Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick says Brian Kelly will be back in 2017
Brian Kelly's seat at Notre Dame may be cooler than most expect.
Despite stumbling out to a 2-5 start this fall, the seventh-year Irish head coach's job does not hinge on the next five games, athletics director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN.com.
"Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year," Swarbrick told ESPN.com.
Kelly, who is 57-28 in his nearly seven seasons at Notre Dame, signed a contract extension that runs through the 2021 season last winter. On Sept. 25, he fired third-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder a day after the team's 38-35 home upset loss to Duke.
Kelly has drawn criticism not just for his recent results, but also for his sometimes fiery sideline demeanor and critical public evaluations of his players.
"I guess I'd say I wish the perception matched the reality a little better," Swarbrick told ESPN.com. "I understand the perception, but we've got to work to alter that perception because it creates noise and gets in the way. But the reality couldn't be further from it.
"I'm not going to reveal the nature of the postgame discussion between Brian and the team after (last weekend's loss to) Stanford, but that was a discussion between a coach and a team who really care about each other and have a great relationship, and that's what I get to see every day. What we have to do is try to avoid the situation, which creates a different perception because that perception doesn't reflect the reality. We have to figure out how to be better at it."
Notre Dame has lost its five games by an average of 5.6 points per game. And while the record hasn't reached Swarbrick's expectations, he sees the team's current struggles more as an outlier than an ongoing trend.
"Everybody associated with the program is disappointed — the players, first and foremost, the coaching staff, me — because we want to do better, we know we can do better, so there's great disappointment," Swarbrick told ESPN.com.
"Having said that, this is a pretty remarkable team in terms of its togetherness and its resiliency. They still come to every practice energized and focused. And as Brian has said repeatedly, they do everything we ask. They give us everything. So from that perspective, we want a different result."
Notre Dame has already begun to see different results on the defensive side of the ball since replacing VanGorder with Irish alum Greg Hudson. Under VanGorder, the fledgling Irish defense allowed 454 yards and 33.5 points and recorded 4.3 tackles for loss per game.
In three games under Hudson, Notre Dame has improved those numbers to 327.7 yards and 20 points allowed per game and 5.7 tackles for loss per game.
There has been improvement, though not enough to win close games.
"Just as I wouldn't single out any individual player, it's unrealistic to say: Oh, the result of this lays solely at the feet of the head coach," Swarbrick said of Notre Dame's struggles. "I bear responsibility. I'm ultimately responsible for our performance, so all of us are in this together. But I can tell you I continue to have complete confidence in Brian. I think you really see what you've got in a coach with how they manage times like this, and I think he has done a great job of it.
"His focus has been really laser sharp, his relationship with this team is probably as strong as any that I've seen with him at Notre Dame, and those are all positives. Neither of us are satisfied with 2-5, but I'm at most of the practices. I'm at training table. I have an office at the Gug in addition to my other office. I get to see the program day in and day out and I continue to have great confidence in Brian and confidence in our future as a program."
Essentially, Swarbrick said that Kelly won't be coaching for his job when Notre Dame hosts Miami on Oct. 29 — whether the fans like it or not.