OSU - ND Cold War

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Last updated: 08/30/2012 12:03 PM
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Football
Buckeyes’ ‘Cold War’ vs. The Irish: Are These the Last Days of Brian Kelly?
By Michael Chung

Even though Ohio State does not play Notre Dame in the near future, and has not played them since the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, a developing rivalry has ensued.  

The comments made by former ND running back Allen Pinkett on Wednesday sent both Notre Dame and Ohio State fans into frenzy:

"I've always felt like, to have a successful team, you have to have a few bad citizens on the team. That's how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals and that just adds to the chemistry of the team. So I think Notre Dame is growing because maybe they have some guys that are doing something worthy of a suspension, which creates edge on the football team.”

Pinkett has since issued an apology for his comments, which insulted Buckeye Nation.

Almost everyone has an affinity with Notre Dame. They either follow them with deep devotion or passionately root against them. The Golden Domers are equivalent to the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, Duke Blue Devils of NCAA Basketball, and Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. (1)

You either love them or hate them.

But even before Pinkett associated Ohio State with “criminals,” the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish have been fighting a “Cold War” in recruiting, much like the USA did with the former Soviet Union from around 1947-1991.

Urban Meyer fired the first shots when Irish de-commit and offensive lineman Taylor Decker – who Ozone contributor John McCallister called one of the best players in Ohio and felt was a better player than current Michigan Wolverine Kyle Kalis – became the 20th member in the 2012 recruiting class. He is currently backing up Reid Fragel at right and will see action in the opener.

Next was getting prized linebacker David Perkins, who pledged to the Buckeyes as the 22nd member of the 2012 class. Perkins was a local talent that lived in South Bend and another Irish de-commitment.

Meyer won another battle over Kelly when Ezekiel Elliott, out of St. Louis, Mo. chose Ohio State over Notre Dame. Rumors began to swirl that Elliott was talking to Notre Dame after his OSU commitment, a rumor he quickly quelled.  But Elliott did indicate that schools were still trying to convince him to flip from OSU, one of them being ND (Notre Dame).

Brian Kelly has also bested Meyer in this cold war. OSU targets Malik Zaire, Hunter Bivin, John Montelus, Mike Heuerman, Jaylon Smith and one-time OSU commit Alex Anzalone have each pledged for the blue and gold.

Kelly needs these stellar classes to help deflect the pressure Notre Dame fans put on their coaches to win a national championship; something Urban Meyer will not experience this year, but certainly could very quickly in Columbus.

An unsatisfactory 2012 season likely wouldn’t end with Kelly’s dismissal – depending on the depth of the dissatisfaction – but it would lead to extreme scrutiny for a successful 2013 campaign.

Notre Dame has had five head coaches win championships: Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz. All but Rockne won their first national championship in their third year of coaching ND. This being Kelly’s third year, the pressure will be on. If Kelly goes 11-1 this season, he will have his team playing for the title. But is this record achievable?

Some predictions have the Irish winning as many as nine games this season, while Brian Polking (Las Vegas) of NCAAF “The Huddle” predicts a 7-5 season. Based on early odds, Notre Dame is an underdog in four games, which could translate to an 8-4 campaign for Kelly.

A 9-3 season would definitely earn Kelly a fourth year in South Bend, and 8-4 might also yield temporary job security, but what if Kelly goes 7-5, 6-6 or worse? Does he earn another year given that four of the last five head coaches that won a national championship at Notre Dame did it in year three of their coaching tenure? Notre Dame wants national championships and if Kelly cannot deliver one this year, will they look elsewhere?

Though many believe Kelly will make it through 2012 to 2013, there is the possibility he may not. In a previous article, it has been argued that Brian Kelly will not win a national championship at ND. One reason is “The Peter Principle:” In a 1969 book by L.J. Peter and Raymond Hull, the hypothesis is that people will be promoted until they reach a position that they are incompetent to complete. If one is competent at one level, promotion to a higher one occurs and if one is competent there, another promotion occurs until a level of incompetence is reached. 

Just because Brian Kelly had so much success at Cincinnati does not mean he will duplicate if one considers Notre Dame a higher level than Cincinnati. (2)

One principle of competence is that at higher levels, one must have people who function at those levels.(3)  Hence, successful college football programs will always have assistants that move on to either head coaching jobs or higher level assistant posts. Kelly, on the other hand, essentially picked coaches that he knew and many who followed him from Cincinnati. This could be an indicator that Kelly may have been promoted beyond his competency. 

So far, after two seasons, Kelly has not superseded his predecessors. Notre Dame history shows the two previous head coaches—Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis—both having better first-year records than Kelly. Weis had an even better second year. Both were shown the door soon after. From Notre Dame history, Kelly’s third year will reveal much about his future, and it may be a short one.

Kelly has formed a silent rivalry with Ohio State and Urban Meyer – a Cold War of Midwestern football. They have gone head-to-head in recruiting, but will it last? A poor 2012 season may spell doom for the once prominent Big East head coach. Finishing 9-3 or 8-4 would likely earn him another year but anything less could bring the end of Kelly’s recruiting battles with Meyer.

Then the Buckeyes would only have the Allen Pinkett’s of Irish lore to combat.


1. For European readers, I would add Manchester United of Premiership Football.

2.. This could be a reason why so many college coaches do not excel in the NFL.

3. This is one indicator that Urban Meyer will experience great success. Looking at his list of past assistants will yield many current NCAA head coaches as well as prominent assistant coaches.

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