Notre Dame Keeps Pace With Progress


Gold helmets that emulate The Main Building’s Golden Dome. The subtle block white/gold-trimmed block letters on navy blue backgrounds. Long, natural grass. Yes, such nuances have long defined Notre Dame football.

What has also defined arguably the most celebrated college football ever in the last two decades is futility.

Notre Dame’s 21 national championships rank fourth among all programs, and second for programs currently in the Bowl Subdivision. Yet Title No. 21 was claimed in 1988, before most of the players on the current Irish roster were born. UND has appeared in three of the Bowl Championship Series games since the system’s inception in 1998, but lost all three by a combined 73 points. The hire of two-time Big East champion Brian Kelly as head coach in December 2009 brought hope that after three tries, Notre Dame had found a man capable of filling Lou Holtz’s pullover or Knute Rockne’s fedora.

And Kelly just may be. His staff needed just one season to transform one of the nation’s most porous defenses into one of its best. Highly ranked recruits are inking with Notre Dame, presumably loading the cupboard for a run back to the top. The places are in piece for a glorious return.

However, that’s been said before about other coaches’ tenures, from Bob Davie, to Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis. All were crushed under the weight of Notre Dame’s illustrious history.

And that’s precisely why honoring the past while forging new traditions is what Notre Dame must do to let Kelly flourish.

Like a cartoon snowball rolling down a mountain, progress only gains in momentum and weight. Those who don’t keep pace are either crushed under its weight, or forced to get out of the way. The former’s been true for Notre Dame as college football’s nature, and two of those aforementioned programs with more national championships than the Irish chose the latter (Princeton and Yale). Part of keeping pace with the game’s progress is adapting to what players want.

The tweaks are there: “Crazy Train” on third downs and the alternate uniforms debuting Saturday vs. Maryland are the two most noticeable, and thus most debated. Traditionalists abhor the changes, but Kelly addressed such concerns this week.

Kelly talks unis, youth from Irish Illustrated on Vimeo.

Indeed, it’s about the players, and players love the new uniform. Per’s Matt Fortuna:

"“I love them,” Zack Martin said of the Irish’s uniforms for this weekend’s Shamrock Series. “The helmets, they’re awesome. I think everyone on the team really likes them and we know a lot of time and effort were put into them, so we’re excited to wear them on Saturday.”And if they weren’t?“I would tell you this,” Brian Kelly said, “if they didn’t like what we showed them, I would not even touch the topic again. But they’re the ones that generate this. The players come to me, they see what other teams are doing and what other programs have, and they bring it to them, and I shoot it up the flagpole and see if anybody likes it and then go from there.”"

Fashion changes, mainstream muscial tastes change, and sports change. My brother-in-law, an ardent Irish supporter, shared the following from a UND message:

"Granted the helmet is symbolic of the many changes the coaching staff & AD have initiated (the walk..the helmets) and the potential for more changes ( Jumbo & Field turf)As i stated last week on this site..I think Kelly is starting to feel the immense pressure of being ND’s head coach.Do i cringe at some of his comments? Yes.Do i realize he may not think some answers out? DefinitelyDo i think he’s addressing the outer problems involved in ND football? YesI for one ( just my thoughts) like the changes so far.Love the Helmets that came out a few weeks ago.Love the new route for the players walk.Love the attempt to liven up the stadium during the slow periods at a gameI am for a Jumbotron & Field Turf.Take any subject and you will have dissenters and those who like an idea and others who will fall in the middle.I DO HAVE FAITH IN Kelly & Swarbrick that they can and will bring ND back.I will let them run Notre Dame..I suspect Kelly has a feel for what the recruits say & want..after all he and his staff are out there 340 days a year talking to often are the dissenters in front of recruits.Kelly is in a tough position..the kids today want sizzle..want immediate reinforcement…want noise & want glitter.Rockne…my dad..Ara..Lou..all coached in a different era.We could sell ND easier back then.I love the tradition of ND..but we can’t isolate what traditions we love for the sake of the argument that lets us go into a rant.I always live by the feeling that we all need to listen to opposing views and respect them ….do not cut a persons balls off if his view differs. We all need to professionally and dignity and respect.Hell…many disliked Holtz..found Ara unlikable..Devine was not liked by many…and MANY found my father to be a droll arrogant pain in the ass.No coach will ever be revered by everyone.I think Kelly will be able to get it done..I think the Sprint sponsored Shamrock series is a one game a year thing that doesn’t merit the meltdowns..I believe that as long as out University fields a team and “OUR LADS” run out of that tunnel and stand in front of the students and sing the Alma Mater I will watch..I will cheer..I will agonize after any loss..and I will never quit on them."

The author, if you didn’t recognize, is Fred Leahy, son of an architect behind UND’s tradition, Frank. It’s almost like The Beatles giving their endorsement for Rage Against The Machine — and that’s not a bad thing. It’s progress. And if the son of one of the program’s great legends can embrace change, so can the rest of the fan base.