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Farmer: Fans partially to blame for miscommunication (Nov. 4)

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, November 3, 2011

“You know, you can see the writers that I worked with, you know who they are. I had one department of kids that I worked with that I’ve had my hand on. The other writers here are coming along. It’s a process. It can’t happen overnight. They’re getting it. They’re making good progress.”

That paragraph likely qualifies as the last thing I would ever say to or about the staff here at The Observer. It is also nearly verbatim what Irish coach Brian Kelly said about his team last week, if you substitute “players” in for “writers,” “recruited” in for “worked with,” and “class” in for “department.”

Safe to say, Kelly messed up.

Now first off, The Observer is late to this story for one simple reason: Each week’s Irish Insider goes to print before Kelly’s Thursday press conference. Typically, that press conference consists of a simple update on senior defensive end Ethan Johnson’s ankle, a mundane inquiry about the number two quarterback and a few jokes about Kelly’s age or his love of the Boston Red Sox. Nothing more, nothing less.

Last Thursday, Oct. 27, Kelly threw a curveball with his rant separating the freshmen from the rest of the team. This particular curveball was a mistake down the middle of the plate.

At first, Kelly got away with his mistake. None of the dozen or so reporters asked a follow-up question. None of the beat reporters tried to pin Kelly. None even wondered which players Kelly had his hand on that have been the most appreciated.

In the Thursday press conference write-ups, Kelly’s paragraph of criticism didn’t make it into many leads. Rather, the focus was on a completely valid point by the second-year coach.

“I coach a style of football that I want played, and we’re not getting that style,” Kelly said. “A lot of the guys, we’re retraining them.”

Obviously, the upperclassmen came to Notre Dame expecting Charlie Weis’ system. Most of them learned and played in his system. It will take awhile for them to adjust to the new way of doing things. Neither Kelly nor the players should be faulted for that, and Kelly’s admitting such a simple fact is hardly press-worthy.

Then why did his press conference comments lead to a Twitter-led backlash and a reported clearing of the air at a team meal last Friday?

The beat reporters did not even tweet Kelly’s controversial comment. It was largely a non-issue to them. But when the fans saw the blunder, the horribly-named “Twittergate” suddenly had momentum. By the end of the night, Notre Dame’s most recognizable player, junior linebacker Manti Te’o, saw fit to share his thoughts on the topic via his Twitter handle @MTeo_5, “Playin for my bros and that’s it!!!!”

Former Irish players currently in the NFL, players from the Weis regime, shared their support of their former teammates via Twitter. Some more of Te’o’s current teammates aired their grievances via the social media, and suddenly Kelly faced a short-term crisis.

And the fans loved every second of it.

Because Notre Dame fans wanted them to do just that. Notre Dame fans wanted a reason to be upset. Notre Dame fans have adapted the exact mentality Kelly was referring to in his players, even if he shouldn’t have in the first place.

An atmosphere pervades Notre Dame football, no matter how hard Kelly may try to fight it off. This atmosphere stems from an even 29-29 record over the last four-plus years. Just as winning forms habits, so does losing, and the upperclassmen have dealt with both. Habits have formed in each direction.

This atmosphere extends to the rabid fan base. Instead of looking at 11 national championships and seven Heisman Trophy winners, Irish fans look at 23 years since a title and five coaches since 1997. Instead of expecting wins, Irish fans expect underwhelming performances and disappointing losses.

Perhaps most guilty is the student body. But again, the students have known nothing different. Current seniors have tasted 26 wins in their four years, compared with 20 losses.

Kelly needs to remember something though, as do the players, the fans and the students.

“They’re all bought in,” Kelly said last Thursday. “Every single one of them is bought in.”

While Kelly may have been referring to only the players, it is true of the fans and students as well. They’ve all bought in, even if some need to be retrained as they come along.

Contact Douglas Farmer at dfarmer1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.