Rivalry week was headlined by pivotal matchups with title game implications including the Apple Cup, Michigan-Ohio State and much more.
LOS ANGELES — It’s the most frenzied, if not popular, time of the college football season. Not bowl games and the playoffs, but rather watching a slew of head coaches get fired, watching would-be saviors get hired, only to later watch many of those would-be saviors get fired.
At last, a sign of sanity rewarded.
Notre Dame likely clinching a spot in the College Football Playoff with its 24-17 victory over USC Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum helped provide refreshing perspective of the coaching-carousel madness.
Inside and outside the USC locker room after the game, reporters asked questions about the status of Trojans coach Clay Helton. Understandably. Because despite going 10-3 in 2016 and 11-3 in 2017 — his first two full seasons as USC’s coach — Helton appears to be in danger of losing his job after the Trojans finished the 2018 season with a record of 5-7.
The USC faithful — especially those who have lost faith in Helton — would have benefited from checking out the scene outside the Notre Dame locker room. Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly was soaking up the accolades after his third-ranked team finished the regular season 12-0.
This happened just two years after Notre Dame finished 4-8 in a disappointing season that, fittingly enough, ended right here. This is where Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick insisted he would stick with Kelly despite a faction of Notre Dame fans calling for a new coach.
“It was never a question,’’ Swarbrick said. “I said at midseason we weren’t changing. We never even considered it. Never talked about it again.’’
Kelly, after all, was the same coach who led Notre Dame to a 12-1 record during the 2012 season and to winning records in each of his first six seasons with the Fighting Irish. Rather than bring in a new head coach after the 2016 season, Swarbrick and Kelly began to talk about potential changes.
“The most impressive thing to me was when we sat down, there was nothing that Brian didn’t put on the table to look at,’’ Swarbrick said. “Personnel. The way we practice. Scheduling. Our approach to recruiting. Nutrition. I mean, he put everything on the table.’’
It’s worth noting after the Fighting Irish rallied from a 10-0 deficit with 24 unanswered points against USC Saturday, Kelly awarded the game ball to Matt Balis, Notre Dame’s director of football performance. Balis was hired in January 2017, with the stench still fresh from that 4-8 season.
Kelly also hired a new offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator and a new special teams coach. The result has been 22 victories in 25 games dating to the end of that 2016 season.
“Wins and losses matter a lot,’’ Swarbrick said. “But it’s what you see in practice every day. It’s how you see the kids grow and what they’re doing.
“I’m probably going to violate some (privacy) law here, but this is the first time in my 11 years not a single student-athlete (is) on academic probation in the semester. That’s where the program is right now culturally, right? No disciplinary issues. Just really great kids. And that’s what you’re looking at.’’
You’re looking at a 12-0 Notre Dame team. You’re looking at a head coach who could have been fired two years ago. You’re looking at a sign of sanity.