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Padanilam: Notre Dame’s character problems chief amongst reasons Brian Kelly should be fired

| Saturday, November 26, 2016

LOS ANGELES — As disappointing as this Notre Dame season was, it was exactly what this team deserved.

Hell, considering the problems both on and off the field, four wins might have exceeded what this team was worthy of.

Because at 4-7 and entering its final game of the season against a bitter rival, the Irish claimed all week that they were focused on beating USC. Forget a bowl game — this was their bowl game.

But when it came time to deliver, they played like it was a game against Duke in September — a game they expected to win but deserved to lose.

The attitude of this team was clear from the beginning. While the Trojans’ sideline was energized and invested in each and every play, the Irish side was stoic. Win or lose, the outcome didn’t seem to matter; after all, with a losing record already guaranteed, their season was already over and there was nothing left to fight for, right?

The play calling reflected it, too: After all, why give a guy averaging nearly 11 yards a carry the ball more than 17 times? There’s no sense in that, but there’s plenty of sense in trying to throw your way down the field with a quarterback completing just 53 percent of his passes and an offensive line struggling to protect him, right? Well, that’s what Brian Kelly thought at least, since it didn’t seem to matter to him what worked and what didn’t. He was just going to stick to doing things the way he’s done them all season.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly addresses his players during halftime of Saturday's 45-27 loss to USC.Michael Yu | The Observer

Irish head coach Brian Kelly addresses his players during halftime of Saturday’s 45-27 loss to USC.

Also, why try to fix the special teams, which gave up two more big plays in the form of touchdowns? If the formula isn’t broken, no sense trying to make adjustments to fix it. Just keep kicking it to the guy you said you “already knew was dangerous” coming into the game, since it clearly was a strategy that was working, and you knew you could trust your special teams unit before the game, right?

But you’ve heard all these things before. Most of them several times, maybe as many as eight if you’re counting at home.

Sure, the eight losses aren’t the reason Kelly should lose his job. Programs have bad years, and he’s had success coaching the Irish as recently as last year.

But when a season — on and off the field — goes the way this season has, something has to change.

Because this season is a reflection of much bigger problems than the two numbers in the win-loss columns.

Consider how the season started: one player gets arrested on charges of battery against a police officer and resisting arrest. Five more were arrested for possession of marijuana, and three charged with possession of an unlicensed firearm. And this was all just one week before the Irish were set to battle Texas. You would think a head coach of a preseason top-10 team would have his players focused on the big picture by then instead of having to answer questions about “character” and “leadership.”

Then, look at this week: It started with the NCAA ordering Notre Dame to vacate 21 wins from 2012 and 2013, stemming from an investigation into academic misconduct. While he might not be directly at fault for the misconduct of the nine players involved, the announcement served as a reminder of the very “character” that Kelly claims he holds with high regard but has seen disappear.

And how did it end? With an embarrassing 45-27 loss to the rival Trojans. It was a loss that saw one of Kelly’s players kick an opponent in the head who had just suffered a hit to the head and then proceed to stomp on another player’s foot just four plays later. And it was a player who is considered the very “right kind of guy” Kelly preaches about having in his locker room.

But does any of this sound like something a “right kind of guy” would do? Does any of it sound like “character?”

Kelly doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. After all, he left Tillery in after the first incident against the Trojans and said he didn’t think any of the players who committed personal foul penalties were “out of control at any time.” Senior offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey didn’t seem to mind it either, saying, “It’s the character of the guys in the locker room that we can build a program around.”

Say what you want about the poor play calling, the refusal to take responsibility for poor play, the willingness to put the blame on everyone else: those are all reasons Kelly might deserve to lose his job.

But once “character” loses all its meaning and Notre Dame football no longer holds its players to the same standard off the field as it does on it, then the answer is clear: Kelly needs to lose his job.

Because it’s not enough to simply punish players after the fact. These are the things that shouldn’t happen in the first place. And they will continue to happen as long as a man who has no control of his locker room and coaches for his own name rather than the one he wears on his chest every Saturday is still running the show.

Because if Kelly won’t put Notre Dame before himself, why should his players? DeShone Kizer probably isn’t going to stay for another year, even if he should. Who would want to play another year for a coach who’s quick to pull you out of the game against Stanford or criticize you to the media for both doing too much and too little? Jerry Tillery wasn’t putting Notre Dame before himself when he kicked and stomped on opposing players Saturday. And we all know the players who were arrested a week before Texas or committed academic misconduct weren’t thinking about the University they represent when they put themselves in those positions.

So Brian Kelly needs to go. Because if he doesn’t, what young talent Notre Dame has might just find itself repeating the mistakes they should be learning from when they look back on this season.

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

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About Benjamin Padanilam

As The Observer's Editor-in-Chief, Ben is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) who is pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics as well. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

Contact Benjamin
  • John Bend

    ND students should question why the have changed the entrance requirements that allow some kids to be considered who could be considered a risky admission. Anything Kelly wants Swarbrick seems t get for him. The character of the kids admitted show they are not doing their work in finding players that fit with ND

    • Tom Z.

      Terrible advice. We need the best athletes if we want to compete with Alabama and raising the requirements is a horrendous idea to get those athletes year after year. If anything, we need to go the other way and continue to get the tier 1 athletes to stay relevant in this day and age. Every now and then a 2012 ND team or a Stanford program of 2011-2015 will compete with the big dogs, but being able to play with the Ohio State’s and Alabama’s of the world year in and year out requires Notre Dame to lower its entrance requirements far below the average student trying to get in. Notre Dame needs to also lessen internal punishments if we want these kids to keep choosing Notre Dame over much more lenient and football-first mentality schools. The idea that we want gentlemen on the field over raw talent and athleticism is an idea held by older people who like Notre Dame, but in no way are real fans who need the Irish to be relevant every single Saturday in the fall vying year after year for that playoff berth.

    • Scott Friery

      Then those same students should question the Prop 48 players Tim Brown, Tony Rice, Raghib Ismail, Ricky Watters, etc., that were allowed to play under Lou Holtz. The difference here is every one of those guys all competed at the highest level both on and off the field, staying out of trouble and making great grades. Lou got “it” at ND. Brian Kelly, doesn’t get “it”. It’s time for him to go. I had the chance to meet him on a flight from Tampa to Cincinnati two weeks after he took the job at ND. His response to me was “Yeah, it should be fun.” Since that day, I have had my doubts about him as ND’s coach.

      • Brian Joseph

        Good grief, Tim Brown, Rocket and Ricky Watters were most certainly NOT Prop 48!!!!! Very bright people.

  • John Bend

    With all of the off the field issues BK has had that in itself would get many coaches fired. He has gotten everything he thinks he needs to win (not players) and he is lucky Swarbrick wants to add a National Title in his resume. Speaking of Jack, where has he been: looking for a job or a new coach?

  • RockClimberJoe

    Ben makes a point I’ve been telling my buddies for some time: Brian Kelly is a coach at Notre Dame… but he’s NOT a Notre Dame Coach. If you don’t love and respect the place more than your own career — you shouldn’t be here.

    Gerry Faust, Lou Holtz and Charlie Weis were true Notre Dame Coaches. Varying degrees of success on the field – but their love of ND was never in doubt.

    Davie, Willingham and Kelly see this as another job on the resume. A decent job, but hoping something better might come along because of being at ND for a time.

    = = = = =

    And you’re right about the character issues. The players who turned in papers they did not write KNEW they did not write them.. and put their short-term gains ahead of their team, coaches and Notre Dame. But why not; Everett Golson cheated on a final at was back on the field. It must be OK with Coach Kelly…

    • Scott Friery

      As much as I agree with everything you’ve said, Golson was suspended from school for one season for his academic misgiving. He cheated on that final during the 2013 calendar year and did not see the field again until 2014. Again, not a problem with anything you’ve stated. Just a fact check.

  • Art Papale

    Ben, thanks for your article and insights. Bottom line: You get it. Character goes with culture. Not the Culture at ND. The current culture within the ND Football Team. From that storm filled Saturday afternoon game against South Florida to the half time lack of leadership this past Saturday at USC and many, many displays in between, the football program under Brian Kelly has devolved into chaos on and off the field. When one Sprinkles in his performance and some of his statements during the Show Time Series, why would a parent entrust Brian Kelly with their most precious cargo,
    their sons. Why would the university? Now, the difficult decision the university has to make is when you cut the cord. As always, ND is in – great – hands. As Lou Holtz has displayed many times in his “Do Right” presentation, it’s only a matter of time before the university does the right thing.

  • Steve Raich

    Very well written. I agree 100% with you. For me it goes way back to his 3rd year when, instead of preparing for Alabama, Kelly was interviewing with Philly. He did not even use all of his practice days. It’s always been about him and he needs to go. We need to find another Lou Holtz, a guy who gets Notre Dame and not just football. Because getting football alone is not going to cut it at our university. Although I’d argue that, at this point, Kelly does not even really get football. And while we’re at it, get rid of Jack too. He’s focused on all of the wrong things. He’s too busy with the Shamrock Series uniforms, field turf and jumbotrons instead of getting the right coach and the right kids.

  • Ed Knauf

    Oh, and there are the results, too. Against arguably the weakest schedule in school history, his lads lost eight times. In his seventh year, with his own right-kind-of-guys – eight losses. A school record 31 losses. That Kelly still has a job is indicative that the administration and Board no longer care about football excellence, that football success detracts from the endless quest for academic prestige, and that the Notre Dame “experience” (even if that includes experiencing losing to the likes of Duke) is going to continue to be the golden goose, ad infinitum. They are tragically mistaken.