Brian Kelly is not here to compare two figures that quite frankly are incomparable — himself and former Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne.
Rockne holds the program record for all-time wins. He piled up 105 between 1918-30. Kelly, in his 12th season as Notre Dame’s head coach, currently sits at 104 blue and gold victories. Saturday’s game against Purdue (2:30 ET, NBC) is a chance for him to tie the legendary Rockne.
What would it mean to him?
“Well, I think I’ve answered this question many times,” Kelly said. “I see it a little bit differently in a sense that I think it means longevity. I think it means stability. I think it means winning. But it doesn’t mean anything else relative to comparisons or who’s better.”
Rockne led Notre Dame to its first three national titles in 1924, ’29 and ’30. He set the standard for a program that has won eight more since his tragic death in a plane crash on March 31, 1931.
No FBS coach in history has eclipsed Rockne’s all-time winning percentage of .881. Rockne went 105-12-5 in his 13 seasons at Notre Dame. Kelly is 104-39 (.727) during his tenure in South Bend.
Kelly has yet to win the elusive national championship that immortalizes former Fighting Irish head coaches outside Notre Dame Stadium. Rockne, of course, has a statue. So do Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz. Those are the five Notre Dame head coaches who have won national championships.
Even if Kelly does not join the exclusive list, he knows he has at least etched his place in Notre Dame football lore. The early 2000s were largely forgettable for Notre Dame fans — or unforgettable in the worst way. The Irish had five .500 or worse seasons from 2000-09. They lost five-straight bowl games from 2000-06.
Kelly took the helm in 2010. He has only had one .500 or worse season (4-8 in 2016) and has gone 5-4 in bowl games. Three of the losses were either in the national championship game (2012) or the College Football Playoff (2018 and ’20).
Kelly produced seasons of 10 or more wins in six of his first 11 seasons. Notre Dame only had two double-digit win seasons in the 15 seasons before Kelly gained control of the program.
“I came here to do a job and that was to bring Notre Dame back to its its winning traditions and we’ve gotten there by being consistent and having stability,” Kelly said. “I think that’s what it means more than anything else to me.”