Lesar: Notre Dame Nation gets its needed sacrifice with VanGorder firing

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — That sinister faction of Notre Dame football fans, frustrated to the point of anger over the current circumstances of the program, finally got what it’s been asking for: Brian VanGorder’s head on a stick.

Head coach Brian Kelly made the presentation Sunday when he announced that, contrary to the public support he gave his defensive coordinator Saturday night after a third swing and a miss this season, it was necessary to make a change.

Cancel the online petition to run BVG out of town. All hail Greg Hudson, analyst-turned-coordinator.

It’s like when the house fell on the Wicked Witch, and the Munchkins made Dorothy an instant hero.

Problem is, it’ll take more than a trip down the Yellow Brick Road to put some heart into the Tinmen who have been playing on the Notre Dame defense.

With eight games left, this was a move that had to happen. There’s a season that’s worth trying to salvage.

The Irish needed a new start, or “clean slate,” as Kelly said Sunday.

This is as close to a do-over as Notre Dame players can get. Not that the problems of the first third of the season will be forgotten (yielding an average of over 500 yards in the three losses and ranking 103rd overall in total defense), but at least the Irish can face Monday with the feeling that a drastic step toward stopping the bleeding has been taken.

It’s different from the 1991 campaign when, late in the year, Lou Holtz decided defensive coordinator Gary Darnell and outside linebackers coach Jay Hayes weren’t the right guys for the job. Rather than fire them with a few games left, Holtz took over as defensive coordinator and relegated Darnell and Hayes to the opposite end of the practice field each day. Now that was uncomfortable. Neither returned after ’91.

Kelly viewed this as a time to cut bait.

Regardless of the friendship of more than a couple decades between Kelly and VanGorder, after a week spent gathering data on the situation, Kelly felt informed enough to make the decision. It had to be a tough call, but one for the best of the program.

In his Sunday teleconference, Kelly called his defensive players “mechanical” and “robotic.” His preference is for fast, free and loose; “… playing the game like kids.”

That’s what’s missing at Notre Dame these days: Fun. Hard to have a smile at 1-3, when the weight of ND Nation bears down from every direction.

Kelly said, “There's probably too much analysis…” in the VanGorder scheme. That goes along with: Paralysis by analysis.

Expect the defense to be more basic and more players to be contributing Saturday against Syracuse’s high-octane offense.

“We've got guys on the field that have eaten up way too many reps,” Kelly said. “We just have not put (many backups) in the game. They are going to play. You'll see them this weekend.”

Who cares that Hudson got whacked at Purdue after three years? Who cares that his Purdue defenses ranked: 111th in 2015, 82nd in 2014, and 105th in 2013 (while the Boilermakers had six total wins)? They must have been having an enjoyable time.

At least the Notre Dame fan base has been appeased for now. It has its sacrifice. This should carry the faithful through Saturday mid-afternoon. The natives were restless, and Kelly responded.

Now… As for the players…

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly yells at his players as Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands by during the Notre Dame's 38-35 loss against Duke, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)