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Third year is the charm

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is trying to bring the university a national title in his third year with the program when the No. 1 Irish (12-0) play No. 2 Alabama (12-1) in the BCS championship game Jan. 7 in Miami.

If Kelly does lead the Irish to the championship, he will be following in the footsteps of former Notre Dame coaches Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devin and Lou Holtz in winning a championship in his third year.

Holtz, an ESPN analyst who led Notre Dame to the 1988 national championship, said during a teleconference that it isn't a coincidence that coaches win titles in their third year with the Irish.

"Once you get comfortable there and by your third year, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine, Lou Holtz and I think Brian Kelly all win the national championship in the third year. Well, why the third year?" Holtz said.

"Because by that time you are comfortable with it, the players have bought into your system, you've been able to recruit for your system and you've been able to build a camaraderie and a trust between the players and the coaches. That isn't there immediately when you go anywhere. There is never that trust."

Holtz said Ara Parseghian told him when he took over the Irish in 1986 that the university is different than any other place because of the media scrutiny and distractions that come with the job.

Holtz said learning to handle the demands of being the Irish coach and how to handle the caliber of athletes Notre Dame attracts are essential to being able to succeed.

"The main thing you have to learn when you get there is the camaraderie and togetherness of the school is a great asset," Holtz said.

"You are always going to have talent. You have to teach the fundamentals. You have to develop the young players. You get a lot of good athletes at Notre Dame. There were great athletes here in '86 when I went there, we had an awful lot of talent.

"But when a young man who is a great football player, and they are always great when they come to Notre Dame, they've got to learn how to accept their role on the team. They've always been the star.

"They have to learn how to take coaching, they've never had that before, how to take criticism, how to accept his role on the team, how to budget his time, how to do little things. All of these things, they've never had that discipline. That is something you have to do. And getting everybody to blend in together.

"You realize that this isn't any different than any other place on the field. They're different off the field. They are exactly the same on the field. Off the field, the demands on them academically are very difficult."

There are also great rewards if you win at Notre Dame.

"Once you win the national championship at Notre Dame, your life is never the same again after that," Holtz said.

But a life-changing victory for a national title does come with extra pressure, Holtz said.

"When you win, you didn't win impressively enough, you didn't win big enough. You get nothing but criticism after that time," Holtz said. "I mean, yeah, they are nice to you etcetera, but if you go 11-1, which happened to us in '89 and '93, it was a disaster.

"But you know what, now, everybody says, 'Boy, you are a great coach. We loved having you.' Well, where were you when I was here? That is the difference."

The Journal Gazette's Assistant Sports Editor Tony Krausz covers The University of Notre Dame. Krausz, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a native of St. Louis, has been assistant sports editor since October 2005. Prior to joining the JG, he worked at two papers in Mississippi covering high school and college athletics.

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