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Notre Dame Football

Coach Rankings | 2021 Notre Dame Schedule

July 10, 2021
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Notre Dame football is just under two months away and coaches are finally getting some relaxation after a wild 18 months before fall camp begins in August. 

It’s also mid-July and it’s only natural to make lists, Mount Rushmore’s and rankings, so today, we’ll take a quick look at where Brian Kelly stacks up against Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents. 

1. Brian Kelly - Notre Dame 

Notre Dame’s two playoff appearances in the last three years boost his resume despite Mack Brown’s success at Texas. The Irish have also won 10 or more games for four straight seasons, which puts him in an elite category at Notre Dame and that now includes an ACC regular-season title in 2020. 

The Irish haven’t lost at home since 2017 and haven’t lost to an unranked program since 2016. There is more work to be done at Notre Dame, but Kelly has the program headed in the right direction and arguably a top 5 program in college football over the last four seasons. 

2. Mack Brown - North Carolina 

Age is just a number, right? Mack Brown might be 69, but he can certainly coach football as he’s started to turn the Tar Heels around for the second time in his career. North Carolina is 15-10 over the last two seasons, but Brown has one of the best quarterbacks in the country back in Sam Howell, a player who gives every defensive coordinator nightmares.

North Carolina has recruited very well since Brown’s return and it’s likely only a matter of time before the Tar Heels are making noise on a national level. Brown is 259–132–1 as a head coach and it’s hard to see him not having success moving forward. 

3. Luke Fickell - Cincinnati 

The Ohio State alum took over the Bearcats in 2017 and went 4-8. The last three seasons the Bearcats have done 31-6 and gave Georgia all they could handle in the Peach Bowl last year. Fickell has shown he can win by scoring points or with defense. He can adapt on the fly and that perhaps makes him one of the more attractive young head coaches out there. 

Fickell has also recruited better than many of these coaches on Notre Dame’s 2021 schedule, so that deserves to be highlighted. In addition to Notre Dame, Fickell will get to play one of the hottest programs in the country as the Bearcats travel to Indiana in September. 

4. Paul Chryst - Wisconsin 

56-19 at Wisconsin is fantastic. Wisconsin has made three Big 10 title games and gone to the Cotton, Orange and Rose Bowl since 2016. Life is good for Chryst for the most part as he’s won 10 or more games four times in Madison. 

Ohio State is the thorn in his side and the Badgers being competitive against the Buckeyes might be a win in itself from the outside. Not sure he’s ever going to make the playoffs, but he’ll have a better shot than those below him on this list. 

5. Bronco Mendenhall - Virginia 

Others will have better resumes than Mendenhall, but he’s getting more out of less, which is a sign of a good coach. Virginia isn’t a place recruits are dying to attend and taking the Hoos to the Orange Bowl (deserved or not) is quite the accomplishment for Mendenhall. 

It’s worth noting he went 99-43 at BYU. The man can coach football and he’s a headache to play, but he’ll need to recruit better at Virginia to take the next step as talent matters - even in the ACC. 

6. Ken Niumatalolo - Navy 

This one was tough. Navy has been all over the place the last four seasons, but there is no denying Niumatalolo is a quality coach. The Midshipmen have gone 7-6, 3-10, 11-2 and 3-7 since 2017, which is somewhat of a step back from 2009-2016. 

Looking in from the outside, Niumatalolo has struggled to find a quarterback recently and if he has a quarterback, we all know how dangerous the Navy attack can be. It’s a unique coaching gig and Niumatalolo could be higher, but I think this is about right on this list. 

7. Clay Helton - USC 

Helton, Niumataolo and Norvell were tough to order. USC went 5-1 last year and then has two 10+ win seasons under Helton, including a 2016 Rose Bowl win. The Trojans could have let Helton go following 2018 and 2019 as USC went 5-7 and 8-5, but they stuck with Helton ala Notre Dame in 2016 with Kelly. 

USC has done well on the recruiting trail outside of the offensive line and Helton’s job will likely come down to the trenches. The skill position talent is very good and the defense is good enough to win games, but Helton’s season (and career) will be decided by an average offensive line. 

8. Mike Norvell - Florida State 

Norvell went 38-15 at Memphis and then 3-6 in his first year in Tallahassee in 2020. I have no issue giving him a break for the 3-6 performance as there has been momentum around the Seminoles program over the last few months. Norvell has improved recruiting and will get his chance to improve the results on the field soon. I think there’s a chance he could make quite a jump on this list by the end of the year, but it also likely depends on the Florida State quarterback situation. 

9. David Shaw - Stanford 

Is David Shaw a better coach than some above him? Sure, I think you can certainly make that case, but Stanford is a dying program at the moment. The Cardinal went 4-8 in 2019 and while 4-2 in 2020 was an improvement, the cupboard isn’t loaded with talent and that starts with Shaw. 

Shaw certainly had a good run with five 10+ win seasons, but he’s failed to grow the program and it’s not something easily changed at Stanford. Now, f there’s a coach that could surprise and pull a 10-win season out of the blue, it’s Shaw (and the PAC 12), but it’d be quite a shock. 

10. Jason Candle - Toledo 

The Rockets have found great success under Candle since he took over at the end of 2015. In fact, Toledo has yet to have a losing season under Candle, but they’ve only won the MAC once. Candle started off going 9-4 and 11-3 in his first two full seasons as head coach, but he’s dropped off to 7-6, 6-6 and 4-2 over the last three. 

Candle was once considered one of the up-and-coming names in the college football world, but it seems like he’ll need to do something sooner than later if he wants to get out of the MAC as he sits at 38-21 overall and 25-13 in conference play. 

11. Geoff Collins - Georgia Tech 

It might be strange to put a head coach with a 6-16 record in his first two seasons ahead of two coaches, but Collins is in perhaps one of the most unique situations in the country. Georgia Tech is in year three of transitioning out of the triple-option, which couldn’t have been fun for the Yellow Jackets coaching staff. 

2021 and 2022 will be big years for Collins as you’ll be able to see his impact on the program. Collins has a quarterback and running back with enormous potential. Both went through growing pains starting as true freshmen last year and Collins’ success likely hinges on their growth over the next two seasons. Collins has proven he can recruit and now he’ll have the chance to show he can win games. 

12. Justin Fuente - Virginia Tech 

It’s been interesting to watch the Hokies program over the last few years. Transfers, dismissals and below-average have hindered the development of the program. It’s not a healthy culture in Blacksburg and while it likely doesn’t fall all on Fuente’s shoulders, he is still the head coach and in charge of the program. 

Fuente inherited a program that was far from the program that won 10 games or more 11 times from 1999-2011. There hasn’t been growth as Virginia Tech has been a .500 program since 2012 and despite Fuente going 10-4 in 201. In fact, Fuente was close to losing his job last year, so we’ll see where he can take the program in 2021 with his back against the wall. 

13. Jeff Brohm - Purdue 

Brohm has been in West Lafayette for four seasons and there hasn’t been much growth. The last three seasons the Boilermakers have finished with a losing record and Brohm has run through defensive coordinators like Josh Adams through USC. 

Some around the Notre Dame beat saw Brohm taking over for Kelly when he was hired in 2017, but Brohm has not found the magic on the recruiting trail or on the field. 

 
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