In a way, Notre Dame football rivaled the path of a successful company unable to adapt to the internet age. A storied football past, one of the most revered college coaches of all time, and an exclusive television deal with NBC symbolized the program’s dominance in the 1900s. At the turn of the century, with the retirement of Lou Holtz, the rise of the BCS, and a new generation of recruits more impressed with flashy offenses and flashy uniforms, Notre Dame’s old school blue and gold became a shadow of itself. The three head coaches hired after Holtz never achieved the sustained success of the past. So Notre Dame did was any corporation would do in transitioning into the digital age – they got with the times and appealed to the newfound landscape, specifically high school athletes. This came in the form of a young, innovative head coach in Brian Kelly.
Brian Kelly was hired on December 10th, 2009. He made a name winning at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati. His offensive playbook is progressive with various gadgets and tricks. College football offenses are ever more based on speed and spread. In Kelly, Notre Dame found its leader to take the program into the social media age. Perhaps his offensive genius may be overblown. But his schemes, spotlighting game changing athletes at skill positions, resonate with this digital world. He rewarded Notre Dame with two solid 8-5 seasons, highlighted by a victory in the Sun bowl in 2010. That is, until this week.
With previously ranked #1 Kansas State and #2 Oregon losing last weekend, Notre Dame jumped to #1 for the first time in the BCS era. The BCS is the closest college football has to the analytical sports movement that has shaped this century, and thus signified another step in Notre Dame’s digital relevance. Never one to dismiss irony, along with it came a Sports Illustrated cover, the proverbial symbol of “making it” from a past time. And along with it comes USC this weekend.