Yesterday was a big day for the Notre Dame football team on the field, as they absolutely thrashed Navy 56-14, routing a team that has had their number in recent years. But being mediocre and destroying somebody bad doesn’t cover up the larger issues at work in South Bend.
This week marked the one-year anniversary of Declan Sullivan‘s death. If you forgot that name, it’s the Notre Dame videographer who took to his scissor lift in historically dangerous windstorm conditions, and paid for that mistake with his life.
This was a week when the school could have really used more positive publicity; but instead more negativity surrounded the program.
The only public statements out of South Bend regarding the anniversary of the tragedy this week basically expressed the same sentiment as when their internal investigation was complete- it’s impossible to pinpoint one person as responsible for the wrongful and accidental death, so therefore no one is liable.
And in their defense, yes there is no one single scapegoat. However, this is literally a matter of life and death, and someone should be held accountable. If you have a lot of subordinates at your job, and one of them died on your watch, don’t you think you might have some accountability? How often does one get to keep their job in a situation like that?
But let’s move on to the two major negative story-lines surrounding Notre Dame this week. The first was USC claiming the Irish players had quit in that game. Trojans QB Matt Barkley was very vocal about this. Well, that’s a very strong claim to make, and extremely difficult to substantiate. And the convincing manner in which the Irish won yesterday debunks the idea that they’ve packed it in for the season.
As for that USC game, well I guess that’s old news now. But this tweet from the Irish' best overall player, and leader on defense certainly doesn’t help the situation.
Junior linebacker Manti Te’o posted this to his Twitter “Playin for my bros and that’s it!!!!”
So, if you had any hopes of Te’o not leaving school early for the NFL draft after this spring, and returning to South Bend for his senior season, they died with that comment.
But this brings us to the next storyline.
“You can see the players that I have recruited, you know who they are,” Kelly said Thursday. “We’ve had one class of kids that we’ve recruited that I’ve had my hand on.
“The other guys here are coming along,” Kelly added. “It’s a process. It can’t happen overnight. They’re getting it. They’re making good progress.”
Kelly has since apologized to his team for these condescending comments. But it no doubt created a wedge within the program.
Considering all the upperclassmen he starts, he’s still coaching with mostly Charlie Weis’ players. So it was really a bad decision on his part to single out recruiting classes. And of course Kelly is just 13-8 so far in his ND tenure. And as we all know, the expectations at ND are much higher and immediate than anywhere else because of their historic past, and Kelly has handled that pressure quite poorly at times.
The expectations are even higher today because quite a few coaches in recent years (Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops) have won national titles in their second year guiding a new program. That may not be fair to Kelly, but then again it’s also why they pay him the big bucks. And if he were winning big, it might cover up some of the public image black eyes the program has endured since he got there. We already talked about Declan Sullivan. Lizzy Seeberg was another tragedy peripherally related to the program, even though it was something Kelly had zero control over.
He does have control over his temper though, and losing it on national television and screaming viciously at T.J. Jones in week one made him look awful. After Jones walked away, Kelly hunted him down to swear at him some more. (In case you missed it, you can see the video here) T.J.’s father is Andre Jones, who died a few weeks before the incident; Andre was a member of the most recent Irish national title team.
Catholic media outlets condemned Kelly and called for his head due to his outburst, and worst of all, Kelly did not immediately apologize for the blow-up. At least this week he did apologize for his gaffe.
These are all things to remember in 2012 because….the Irish lose 3/5 of their offensive line, and their team MVP Michael Floyd to graduation next year. And…7/11 starters on defense, 8 when their best NFL prospect, Manti Te’o declares early for the draft. So 2011 really HAS to be their year!
In other words, Kelly’s seat is warming up, and next year it could get very hot. If it isn’t already.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio shows all across the world. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.
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