Football: Brian Kelly, reflections on first season


We’ve become cynical as Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans. We’ve become bitter. Losing has changed us.

Two decades of failing to live up to the lofty expectations has radically altered the mental make up of the average fan. It’s like were thinking, ‘we’re Notre Dame, goddamnit. We’re supposed to be great.’

Each season, we build up hope that the new coach, the new defense, the next top-rated recruiting class will finally turn things around and return the Irish to glory.

When Brian Kelly took the job in South Bend, he spoke enthusiastically of a five-minute plan, of high expectations, of continuing the tradition of excellence. Like Charlie Weiss before him, Kelly was blinded by Notre Dame’s history and didn’t see that he’d inherited a tough reclamation project.

Kelly’s boasting, his overconfidence, has haunted him. Both the media and the fans are holding Kelly to his promises and roasting him for failing to keep them. Kelly established a high standard of judgement with his comments and he is unfairly being held to that standard.

Irrational fans bought into the hype and hoped the Irish would return to national prominence, become a top-25 team in year one, perhaps compete for a BCS Bowl. When that didn’t happen and the losses piled up, many fans felt betrayed and took out their frustration on the easiest target: the head coach. DeClan Sullivan’s death and swirling rumors of sexual harrassment from a player give unhappy fans another reason to crow.

I firmly believe that Kelly would not have been blamed or negatively implicated in the death of Sullivan if his team was not playing poorly. If the Irish were 6-0, I’m sure the media would have expressed sympathy for Kelly’s situation instead of blaming him. I do not hold the coach responsible at all. I find it hard to believe Kelly instructed Sullivan to go on the scissors, or even knew he was up there. Kelly’s focus is, and should be, on his football team at practice. Some other coach, or person, is likely responsible for Sullivan being on the lift.

I do not want to get into any rumors of sexual harassment and have purposely stayed away from the story. The player is not being reported, nothing has been confirmed, and I don’t feel comfortable discussing and disseminating my opinion on a serious issue none of us know much about yet.

In anticipation of the final game of the season Saturday night against USC, Kelly looked back on the season  and his behavior and admitted that perhaps he expected too much, too soon. (South Bend Tribune).

"You know, when I go play golf, I go to the black (pro) tees,” Kelly said Tuesday in his last media appearance this week before Saturday night’s rival revival at USC. “That’s the first thing that I do. I go line it up at the black tees.“Now, at the turn, sometimes I go to the white tees after I obviously shoot 17-over par and wonder whyI’m not shooting par. I think it’s always been who I am that we’re going to come in here and we’re going to win. I don’t know how to do it any other way.“But, obviously, as I’ve seen things move forward, yeah, maybe I should have played from the white tees, but that’s just not who I am.”"

Being a sports fan is supposed to be fun. Instead of  dogging Kelly for disappointing us, let’s appreciate his ambition. Let’s see the many good things he’s done in a short time.

Notre Dame is bowl eligible despite an avalanche of injuries, despite the tragic death of team videographer, Declan Sullivan. Against all odds, Notre Dame is now playing its best football of the season and has a real chance at its seventh win Saturday, at beating USC for the first time in nine years. Kelly said:

"We’ve moved Notre Dame from being a collection of individuals to being a football team. I felt that some of the things that maybe we inherited that we needed to move in my direction, how I feel philosophically, was to get this more as a team, as a next man in, everybody pulling in the same direction, and not about a collection of individuals. When we get those players back, we’ll be a better team because we’ve put the foundation of “team” first.”"

So let’s be positive as fans. Let’s support our head coach. He promised a return to the glory days, and he may yet deliver.

I’d suggest he tee off from the gold tees, though.