelly eras. I believe that those eras are the biggest obstacles that have prevented Notre Dame from reaching the promise land once again.

I was born in 2004, during the downfall of Notre Dame football, aka the Tyrone Willingham era. Willingham was fired for the last game of the 2004 season and put Kent Baer as their interim Head Coach. Baer lost the last two games of the season and the Irish finished 6-7. Baer didn’t look like the resolution for the Irish’s issues so they hired New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss. Some people were mad and confused at this hire because Urban Meyer was a serious candidate for a while, but because Notre Dame didn’t budge on their academic requirements, Urban chose Florida. Don’t get me wrong, Weiss was successful in New England, as he was the offensive coordinator for three Super Bowl wins and he looked to continue that success as head coach of the Irish. Irish fans saw this as a good hire due to the fact that Weiss was a Notre Dame alum and he had proven success on the highest level. Charlie Weiss took control of Notre Dame and didn’t look back. Weiss took Tyronne Willingham’s offense and made them look electric, turning Brady Quinn into a Heisman candidate and a leader.

Notre Dame started the 2005 season with two majors wins over Pittsburgh and Michigan. A disappointing overtime loss followed to Michigan State though, showing the weaknesses on the defensive end. Then we go to week six vs USC. This is probably the greatest game in Notre Dame history. The #1 USC Trojans beat the #9 ranked Irish in the most controversial play, The Bush Push. The Irish finished the rest of the regular season unbeaten and lost to Ohio State by 14 in the fiesta bowl. The 2006 season wasn’t any better, as the Irish went for another two-loss regular season. They were blown out by Michigan and USC, then destroyed by LSU in the Sugar Bowl showing there was still a talent gap between the Irish and the top teams in the country. Everything went down the drain in 2007 when Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija left for the pros. The Irish finished the 2007 season with a 3-9 record and that was the start of the end for Charlie Weiss. In all fairness, the NCAA in 2007 was absolutely bonkers, so I don’t hold 2007 against them too much. In 2008, Notre Dame finished 7-6 with no real quality wins and a Hawaii Bowl win over The Rainbow Warriors. The 2009 season was the last for Charlie Weiss. By week 8, the Irish had gone 6-2 and were the #23 team in the country. They went on to lose every game for the rest of the season and finish with a 6-6 record. The Irish fired Weiss and were on the market for a new Head Coach.

The Brian Kelly era is a mixed bag for me. He has brought great success to the program, but not enough to impress me. In 2010, Kelly was hired out of Cincinnati after leading them to a 12-0 regular season with a Sugar Bowl appearance against Florida. Kelly arrived at Notre Dame and turned the program around, leading them to back to back 8-5 seasons in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, Brian Kelly led the Irish to their first 12 win season since 1989, on the back of Kelly’s star-studded defense that he was able to build through his exceptional recruiting. They were trounced 42-14 by Alabama in the National Championship, proving the point that the academic requirements make way more difficult to recruit national championship talent. The academic requirements aren’t the only thing holding them back though. The Irish are reluctant to join a conference, excluding this special year, and that extra game of a conference championship could really change what bowl games they get into and what recruits they get. But, Brian Kelly has done a great job recruiting and building a good team with how many limitations he has. In 2013 the Irish took a step down to 9-4 and had a Pinstripe Bowl victory. In 2014, Notre Dame finished 8-5, continuing the drop-off but still winning the Music City Bowl. In 2015, Notre Dame looked to be back on the rise with a 10 win season, then everything broke down. The 2016 season is the worst in the Brian Kelly era. The Irish finished 4-8 and I really thought that 2016 would start the downfall of Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame. I was wrong. Kelly took Notre Dame back to 10 wins with a Citrus Bowl win over LSU in 2017. Brian Kelley and the Irish went for an undefeated regular season for the second time in Kelly’s tenure. But, yet again, the talent gap showed as Notre Dame got curb stomped by Clemson 30-3 in the Irish’s first College Football Playoff appearance. Last year, Notre Dame continued their good play, but a close loss to Georgia and a massive loss to Michigan prevented them from reentering the College Football Playoff. Brian Kelly in any other Power 5 situation would easily be a championship Head Coach. But, the limitations put on Kelly have prevented that from happening. I don’t see a Notre Dame National Championship happening anytime soon.

Notre Dame is obviously a good team and good at recruiting. But, they have changed their way of going about recruiting since the ’80s and ’90s, when Lou Holtz and Ara Parseghian had the same limitations that Brian Kelly currently has. One of the differences I see is that the Independence isn’t the place to play anymore. In the ’80s, teams like Florida State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, and South Carolina were all in the Independence and they all competed for National Championships at that time. But, now their best competition is BYU and Army. Notre Dame needs to join a conference if they want to continually compete for a championship. The second thing I would like to see Notre Dame do is to recruit more midwestern talent. Lou and Ara didn’t have the most flashy players ever but, they had big behemoths who had that farm boy strength. Lou and Ara would hone in their natural strength and talents and turn them into National Champions. Notre Dame currently grabs guys from California and Georgia, who have nothing to do and often don’t pan out. If Notre Dame can control the midwest’s recruits, they could dominate the college football world.

Well, I’m ready to hear angry Notre Dame fans. If you’ve got anything to say, leave a comment, and don’t forget to subscribe.

For more of Kellen’s content find his Instagram with the link here!

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