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Chris Dufresne: Notre Dame finally gets it right and hires Brian Kelly

December 10, 2009 |  3:55 pm

Kelly_300 Notre Dame hired a search firm to find the coach everyone knew it was going to hire after Charlie Weis sealed his fate when he lost to Navy for the second time in three years

Notre Dame hired Brian Kelly on Thursday in what could finally be the turning point for a program that has been spitting and sputtering since Lou Holtz left in 1996.

Kelly, who has led Cincinnati to a 12-0 record this year, was so obviously the right choice. Notre Dame, the "it" program for so many years, finally hired a coach with the "it" factor.

While all were competent football men, Bob Davie, George O'Leary (for five days), Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis did not have "it."

Kelly is the dial-a-coach do-over for losing Urban Meyerto Florida in 2005. Notre Dame really, really wanted Meyer after he led Utah to 12-0 in 2004. Meyer was a former Notre Dame assistant and was named after a pope. School officials, in hot pursuit, raced through Salt Lake City in the company car but were outmaneuvered by the Gatormobile.

Settling for Weis, who just wrapped up a 35-27 career, was just that. Meyer has led Florida to two national titles while Notre Dame has been paying the price.

Notre Dame lucked out this time because there wasn't another Florida out there looking for a coach at the same time. Kelly and Meyer are similar in so many ways, with roots planted in Catholicism and the Mid-American Conference. Meyer became a rising star who went from Bowling Green to Utah, Kelly the rising star who went from Central Michigan to Cincinnati.

Meyer led Utah to an undefeated season and left for Florida. Kelly led Cincinnati to an undefeated season and is headed to South Bend.

Sometimes you just have a feeling. I had it about Meyer the first time I met him at Utah. Funny, I had the same feeling about another Kelly, Chip, after he was named Oregon's coach this year. It was one reason I ranked the Ducks at preseason No. 6 this year when no one else had them in the top 10.

People talk about the obstacles that prevent Notre Dame from ever being great again. In fact, the only thing that has stopped the Irish from being great was a great coach. USC went through years of mediocrity in the 1980s and 1990s. People said the program was done, that it didn't have good enough facilities to compete with the Northwest schools.

It was all hooey. What USC lacked was Pete Carroll, who led the Trojans to two national titles and seven straight BCS games.

Kelly won big at Grand Valley State, he won big at Central Michigan, he won big at Cincinnati, so he can win big at Notre Dame. His track record can't be an accident. You don't make programs like that exceptional without an exceptional formula.

So get ready for something different, Notre Dame, something new and bold and exciting.

Get ready to win again. 

-- Chris Dufresne

Photo: Coach Brian Kelly and quarterback Tony Pike talk strategy on the sideline of a Cincinnati game earlier this season. Credit: Al Behrman / Associated Press