Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly

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Shepkowski: Kelly, Notre Dame Trying To Close Gap

Notre Dame's goal is to become a College Playoff Football regular.

Nick Shepkowski
December 28, 2018 - 12:14 pm

DALLAS ( -- Friday morning brought more hardware to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, as coach Brian Kelly was named the winner of the Bobby Dodd Trophy. The annual award goes to the coach whose program best showcases scholarship, leadership and integrity all while having on the field success.

Kelly had already been named the AP Coach of the Year, meaning his trophy case is becoming quite full. But that also begs a question -- what does winning those awards really symbolize?

Obviously, no fans will complain if their program's leader is named the Coach of the Year, but the understanding across college football as well as most sports is that such awards generally go to coaches whose teams overachieve preseason expectations. They don't typically go to a preseason No. 1 team that then goes undefeated. Just ask Nick Saban, who has directed Alabama to five national titles since 2009 but hasn't been named the AP Coach of the Year in that span.

Notre Dame's game against Clemson in the national semifinal at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday is the program's biggest game since the 2012 Irish team was blown out by Alabama in the BCS national championship game. That game feels like a lifetime ago when comparing the Irish to the Tigers, whom Dabo Swinney has led to four straight College Football Playoff appearances and one title.

Kelly praised Swinney for his ability to "create consistency in a time where inconsistency" everywhere.

"It's easy to get distracted," Kelly said of Swinney. "His ability to continue to keep his program year in and year out at the top of college football requires more than just recruiting good players."

Sustained success at the highest level is the next step Kelly and Notre Dame are looking to take, as this year marked the first time since the 1992-'93 campaigns that the Irish won at least 10 games in back-to-back seasons. Swinney and Clemson have at least 10 wins every season since 2011 and have at least 12 wins in each of the past four years. 

So what do Kelly and Notre Dame have to do to take those next steps and continue to close the gap between themselves and the Alabamas, Clemsons and Georgias of the college football world?

"It's an understanding of the smallest of details that we could probably talk hours about," Kelly said.

"I admire people that can look at things from much more of a perspective of people first and the ability to motivate people, not just players but everybody around them. And (Swinney has) done a great job with that."

There's no doubt Kelly and the Irish have made progress in the last couple seasons, but the next challenge comes in stringing 10-win or better seasons together.

From his outside perspective, Swinney likes the direction the Notre Dame program is headed. He clearly has a respect for Kelly’s longevity in the college game and is particularly jealous of one of Kelly's skills.

"His golf swing," Swinney said. "I don't know if you've seen his golf swing."

Nick Shepkowski is the executive producer of the McNeil & Parkins Show on 670 the Score in afternoon drive. Follow him on Twitter @Shep670.​