Leader of men is a trope that hasn’t been true in years, if ever.
Immoral people can be excellent at coaching a sport, as good men can be bad at it, and there’s nearly no direct correlation that the morality play of sports people want so badly to be true has any other impact on events than as to how we weave a story.
Brian Kelly needs not worry about people enumerating his great feats of positive reinforcement or putting forth a false set of altruistic traits that would leave a prom date’s father salivating over the possibilities.
Notre Dame hasn’t exactly been celebrated as the gold standard for conduct under Kelly. There was the death of student manager Declan Sullivan in 2010, Kelly’s first season, for which UND was cited for violations. There have been high-profile instances of academic fraud, the most notable involving 2012 starting quarterback Everett Golson. Kelly’s also been criticized for his sideline demeanor, which he defended last falling by saying, “I’m just being Brian Kelly.”
He enters the 2017 on the mythical hot seat, if college football previews are correct — but not for any of the above. If Brian Kelly were having more success at his job, his role overseeing all this would be easily be overlooked.
This isn’t abnormal in any level of sports. Rick Pitino has a plethora of scandal left in his wake. He also happens to be one of the best college basketball has ever seen, to the point he is essentially the John Gotti of the sport. Pitino has become the Teflon Don whenever issues arise.
Examples lie everywhere. By most accounts, Bobby Petrino isn’t exactly the next Pope Francis, yet he is swell enough at his profession that all those missteps — pursuing an Auburn job that wasn’t open, leaving the Atlanta Falcons in a questionable way, hiring his mistress to a position in the Arkansas athletic department — are swept under a rug; Dave Bliss, whose star dimmed in one of college sports’ most heinous episodes, landed another coaching gig; and so on.
Obviously, each level of sleaze is different for each coach and their given situations. Kelly has never had 13 of the most embarrassing seconds ever spent at a chain restaurant like Pitino, nor has he been a key figure in the midst of an attempt to cover-up murder like Bliss.
He is, however, still burdened with a pile of baggage that might make Notre Dame fans feel uneasy while watching him coach their favorite team.
The Ohio State basketball program recently let go of a known good coach in Thad Matta. From every corner of the college basketball community, not only was Matta’s coaching acumen praised, but so too were his endearing personality traits.
As touched on here, the latter of the two doesn’t matter all that much – though, it can be argued, with a dash of his previous success also factoring in, that it is partially what inspired Gene Smith to give him a last chance on the recruiting trail before letting him go in the late stage of June.
During the press conference that announced Matta’s departure, Smith cited something that many athletic directors fail in realizing when it comes to evaluating their coaches. That, sometimes, you just know when it is time to part ways with a coach – even if that coach is liked, otherwise successful and history says an AD should wait another season.
To be Camp Crystal Lake Clear: Brian Kelly has nowhere near the football-equivalent resume of Thad Matta. The latter has two Final Four appearances under his belt, as well as a handful of Big Ten titles. Kelly’s claim to fame, outside of succeeding in lower levels of football, is taking a Notre Dame roster to the BCS Championship game and getting embarrassed by the Alabama Crimson Tide.
That was five years ago. A time when Kelly’s misgivings can be looked over because of the potential for greatness he was presumably bringing to the Fighting Irish.
Since that 2012 season?
Notre Dame has a 31-20 record over the course of those four maligned seasons, with 10 of those wins coming over the course of one season (2015).
It has been so bad that at the end of last season people were willing to accept Notre Dame firing Kelly without there being much backlash. After all, a 4-8 season isn’t par-for-the-course. Not at Note Dame. Not at most any university looking to compete at a national level.
Having a quarterback, DeShone Kizer, who some projected to be a first-round draft pick in the preseason, didn’t help matters either. Going 4-8 is bad enough. But doing so while “experts” expected greatness from the most important position on the football field would be like going from Alien and Aliens to Alien Resurrection. It just doesn’t mesh with what is supposed to happen.
Formerly considered a quarterback-whisperer – Tony Pike, Ben Mauk, etc. all helping in making it so – he failed in utilizing and getting the most out of the best gunslinger he’s ever coached. An expert in a specific position, supposedly, failing to peak when he’s acquired the best? Maybe he’s not as much a great quarterbacks coach as he is a solid designer of offensive systems – a trait great for lower-tiered football, not so much for big, bad Notre Dame.
After the season was over, when Kizer decided to turn pro and well after Malik Zaire got out of dodge, Kelly went on the radio to discuss how Kizer was not ready for the NFL.
To be fair to Brian Kelly, the backlash that came was a result of the quotes being advertised without context. There was more to it than some bitter man hurling his former QB under the boss. Still, the coach should have known better.
He’s a man who should know people have long grown tired of his sideline antics. A coach who people still point blame towards after the tragic events during a windy practice in 2010. A 55-year-old wannabe leader of men who has no public perception of leading and developing kids into men; or the behavior that would suggest either are in his future.
Also, he appears not to be the other-worldly football coach Notre Dame was hoping for when the university originally hired him.
Fair or not, realistic or not, Notre Dame believes itself as a sleeping giant.
Year-in and year-out we hear versions of a Fighting Irish team attempting to stir the echoes of previous greatness. It eludes the program season-after-season, but it hasn’t stopped everyone involved from trying like hell to recapture the glory days of yesteryear.
Coaches with far less concerns than Kelly were granted much shorter leash. People can argue about the why and how for that, and it is mostly unimportant in this specific hot-seat discussion, though that context should trouble people within the Notre Dame bubble for the upcoming season.
For one reason or another, not all deserved, Kelly has magically been given the benefit of the doubt. That he would, at some point, figure something out that every coach since Lou Holtz has failed at.
The Irish have a schedulethat can easily put them in a position to start the season 6-0 heading into their rivalry game against the USC Trojans.
This is a big deal for one monumental reason: If Notre Dame finds itself in that spot, and with a few correct bounces off the ball in its favor, the Fighting Irish fan base can find themselves in a position where the team was just – even if barely – good enough to warrant yet another season of Kelly at the helm.
A never-ending cycle of calamity, uneasy feelings of watching Kelly on the sideline berate players, and football just not good enough to elevate the Irish beyond competence.
This could happen despite most people readily accepting that Brian Kelly is not the right man for the job or a person with the correct temperament to be in charge of young people at a school like Notre Dame . And, hell, I’d make the argument that his temperament doesn’t belong alongside any job title in which he’s in charge of teenagers and early-20-somethings, at least not unchecked.
Still, the athletic department would have to bring him back because of semantics like being “good enough.” That is unless it has the guts and foresight to do something like Gene Smith did with Thad Matta.
Kelly isn’t a lame-duck coach. At least not yet and in full.
Considering Notre Dame’s track record for off-field tomfoolery, and an inability to be consistently good enough to warrant a head coaching position at a blue-blood program, Fighting Irish fans wouldn’t be unwise to actively root against their favorite team for just a singular season — even if it goes against instinct.
It doesn’t mean the success-grass is greener on the other side without Brian Kelly. But it sure as hell will be inherently cleaner.