No room for excuses for Notre Dame football

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – “Yeah buts” will no longer be tolerated in conjunction with the Notre Dame football program.

Whether they acknowledge it or not, Wednesday’s start of spring practice is the beginning of a new approach for the Irish. No room for excuses. It’s time to deliver.

After a trip to the BCS National Championship Game in 2012, Notre Dame seemed poised for a long run of success. Yeah, but then quarterback Everett Golson was banished from school for academic reasons and, without a backup better than Tommy Rees, things went sour.

Last season, Golson was back and the Irish firepower seemed good enough to make up for what appeared to be some gaping holes on a shaky defense. Yeah, but more academic problems cropped up and the Irish found themselves in an 8-5 pickle.

With 18 starters – and plenty of impact players – back for 2015, there’s every reason to believe that double-digit wins, and even a run at a spot in the playoffs, could be a realistic expectation. Yeah, but a completely overhauled coaching staff with four new faces could slow the development while things take time to mesh.

Right?

Nope, not this time around. There has been too much mediocrity already on coach Brian Kelly’s watch: 8-5, 8-5, 12-1, 9-4, 8-5. Four very average seasons sandwiching something special computes to a trend.

Now’s the time to buck the trend.

The grace period that comes with a brush with a national title — even though the 42-14 loss to Alabama made it feel farther away than it really was — has officially ended. Excuses won’t cut it anymore.

Six years into it, Kelly has signed off on every player on this roster. His staff is a combination of longtime friends, loyal sons who came back to Notre Dame, and the fresh blood offensive coordinator Mike Sanford brings.

Right now, without a major crisis looming, it appears to be a very cohesive and efficient operation. Even lacking staff stability, the available talent will provide plenty of opportunities to tinker, on both sides of the ball.

Stay tuned, though, because sure as Texas will show up for the season opener Sept. 5, there will be adversity. Somewhere, somehow, sometime between now and then, there will be a crisis. Always is. That’s just the nature of the beast.

The true measure of a team – and a head coach and his staff – will be how that adversity is handled. Whether it’s an injury (or injuries), academic problems, other personnel issues, or something that blindsides everyone from out of left field, something will happen. How the situation is managed is the difference between a hum-drum 8-5 and a special season.

Six years into his stay in South Bend, Kelly should be equipped to deal with just about anything. The myriad of issues that have crossed his desk during his time in the Gug’s corner office could fill a book. Or two.

There have been situations that couldn’t have been covered in any coaching manual. Often, Kelly has had to sort things out on the fly — sometimes good, sometimes not so good.

A rookie would think: What’s next? Kelly has to have reached the point where he doesn’t even bother asking anymore. Don’t even wonder. His curiosity nerve likely is numb. Just wait ‘til “what’s next?” happens, and manage it with the best interests of the team in mind.

And hope that the program’s foundation is solid enough to absorb the hit.

Yeah, but …

After four straight losses to end the regular season, Brian Kelly's Irish finished the season with a big win. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)