5:36 AM AKST, November 23, 2012
In November of 2009, I played my final football game for the University of Notre Dame. As I walked away from a once-glorious football program, I saw a program that was in disarray. I witnessed a program whose team "leaders" decided to not go to a bowl game and a program where personal agendas seemed to trump collective success.
If a Notre Dame fan would have asked me three years ago if Grace Hall's summit would once again be lit up and the Irish would ascend to No. 1, I would have initially answered with a resounding "NO."
My reasoning isn't that we lacked talent. In the downward spiral starting in 2007, I played with NFL players Golden Tate, John Carlson, Robert Blanton, Armando Allen, Eric Olsen, Trevor Robinson, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, Tommy Z, Harrison Smith and John Sullivan.
I couldn't imagine a resurgence of success because I had become accustomed to an environment of mediocrity. My view was jaded. Consistent losing can lower confidence and shatter expectations. This was the Notre Dame football program I left. Something had to change. However, in this case, someone had to be changed.
On a selfish level, and as part of the Irish football family, I want to take some credit for the success of the Irish this year. My reasoning: unfortunately for me at the time, but fortunately for current players and fans, the teams I played on from 2007-09 were bad enough to cause the administration to make a decision.
Not every person can be the perfect fit at a university. Most of the time, for one reason or another, a coach and his staff do not click with the university. If asked a second time about whether or not the Irish would regain the No. 1 spot, I would have thoughtfully said, "It takes the right person to lead the program. It takes a true Notre Dame man. Someone that embodies the University"
To be completely honest, at first I didn't think Brian Kelly was a true Notre Dame man. I wouldn't go as far as to put words in his mouth, but he might agree with that statement. He has evolved year to year, he has adapted to being the coach at Notre Dame, he has learned how to embrace old traditions and create new ones, he has respected alumni and gained their respect in return, and he has become a Notre Dame man.
This year, more than ever, it is evident through his actions and his words that he displays a keen sensitivity to all things Notre Dame.
I never saw this same approach from coach Charlie Weis, and that is why I believe his teams would have never gotten to this level of success even if he had been given more time. Coach Weis used a phrase about some of the great QBs he was around that "they just have it, you can see it in their eyes." I never saw it in coach Weis' eyes.
Does Brian Kelly have it? What Brian Kelly most definitely has is an 11-0 football team on the brink of legendary status.
Let's look beyond 2012's success and a potential opportunity to win a national title, and focus on the future.
Does this surge up the polls last from year to year? The answer can be found on Brian Kelly's résumé: 118-35-2 (.767 winning percentage) as the Grand Valley State head coach (1991-2003) with two Division II national titles.
In three years with Central Michigan, he coached the Chippewas to their first winning season in seven years and their first MAC championship in more than a decade.
As the head coach at Cincinnati he was 34-6 and won two Big East titles.
Are the Irish back as perennial contenders? I think so! Go Irish!
In addition to his weekly column, former Notre Dame quarterback Evan Sharpley previews upcoming games each Friday at 7:50 a.m. on WSBT's JT In The Morning Show (960 AM and 96.1 FM). On Mondays, Sharpley co-hosts WSBT's Notre Dame Football Final, which airs from 9-10 a.m. He'll also be an occasional contributor to WSBT's Weekday SportsBeat and Gameday SportsBeat radio programs. He serves as the director of fitness at the Eastlake Athletic Club in Elkhart.
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