November 30, 2021

Who Should Notre Dame Hire to Replace Coach Brian Kelly?

A wild day in college football got even wilder when news leaked that longtime Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was leaving the Fighting Irish to take over the LSU Tigers program. 

It is even crazier when you realize Notre Dame is very much alive for a spot in the College Football Playoffs. This was certainly a move that stunned an already shocked college football world. 

Now, it is time to for the Fighting Irish to find their next football coach. Whoever Notre Dame hires will have to replace the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, so good luck making the Notre Dame fans happy.

Anyway, here are the five best candidates to replace Brian Kelly as head coach at Notre Dame. 

*Odds via CBS SportsLine

5. Urban Meyer, Head Coach, Jacksonville Jaguars (+2500)

In the past, Urban Meyer has referred to Notre Dame as his "dream job." Well, it is open right now, and I do not think many people would care if he just left the Jaguars after one season. 

In his legendary college football career, Meyer has made stops at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida, and Ohio State. He is a three-time national champion, and he recruits at an all-time level. What more could Notre Dame want? If Notre Dame is actually his dream job, then he needs to take it. Meyer is just not working in the NFL and the likelihood of the Notre Dame job opening up again soon is very low. 

Meyer has already squashed the Notre Dame rumors, but anything is possible for the head coach that has retired twice now. 

4. Pat Fitzgerald, Head Coach, Northwestern (+900)

This is a long shot, but it is a call that Notre Dame needs to make. 

Pat Fitzgerald has been the head coach at Northwestern since 2006 and has a career record of 109-90. That is not great, but Northwestern is not a great program. He has led the Wildcats to five bowl victories, and Northwestern has finished the season ranked in the AP Poll five times in Fitzgerald's career. Again, these numbers are not impressive at face value, but doing it at a school like Northwestern is incredible. 

There is not much more Fitzgerald will be able to accomplish at Northwestern, it is just not a good football program. But Notre Dame would allow him the opportunity to stay in the area, coach a big-time program, and I don't think Northwestern fans would care that much, they know what he means to the program and all he has done. 

The problem with Fitzgerald is that his DNA is woven into the Northwestern program. It is unlikely he would ever leave, but he is worth the call, and this feels like the only job he would leave his alma mater for. 

3. Matt Campbell, Head Coach, Iowa State (+500)

Before Matt Campbell, Iowa State was an absolute disaster. Now, they are a very relevant team in the Big 12, and a lot of that should be credited to Campbell. While the Cyclones are in the middle of a disappointing 7-5 season, Campbell has compiled a 42-33 overall record, and a 31-23 record in Big 12 play. 

These numbers do not pop off the page, but if you compare those numbers to what Iowa State had previously been, Campbell has done all he can at a program like Iowa State. They are bowl-eligible for the fifth time under Campbell, and that is probably the peak of what Campbell will do at Iowa State. 

He has been linked to many big-time openings in college football, and, likely, Notre Dame will at least do their homework on Campbell. If he has been able to build a winning culture with limited resources, imagine what he could do at a big brand like Notre Dame. 

2. Luke Fickell, Head Coach, Cincinnati (+200)

There is almost a zero percent chance Luke Fickell leaves Cincinnati while he is one win away from a College Football Playoff spot. That does not mean he would not leave the program once the season is over.

Fickell is a Midwest guy, and Notre Dame is the most prestigious Midwest program, and that includes Ohio State and Michigan. Notre Dame has the branding, the history, and the current-day success to make it a dream scenario for Fickell. He has done an amazing job at Cincinnati, but he would have a lot more opportunities for success at Notre Dame. 

This is the most likely candidate, and when the season is over, I expect Fickell to be the new head coach of the Irish. That does not mean he would be my selection if I were picking the Notre Dame head coach. But Fickell is a fine coach who was going to move on to bigger and better things no matter what Cincinnati did this season. 

1. Marcus Freeman, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame (EVEN)

Early this season, Kelly mentioned Marcus Freeman as a strong candidate to be the next head coach for the Irish when Kelly's time with Notre Dame ended. Well, the time has come to make the move. 

Freeman is extremely popular within the program, and he is wildly regarded as one of the best recruiters in the country. He has not held a head coaching job yet, but he has been with the program for almost a full year now and will likely serve as the interim coach for the rest of the season. With only one more guaranteed game left for Notre Dame this season, Freeman may not have a big enough sample size to audition for the head coaching position. 

I imagine Notre Dame will take the coaching search into the offseason as they now have their pick of the top candidates. Freeman is unproven, but he will inevitably get a head coaching job at some point. Notre Dame cannot afford to let Freeman walk away from the program, and the only way they probably will keep him is if he is named the new head coach. 

This is the obvious move for Notre Dame, but I still think they want a proven coach. 

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