If I passed Brian Kelly on the street, I’d have a few choice words for him. Something along the lines of, “Hey, you! That was the worst damn display of dodgeball I’ve seen in forty years!” (RIP Patches O’Houlihan). Saturday’s loss to Duke answered ALL questions of whether or not Notre Dame Football was going to have any hope of legitimacy this season. The Irish lost to a Duke team that lost to a Northwestern team that lost to Illinois State…so by the transitive property, Notre Dame lost to Illinois State. When that happens (either actually or transitively) and you’re looking at three losses within the first four games…reevaluations are needed. As strongly as I feel about this, I’ll do my best to keep this coherent and away from a senseless rant, but no promises.
Now, I could talk about the actual game, the trainwreck that is the defense, the fumbles and general mishandling of the football on offense, and any other sloppy mistakes you can highlight, but I’m not going to. At this point, one word describes the main source of the woes of the Irish and one word only: coaching. The rest of the Irish faithful understand this to be a problem, as most people are calling for the head of defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder. While there is merit to this, seeing as though the Irish have given up thirty plus points in three games this year, VanGorder is nothing but a symptom of the problem.
This problem requires cutting the head off the snake. The head of which I am speaking is Brian Kelly. I’m sorry, Brian, but you’ve overstayed your welcome in South Bend. I’ve been a skeptic ever since he came into the program, but after his press conference this past weekend, my patience is at its end. While addressing the media, Kelly did what he always does; pointed his finger in every direction possible except at himself. He made it clear that no position on the football team is safe and that everybody is up for evaluation and replacement. Constructive? Okay, I’ll give you that, but not the way he did it. It’s never okay to single out your own players by name and blame them for your own shortcomings in a public press conference. He began the conference by saying that coaching was the one area he felt good about…okay, way to pat yourself on the back, man. “Coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today.” Brian, it’s had to do with the outcome for the past seven years. Oh that’s right, we went to the national championship game in 2012 (a game I still drink to forget). Your players brought you there, not the other way around.
The blame game really started when Kelly vocalized his belief that the defense gave the offense a chance to win, which the offense squandered with turnovers. I might buy that argument had your offense not put up 35 points and your defense not given up 38 points to DUKE. This division of his players is very reminiscent of how he created a rift between his recruits and the leftover recruits of Charlie Weis a few years ago. Poor leadership then, poor leadership now. When asked what the problem was at the end of the game, Kelly had two words. “Poor execution.” That was his assessment. Poor execution offensively. I agree, execution was an issue, but on the sideline, not the field. Kelly called the play of quarterback DeShone Kizer “unacceptable” after he went 22/37, passed for 381 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Those sound like pretty good numbers to me, Brian. He ridiculed backup QB Malik Zaire for not throwing the ball away on a pitch-pass play where Zaire had four men in his face before he could set his feet. “You won’t see that again,” was all Kelly had to say about that.
Okay, I’m nearing the end of my vent session here, but the most egregious part of the press conference came when Kelly roasted his players for having no fire or passion (except for Dexter Williams, the only positive name-drop Kelly made the whole time). If players want to play for him, they better have fire and grit. Last he checked, they were getting a scholarship to play for Notre Dame. Yes…he said that on live TV. Brian, the passion and the fire has to come from the top. You’re supposed to be the leader of the team, not the assigner of scapegoats. If that passion is lacking as much as you say it is, maybe you should drop your own name in there before your own players and evaluate yourself as a cause. There is a way to have the motivational “get your head out of your ass” speech that Kelly was going for, but that conversation should be had in private with your players. You should NOT publicly blast them on TV. That is not motivational, that is demoralizing. If my coach roasted me in front of a camera like that, I doubt my reaction would be positive and optimistic.
There are many other issues with Kelly’s coaching that I could highlight over the years but this press conference seemed an accurate nutshell of his tenure at Notre Dame. If any positive steps are to be taken in the future, the leadership on this team needs to be under more scrutiny than anything else, despite the opinion of the leader himself.