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February 2013

February 2013

Restoring Relevance

by: John Gallup
Editor and Publisher
© February 2013

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Every year, when we debate our selections for AFM’s Coach of the Year awards, we try to identify an FBS coach who led his team to new heights such as a BCS bowl game or the best record in team history. We don’t follow the crowd when choosing our winner. There have been times when we were the only award that our winning coach received. In fact, in most years there is quite a bit of disagreement among the major Coach of the Year awards over which coach most deserves to be honored.

Not this year. AFM’s 2012 FBS Coach of the Year award goes to Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, who also took home COY honors from the Associated Press, the AFCA, the Football Writers of America, the Walter Camp Foundation, the Sporting News, Liberty Mutual, Home Depot and probably a few others we missed. In his third year as head coach, Kelly led the Fighting Irish to a 12-0 record and a #1 ranking before bowing to Alabama in the BCS National Championship game.

What’s at least as significant as their 2012 record is the fact that Kelly returned Notre Dame to national relevance after 16 years and five coaches who together had a won-loss record barely above .500. The season thrilled Irish fans everywhere, including our own Rex Lardner (ND class of 1965), and put on hold any claims that Notre Dame was unworthy of their automatic BCS bid or their exclusive TV contract.

We think it’s appropriate that, in a season that started with a victory in Ireland, an Irish Catholic coach would lead the Fighting Irish back to the top of the national college football scene.

Prior to the start of the season, there was little or no conversation about Notre Dame as a national championship contender. The doubters cited the same factors that, they said, would prevent the Irish from ever returning to national prominence – academic standards that are too high and a reluctance of top recruits to commit to spending their college years in South Bend. Plus, the team was facing its toughest schedule in years.

But, beginning with that first game against Navy in Dublin, Notre Dame methodically marched through the season, including huge road wins against ranked Michigan State and Oklahoma squads. When it looked like they would surely lose in overtime to Pitt at home in November, luck or perhaps fate was on their side as the Panthers missed a short field goal to hand another victory to the Irish.

Brian Kelly is no stranger to winning or awards. In his first head coaching job at Grand Valley State, he won two Division II national championships and was twice named D-II Coach of the Year. At Cincinnati, he led the Bearcats to their first-ever BCS bowl game and was named AFM’s FBS Coach of the Year for the 2008 season, making him our only two-time FBS winner. Putting Notre Dame back on the map last season has to rank at the top of his list of accomplishments, and we at AFM congratulate Coach Kelly for what he and the Fighting Irish achieved in 2012.

Starting on page 20, you can read about Kelly, AFM’s national high school Coach of the Year Gary Joseph of Katy High School (TX), and ten other college and high school coaches that we recognize in our annual Coach of the Year feature. As always, we encouraged our coaches to share some of the tactics they employed in leading their teams to success last season. These insights, we hope, will help you and your team grow and improve in 2013. Maybe we’ll even see you in the pages of AFM in next year’s Coach of the Year issue.

John Gallup
Editor & Publisher


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