When Brian Kelly leads his team onto the field in Austin, Texas on Sept. 3 to open the 2016 season against the Longhorns, he will become just the sixth man to serve as head football coach at Notre Dame for as many as seven seasons.
If Kelly completes the six-year extension announced Friday by the University, it will carry him through the 2021 season, which would have historical significance at the most famous of all college football programs.
That would bring Kelly to 12 seasons as head coach of the Fighting Irish, exceeded only by the rock upon which the program was built – Knute Rockne.
“In the classroom, in the community and on the playing field, Brian has built the foundation of a great Notre Dame football program, one that reflects this University’s values and its unique relationship to the game of football,” said Notre Dame Vice President/Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick in a released statement.
“I could not be more excited about the future of our football program under Brian’s leadership, and I am especially thankful that our student-athletes will continue to have the benefit of that leadership in the years to come.”
Kelly became the 12th head coach in Notre Dame history in 2014 to reach five years on the job. In 2016, he will join Rockne (1918-30), Elmer Layden (1934-40), Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53), Ara Parseghian (1964-74) and Lou Holtz (1986-96) as the only Irish coaches to reach seven years in charge of the Irish football program.
Of the previous five coaches to reach the seven-year mark, four won national titles – Rockne (1924, 1929, 1930), Leahy (1943, 1946, 1947, 1949), Parseghian (1966, 1973), and Holtz (1988).
Only Layden – with a 47-13-3 record in seven seasons – did not claim a national title among seven-year-plus head coaches at Notre Dame. Only one other head coach – Dan Devine – won a national title without coaching at least seven seasons at Notre Dame. Devine led the Irish for six seasons (1975-80).
Kelly’s winning percentage (.705) trails all five of the coaches who lasted seven years or beyond, although his 55-23 mark easily exceeds four of his five predecessors. Notre Dame floundered under Gerry Faust (1981-85), Bob Davie (1997-2001), Tyrone Willingham (2002-04) and Charlie Weis (2005-09), each winning less than 60 percent of their games (see chart below).
Kelly is the first Irish head coach to lead Notre Dame to at least eight victories in each of his first six seasons with the Irish. Notre Dame also has attended six straight bowl games for the first time since Holtz did it from 1987-95. (Editor’s note: Notre Dame qualified for a 10th straight trip to a bowl game in 1996 with an 8-3 mark, but bypassed it amidst the coaching change from Holtz to Davie.)
Kelly is the last Notre Dame head coach to finish above .500 each season since Devine, whose worst season was 1979 when the Irish finished 7-4. Kelly’s Notre Dame teams lost five times in 2010, 2011 and 2014, four times in 2013, three times in 2015, and once in 2012.
The following are the 12 head coaches who have instructed the Irish for at least five seasons, listed first by years served, and then in ascending order by virtue of winning percentage:
13-Knute Rockne (1918-30 -- .881/105-12-5)
11-Frank Leahy (1941-43, 1946-53 -- .855/87-11-9)
11-Ara Parseghian (1964-74 -- .836/95-17-4)
11-Lou Holtz (1986-96 -- .765/100-30-2)
7-Elmer Layden (1934-40 -- .770, 47-13-3)
6-Dan Devine (1975-80 -- .764/53-16-1)
6-Brian Kelly (2010-present -- .705/55-23)
5-Jesse Harper (1913-17 -- .863/34-5-1)
5-Terry Brennan (1954-58 -- .640/32-18)
5-Bob Davie (1997-2001 -- .583/35-25)
5-Charlie Weis (2005-09 -- .565/35-27)
5-Gerry Faust (1981-85 -- .535/30-26-1)