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How soul searching and a culture change turned Notre Dame around in one offseason

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A 6-foot-8, 310-pound left tackle sitting across the desk from me has no problem telling you what went wrong with Notre Dame last year.

Now just imagine the gigantic Mike McGlinchey telling it all to his coach’s face.

“I had problems with people that were on the staff. I made that clear to him,” said McGlinchey of his conversation with coach Brian Kelly.

McGlinchey is a respected captain, one of those stern, proud, square-jawed Notre Dame types from a Hollywood casting call.

“We needed a culture change,” he continued. “We let things get too stale around here. If it wasn’t going to change, it probably wasn’t going to be an environment conducive to me being here anymore.”

That’s not-so-subtle code for McGlinchey, now a fifth-year senior, considering a departure for the NFL.

“I wanted to stay,” he added, “but I wasn’t going to stay if things didn’t go the right way. I didn’t say that to him but that was my thought process.”

It’s refreshing how candid they are around here these days. It’s old news now that No. 3 Notre Dame changed seven coaches, even more attitudes and accomplished a radical turnaround to the point of playoff contention.

The latest test is a trip to Miami that once again wakes up echoes of tunnel brawls, convicts playing Catholics and the birth of swag.

“Being a part of it kind of sends chills down your spine,” McGlinchey.

But this game wouldn’t include two top 10 teams had not Notre Dame looked into its soul.

It’s astounding how the Irish have owned the strife that contributed to a 4-8 season in 2016, the Irish’s second-worst record since 1963.

Linebacker Drue Tranquill recalled starting 1-3 last season after a home loss to Duke.

“I remember having tears in my eyes when I rolled out of bed that Sunday morning,” he said.

We already know about McGlinchey’s candor regarding his coach.

“He’s a guy who looked at himself and looked at the lack of relationships that he had with players at certain times,” he said. “That’s been a big change.”

McGlinchey, of course, is back having an All-American season. Notre Dame’s massive hype machine is at work promoting Heisman Trophy candidate Josh Adams. (This video could have been produced by Speilberg.)

Surrounding it is a new $600 million Notre Dame Stadium upgrade that includes labs, classrooms and network-quality video facilities. It’s not exactly the House That Brian built, but in this comeback season, the foundation that was crumbling has been shored up.

“It’s like I’ve shed the skin and come back in a different form,” Kelly told the South Bend Tribune in the offseason.

Before asking what went wrong in 2016, you have inquire as to why it went wrong in the first place. 

“The issues were discreet and identifiable,” athletic director Jack Swarbrick said, cryptically.

Discreet?

“We lost a certain amount of accountability in the program,” he added. “We had lost a certain level of competitiveness. The kids fought like hell externally. The staff dynamic wasn’t what it should be.”

That alone could have led to the seven losses by eight points or less last season, but there was more.

Kelly and Swarbrick sat down in the offseason to sort through that coaching staff. It’s…

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