Holding an inauspicious 2-5 record and facing just his second losing season in 26 years as a head coach, and only the fifth losing season in the last 30 years for the Notre Dame football program, Brian Kelly needed a hug, a big one, and he got it.
About the same time everything and everybody was crumbling in around the Irish head coach, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick came to Kelly's defense late last week and made it clear that his seventh-year coach will be back for an eighth year.
"Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year," Swarbrick said in an interview with ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna.
That's assuming Kelly wants to come back. Seven seasons on this job will take a heavy toll on any head coach during even the best of times, let alone through the worst. Kelly, who signed a six-year contract extension in January, is inked through the 2021 season.
With his current 57-28 career record during his six-plus seasons at Notre Dame, Kelly has shown himself to be an 8-4 aggregate coach, one who is good enough not to get fired, but not necessarily good enough to lift his program to a point where he's lifting national championship trophies.
Kelly's .671 winning percentage at Notre Dame stacks him way below Irish national championship coaches Ara Parseghian (.836), Lou Holtz (.765) and Dan Devine (.764), but also well above his failed predecessors in Bob Davie (.583), Tyrone Willingham (.583), Charlie Weis (.565) and Gerry Faust (.535).
In 2012, Kelly guided Notre Dame to its first national championship game in 24 years. He is one of only two coaches in the country that have led two different teams to a 12-0 regular-season record, doing so at Cincinnati in 2009 and Notre Dame in 2012. Urban Meyer turned the trick at Utah in 2004 and Ohio State in 2012.
Yet, for every talking point and statistic that helps to elevate Kelly's value, there is plenty of evidence to pull the coach back down.
Kelly's two career wins here against top-10 teams are one fewer than what Willingham secured in only three seasons coaching at Notre Dame.
And remarkably, Kelly is only 1-7 in his last eight games against Power 5 opponents and 5-10 in his last 15 games against top-25 teams — all resumé red flags indeed — but none of which caused the boss to waver in support of the coach.
"I guess I'd say I wish the perception matched the reality a little better," Swarbrick said of rumor not lining up with real-world. "I understand the perception, but we've got to work to alter that perception because it creates noise and gets in the way."
Obviously, this season isn't what anybody expected or wanted from Kelly and Co. But history provides plenty of evidence that firing a coach just for the sake of appeasing the impatient masses doesn't guarantee any future or quick success.
Keep in mind, Notre Dame was a so-so football operation between 1994-2011 and was never once in national title consideration at Thanksgiving weekend during that 18-season span.
Under Kelly, the Irish have been in the championship conversation during the Thanksgiving holiday twice in the last five years.
Even Holtz kept his team in late-season title consideration only once during his final six seasons on the job from 1991-96 (1993). Same for Parseghian, who also had his team in legitimate November title consideration only one time from 1967-72 (1970), a stretch where his record against ranked teams slipped to 5-8-2.
In other words, be careful what you wish for before running a coach out the door, because even the legends hit turbulent times.
Swarbrick said he has spent more time with the football program this season and he still likes what he sees, even through a stretch where Notre Dame has won only twice in its last nine games dating back to last season.
"We know we can do better so there's great disappointment," Swarbrick explained. "Having said that, this is a pretty remarkable team in terms of its togetherness and its resiliency. They still come to every practice energized and focused. And as Brian has said repeatedly, they do everything we ask. They give us everything. So from that perspective, we want a different result."
But wisely, at least for now, not a different coach.
Todd Burlage is a freelance columnist covering Notre Dame sports.