Notre Dame did something it hasn’t done since the late 1980’s, win 11+ games in consecutive seasons. While it is quite the accomplishment and Brian Kelly deserves praise, it feels a bit lackluster. Maybe it is being spoiled by recent success or maybe it is seeing the wasted potential. Either way Notre Dame needs to make a major change to take the next step. That step starts with looking at Tommy Rees and Ian Book.
Notre Dame will have plenty of questions headed into the offseason. Who will be the OC, will Ian Book be back and what players are returning are just a few. Kelly is at a crossroads between staying comfortable or striving to hit that next level.
For starters, Brian Kelly needs to find an OC and the answer is not Tommy Rees. He had some questionable moments calling plays against Iowa State but that isn’t the reason that Kelly needs to move away from him. It was his first game and it is going to be a bit rough at times, that was to be expected. The real reason is to get Kelly away from hiring his friends and promoting an unready and unproven Tommy Rees to early.
The next is the return of Ian Book. While nothing is official, all signs point to Ian Book returning in 2020. Notre Dame didn’t have a defensive issue in 2019, the offense was the problem. A major problem was Ian Book disappearing in big games and only beat up on bad teams. We know what we have with Ian Book. He is nothing more than an average game manager. His stats look good until you look at them by game. Beating up on Navy is great until he becomes a ghost against Clemson or Michigan.
Rolling with Ian Book in 2020 would just give the same results. Notre Dame would beat the teams they should but the schedule isn’t as forgiving next season. Louisville and USC are improving with the latter game in California. They also have Wisconsin and Clemson that should be two teams in playoff contention.
Kelly could hire Rees and roll Book back out again in 2020 while Notre Dame pulls off 9 or 10 wins. Then finish the season in the Camping World Bowl and be happy with another good year. However, if Kelly wants to take the next step it would take a 2016 type shake up. Look outside and bring in a quality hire. CHip Long, Mike Elko and Clark Lea were outside hires that changed the driection of the program. Tommy Rees couldn’t get a second interview for the OC job at Northwestern. Finding a quality outside hire is needed for the Notre Dame offense to grow and improve. That and look at giving the top 100 overall QB on the roster that has shined in his limited time running the offense a shot.
With all that said, Kelly also just figured that Notre Dame could pull in a top five recruiting class after 10 years at the school. I wouldn’t hold my breath on another big change.
Reasons For Optimisim
Winning 10+ games a year is a feat that very few teams can do. This isn’t to bash Notre Dame or call Brian Kelly a bad coach. The point is wanting more and being unsatisfied beating up on a weaker schedule that ends with a trip to a meaningless bowl game. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for optimisim in 2020 even if Kelly plays it safe.
Clark Lea is proving to be one of the very best defensive coordinators in the country. He turned a young and inexperienced linebacking core into a strength this season. The defense as a whole was also the one strong constant all season long.
Lea will return plenty of talent and experience led by star Freshman, Kyle Hamilton and defensive end, Daelin Hayes. Combine that with returning talent on offense and the best offensive ecruiting class in the Kelly era. This team has the makings for a return to the playoff and finally take the next step.
Notre Dame has the coaches and players to be a legit contender. Until Kelly is willing to make major changes like he did following the 2016 season, Notre Dame will continue to be so close yet so far away.
Started Saturday Tailgate in 2018. Covering all things college football and talking Notre Dame on Twitter.