The Notre Dame project

File this in the “things I never thought I’d write department.”

Even though their fans are annoying and delusional, I’m about to lay out a simple plan to fix the mess that is Notre Dame football.

I feel dirty already.

1. Hire a good coach – The Fighting Irish just checked off this item by snaring Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly. Some people will tell you that Kelly is unproven at the major college level. Those people are correct.

They’re also missing the point.

It’s the age-old problem: How do you get a job without experience and how can you get experience without a job? Every great employee got a first job somewhere. Mark Ochal at the Marion Star hired a high school kid with zero experience to write about Swamp Fox football in the Fall of 1993.

That guy (me) is now an award-winning writer who blogs for money.

The point is, Brian Kelly started at Grand Valley State in 1991 and, 12 years later, left with 118 wins and a pair of Division II national titles.

He then went to Central Michigan and turned a crap job in the Mid American Conference into a decent one with a 19-16 record in three seasons.

The Bearcats took a chance on him, let him coach (and win) a bowl game in 2006 and he added 33 more wins to a ledger that, when he packed his bags for South Bend, read 34-6. He won back-to-back titles in the Big East and coached Cincinnati to consecutive BCS bowl berths.

That’s high-water stuff for Cincinnati, a team that was playing – and losing – games in Conference USA a few years ago.

So, if he can make chicken salad out of chicken, well, you know, imagine what he can do with a nice piece of ground beef like Notre Dame?

2. Join the Big 10 – Once upon a time, it was trendy to be an independent. Florida State, Penn State, Miami, Boston College, South Carolina and Pittsburgh all spent more than a decade free from a conference for football.

Most of those schools saw the benefit of joining a league in the early 90s, but while Notre Dame has joined the Big East for most of its other sports, the Fighting Irish has continued to stay out of a league for football.

The argument was that Notre Dame can negotiate its own TV deal and with its long term deal with NBC, it gets network TV exposure.

And that was true.

But now, with the rise of cable and satellite TV, is Notre Dame really on TV much more than, say, Cincinnati? Or Northwestern?

And honestly, when I’m surfing the tube on a Saturday afternoon looking for a game, I often forget to check NBC. When Notre Dame football is your only in to the college game, Irish fans will watch. But casual viewers tend to hang around channels that routinely feature games.

To me, joining the Big 10 is a slam dunk. The Big 10, which currently has 11 teams, by the way, needs a 12th for a money-making conference championship game. The Irish could use a schedule bump, which might help it attract some better talent.

It’s a good match. Even joing the Big East would be an improvement.

3. Be honest – Notre Dame has to make a decision.

Does it want to be Florida, or does it want to be Stanford.

Of course, there’s a middle ground, but the question remains. Notre Dame has tough admission requirements, the type that some kids have trouble meeting. If you’re somewhat limited by geography (Indiana doesn’t match up well with California or Florida for weather and, uh, scenery for the average 18-year-old male) and recent history (Notre Dame hasn’t been a national championship contender in a long time), adding academic rigidity to the list seems to trend more towards the Stanford model.

I’m not saying the Notre Dame needs to become, say, Alabama, but if the Irish alumni are going to keep demanding 10-win seasons and BCS bowls out of their coaches, you’re going to need to relax the criteria a bit.

It’s a simple plan.

We’ll see if the golden domers decide to follow it.


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