Weis was gone after yet another disappointing season in 2009, and perhaps Te’o and Kelly were just destined to help each other resurrect the program these last three years. Notre Dame is 10-0 for the first time since 1993, and if it beats Wake Forest on Saturday on Senior Day in South Bend, the 51-year-old Kelly will be the first ND head coach to be 11-0 since Lou Holtz in 1989.
Kelly, who grew up in Chelsea and was a backup on coach Fred Glatz’s St. John’s Prep teams in the late 1970s, is thriving at Notre Dame — even though it’s the ultimate fishbowl experience for a college football coach. At Notre Dame, you’re expected to win even when the talent level says you shouldn’t.
“There’s head coaches in college football and then there’s the head coach at Notre Dame,” Te’o said. “Those are two very different things. The pressure of expectations is incredible here, and he’s done a great job of handling that pressure and focusing on the things he needs to do to make us a better football team.
“Our success this year is a direct connection to our head coach and his ability to lead us. When Coach Kelly got here, I think he brought with him the fun of playing college football, the enjoyment of every moment in a game. He’s really level-headed with us. He loves his job, loves his players, and it shows. We all play for this guy.”
It’s fair to say that Kelly is an unprecedented position as a Notre Dame coach whose team could finish 12-0 and still be denied a spot in the national championship game. Irish coaching legends Knute Rockne, Ara Parseghian and Holtz, among others, never had to worry about the BCS rankings. Kelly’s team could beat Wake Forest and USC, respectively, in the next two weeks and still finish behind Kansas State and Oregon in the final BCS poll.