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