Every 5 years seems pivotal for Notre Dame football

AP photoLou Holtz was at the center of pivotal times on multiple occasions for Notre Dame football.

NOTRE DAME — Call it coincidence, call it serendipity, call it karma, but for the last 35 years an unmistakable pattern has existed within the Notre Dame football program.

Dating all the way back to the hiring in 1981 of Gerry Faust as the Irish head football coach and moving through 2016 with the miserable 4-8 season under coach Brian Kelly, for the last three-plus decades, any calendar year ending in either a 1 or a 6 has always provided high drama.

This predictable sequence of events has brought equal parts joy and angst to the Notre Dame faithful. But good or bad, the pattern can't be ignored.

So as 2016 comes to a close, let’s take a look at how this ongoing chain of events has evolved.

1981: Faust Fever

Arguably the most hyped hire ever at Notre Dame, Faust was a legendary high school coach at Cincinnati Moeller whose enthusiastic, no-nonsense personality was expected to translate neatly to the bigger stage as the new Irish head coach.

Faust brought with him the No. 1 recruiting class in the country that featured an unimaginable 13 Parade All-Americans.

Picked as the preseason favorite to win the ’81 national championship, Faust's Irish instead finished 5-6 to start a coaching career for him at Notre Dame that ended in 1985 with a 30-26-1 career mark.

1986: In Lou We Trust

With Faust gone and the experiment of hiring a high school coach gone terribly wrong, Notre Dame went with a more battle-tested coach with 16 years of college experience in Lou Holtz.

The new Irish skipper finished only 5-6 in 1986 during his first season on the job. But considering Holtz lost five of those games by a total of 14 points against a treacherous schedule that included national champion Penn State, Big Ten champ Michigan, SEC powers Alabama and LSU on the road, as well as traditional rivals Michigan State and USC on the road, this losing season still provided plenty of optimism, and rightfully so. Holtz won the national championship here two years later.

1991: Rebuilding And Reloading

Even the best coaches in the country can be hit with heavy turnover and unexpected staff surprises, and that's exactly what happened to Holtz in 1991.

After having a legitimate chance at the national title in three straight seasons, expectations became so high that a 9-3 record in 1990 became so much cause for concern that Holtz immediately afterward lost four of his assistant coaches along with his recruiting coordinator.

But instead of taking a step back, Holtz's new hires helped lead the Irish to a 21-2-1 record over the next two seasons that included a 17-game winning streak and a controversial No. 2 ranking in ’93 when many believed Notre Dame should have been crowned national champion.

1996: Nothing Lasts Forever

After a stellar six-year run from 1988-93 with a 64-9-1 record, Holtz's last three Notre Dame teams from 1994-96 slipped to 23-11-1 with no bowl wins and noticeably diminishing recruiting returns.

After 11 years on job, Holtz submitted his resignation after the ’96 season, calling it "the right thing to do."

Holtz's defensive coordinator, Bob Davie, was promoted to head coach. Davie retained most of the previous coaching staff but was unable to match the results of his former boss.

2001: Talk About Turmoil

Davie was fired Dec. 2 of this year after a 5-6 finish in his fifth season here and a 35-25 overall record.

Notre Dame settled on George O'Leary from Georgia Tech as its next football coach, but four days after the hiring was announced, O'Leary submitted his resignation because of false information on his resume.

Notre Dame was mocked and jeered nationally during another coaching search that ended with the hiring of Tyrone Willingham on New Year's Eve of this year.

2006: Finally Got It Right?

Second-year head coach Charlie Weis completed the 2006 season with a second-straight BCS appearance and some growing hope that Notre Dame had found the right guy for its coaching job.

But just when it appeared after this season that Weis was ready to take his program and his coaching legacy to the next level, his Irish suffered a 3-9 meltdown in 2007, the most losses in a single season in Notre Dame history.

With back-to-back BCS appearances a distant memory, Weis went only 16-21 during his last three seasons on the job and was replaced in 2010 by Brian Kelly.

2011: Shuffling The Deck

After acceptable but uninspiring 8-5 records during his first two seasons on the job, Kelly performed a bold overhaul of his coaching staff and their job descriptions that paid quick dividends.

No move was off limits, evidenced by defensive safeties coach Chuck Martin moving to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

The fruits of Kelly's offseason moves after the 2011 season came to harvest in 2012 when Notre Dame stunned the college football world with a 12-0 regular season, a No. 1 ranking and a place in the national championship game.

2016: Back To Square One

Just when it appeared Kelly was on the cusp of not only building a football "program" after a 10-3 season in 2015 but also entering 2016 with a number of key returning players on offense, great recruiting and a preseason top-10 ranking, the Irish slipped to 4-8 in one of the strangest seasons on record.

The response for Kelly was again major staff changes that include filling the roles of his three top assistant coordinator jobs - offense, defense and special teams.

Stay tuned to 2021, which is the year that Kelly is signed through as Notre Dame head coach.

Todd Burlage is a freelance columnist covering Notre Dame sports.

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