Notre Dame was a preseason top ten team. Notre Dame finished the 2016 season 4-8. Brian Kelly will soon be the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish football coach.
You likely knew all of these things. In fact I had to edit this headline from “after he’s fired,” to “after he parts ways” when rumors surfaced that his “representatives” were helping Kelly explore options outside of Notre Dame. It’s the one thing I can respect about the guy. At least he’s being proactive with his job search. While the timeline may be in question, one thing seems evident. Kelly will be replaced as coach of the Irish. Because Notre Dame wants a leader, and Brian Kelly is not a leader.
Perhaps the expectation that college football coaches will be exceptional leaders is our fault. Convincing a teenager to run headfirst into a wall so that you can bounce before the bowl game doesn’t necessarily make you Franklin D. Roosevelt. Leadership is a rare quality, yet we seem to think that those coaching on the Power Five level invariably have this quality. Some do. Most don’t. Kelly especially does not.
2016 is simply when the wheels fell off. Kelly’s deficiencies have been noticeable for some time. The disturbing way in which he completely mishandled the death of student videographer Declan Sullivan and his marked disinterest in the suicide of Lizzy Seeberg weren’t enough to get Notre Dame’s attention.
Kelly’s televised attack of Notre Dame assistant strength and conditioning coach last season wasn’t enough to get the university’s attention. Let’s reminisce:
This went largely ignored by the media when it occurred. You can attach any excuse to this action that you want. It’s an attack. And it’s further evidence that Kelly is unfit to lead. Along those lines, I’d like to go on a little bit of a tangent.
A couple of times a year, we will see a coach go absolutely nuclear on a kid. Usually it involves something really, really important like possibly receiving a 15 yard penalty. This 19 year old will absorb the wrath of a 40-60 year old coach, who lacks the tools to effectively convey his message. If and when it escalates to what Kelly has demonstrated above with a player, I want that player to do me a favor. Knock that coach the hell out.
I understand that Kelly’s incident involved another coach which is (better? worse?) different. We seem to give these coaches a pretty long leash when it comes to their sideline behavior. The first player that puts a coach flat on his ass will have at least one new fan. You know how that would end? Public apology from the coach, scholarship honored. Don’t be treated like a punk. By the way, when Kelly was asked if he owed Grimes an apology for the 2015 incident he replied,
"They don't know what happened. It's typical of those that are just looking at the video without having any of the information. You know, only those that are clearly near the situation that have all the information can make those judgments. It's an internal matter, and we're handling it internally."
Classy. I probably would have went with, “Yes, I apologized.” Or something like that.
Anyway, the mishandling of the above incidents wasn’t enough to sink Brian Kelly, and in fact it goes further than this season’s 4-8 effort. The news that truly doomed Kelly was the NCAA’s recent findings that resulted in substantiated academic misconduct. The penalties included Notre Dame vacating 21 wins across 2012 and 2013 as well as:
- One year of probation for the athletic department
- A public reprimand and censure for the school and a $5,000 fine
- A two-year, show-cause order against the student-trainer
- The athletics department must disassociate from the former student-trainer for two years.
Now you don’t have to be a Power Five football coach to know the appropriate response here. It’s easy. I mean really, really easy. In fact, I’ll go right off the top of my head. Here’s what I would have said:
“I take these findings very seriously, as does the university. We will be addressing these issues internally while also working with the NCAA to find an appropriate resolution.”
Easy, right? There’s a thousand ways to say that. It’s all garbage. It means nothing. It’s just a way to move on. But that’s not what Brian Kelly said. He elected to go a different route.
"It was a discretionary action by the committee," Kelly said. "It was student-on-student cheating. Nobody was implicated. The NCAA agreed across the board with that finding. And, (the punishment) was clearly excessive. So, as you know, we're going to appeal this. And one of the options or the clear reasons for the appeal is that the penalty is excessive in its discretion and we believe we have ground there."
"This matter has nothing to do with me and my status here. This academic piece probably strengthens what I've been doing relative to advocating for our student-athletes and academic support staff relative to them being successful. This obviously has been going on for a few years. The announcement that comes out today has nothing to do with a lack or additional support for Brian Kelly. Any negative criticism about me now is because we're 4-7. It has nothing to do with what came out there today.
"I have no reason to believe that I'm not (going to be the coach next year). I think you guys are confusing this statement with win-loss record. A win-loss record is always under scrutiny at Notre Dame and it should be. But this matter here has been a long standing matter that the University has handled in a positive way."
My goodness gracious. “This matter has nothing to do with me.” Not, “I look forward to being part of the solution.” Not, “I will work closely with the NCAA and Notre Dame.” Not, “We take the schoolwork of our student-athletes very seriously.” But, “This matter has nothing to do with me.” Unbelievable.
It’s especially troublesome at a place like Notre Dame. When the accomplishments of its athletic teams are not up the school’s high standards, the Irish always have a built in excuse. The academic expectation. They love to play that card. Of course we know that’s garbage. If you can ball, you can ball, even with Notre Dame. Cloaked figures with duffel bags of dollars will find a way.
Which is the real reason that Kelly’s relationship with the Fighting Irish is about to end. His inability to publicly hold up the academic integrity of Notre Dame has shattered the illusion. They’re not special. The academics do not make things more difficult for them. They may as well be Florida State.
Things hit an all time low on Saturday at USC. Already suffering through what is, in whole, the worst season in Notre Dame history, the Irish were pummeled 45-27 at The Coliseum. Also, this happened:
ND's Jerry Tillery pushes head of a USC player with possible head injury, then steps on another USC player's foot https://t.co/OvESTUbEum— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) November 27, 2016
Let this sink in. Saturday in Los Angeles the USC Trojans played the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. USC was the more disciplined team. If you’re of a certain age, you probably never thought you’d read that.
Which brings me to why the “Group of Five” schools should avoid Brian Kelly after his time with Notre Dame has ended. Firstly, it’s probably a moot point. I have taken a very scientific poll of college football “experts” who state that it’s more likely that Kelly gets a job at another Power Five university, takes a coordinator job, or simply takes a year off. You can call those “experts” “sources” if you’d like. We seem to enjoy using that word without consequence.
Either way, a Kelly hire is a move that G5 schools can do without. His is a regime completely devoid of accountability. While the G5 product is often a punching bag for fans and media more focused on the Power Five brand, they do offer something that many P5s have long since abandoned. They are the last bastion, if one even exists, of amateur athletics.
Many P5s have made the comprise to value success on the football field above all else. Yes, I am referring to you, Penn State and Baylor, so definitely @me. A Kelly hire means agreeing to a similar comprise, perhaps not as extreme, but one that could significantly diminish the integrity of an academic institution.
A Kelly hire would not be without certain benefits. Kelly has the tools to turn a small school into a winner. He showed that at Cincinnati. He will surely scorch the Earth that is middling conference play and a lower tier bowl game, move out the mom and pop mentality, and build a Mega Lo Mart in its place.
It’s not worth it. Many will say that any G5 would be thrilled to have a coach like Kelly at their university and would move mountains to make it happen. They’re not wrong, and that’s sad. Better to settle on the New Orleans Bowl than to potentially have another Art Briles on your hands, I say.