Padanilam: Kelly must avoid repeat of last year’s mistakes
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, September 1, 2017
Last season was a disappointment for the Irish, and everyone knows it.
Even head coach Brian Kelly.
It’s certainly helped temper the expectations for this year’s squad, at least outside the locker room. This team is just as talented as last year’s and has another year of experience, but it certainly doesn’t have the top-10, playoff contender expectations like it did a year ago.
A 4-8 season filled with deflation will do that. People don’t easily forget the faults of bad years.
Except maybe head coach Brian Kelly.
On Aug. 17, Bleacher Report published a story after talking with Kelly last season. During the interview, he referred to himself as an “absent professor” last season and blamed fundraising for that, saying it “f—-d up last year’s team.”
And these comments were, to say the least, interesting.
All of last season, Kelly deflected blame and responsibility for his team’s shortcomings. He praised the defensive coaching one day, fired the defensive coordinator the next. He publicly called out his center and starting quarterback for not doing enough and trying to do too much.
In other words, last season was everyone else’s fault but his own.
This past offseason, however, that mentality supposedly changed. For the first time in his career, Kelly had individual exit meetings with every player to discuss what went wrong and what more he could do. From there, he attended the team’s 6 a.m. strength and conditioning workouts. He made it a point of emphasis to eat more of his meals at the training table.
He was taking some of the responsibility for what happened last season. He was trying to rebuild the relationships he strained, even severed, last season.
Which brings us back to those comments.
Maybe his comments were true. Fundraising, particularly at a school like Notre Dame, is a major responsibility in college football, where schools are constantly competing with one another in an arena driven by great wealth and the even greater facilities that wealth can build.
But at this point, does it make a difference whether or not its true? And why say that now?
Kelly spent all offseason trying to address the lack of accountability that defined last season. But in one comment, he proved that old habits do in fact die hard, and he made another excuse for the disappointment that was last season.
And not many people seemed to care.
Some pundits pointed to the challenges that come with fundraising as legitimate, giving Kelly credit for his honesty. Others gave him a pass for the comments entirely.
But not enough people criticized him for saying it.
This year’s Irish squad has a lot of new faces — most notably new coordinators and a new quarterback. But the position this team is in is all too similar to last year: Notre Dame has the talent to be a contender, but it is not clear whether it has the intangibles to capitalize on that talent.
Leadership is one of those intangibles. It’s a trait Kelly lacked last year, even by his own admission. But it’s one which rejects excuses — excuses like the ones Kelly made throughout last year.
Excuses like the one Kelly made in that interview.
And so when there’s even a hint that the mistakes of last year’s failure could creep into this year, it should be cause for concern.
As the Irish enter Saturday’s game with Temple, it is crucial that Kelly holds himself accountable not only for the successes of his team, but also its failures. There is no denying that Kelly has had success running the show at Notre Dame for quite some time; but his role in last year’s letdown can’t be ignored just because of that either.
Kelly’s faults certainly shouldn’t be the only thing that defines the narrative of his career at Notre Dame. But history risks repeating itself if they are ignored too.
And that is why Kelly’s comments on Aug. 17 should tighten the microscope on him entering this season, not remove it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.