Colin Capece | Wednesday, December 1, 2021
I was having such a great evening until you showed up. Feeling fully rested and recovered after a wonderful Thanksgiving break with family and friends, ready for the last sprint of the semester before final exams, knowing that Notre Dame is likely to make a New Year’s Six bowl game when the dust settles on Sunday, I was just doing my homework, chatting with some friends, minding my own business. It was safe to say that for the moment, I was at peace.
But then you dropped an atomic bomb on all of it. Out of nowhere, at 7:51 p.m. on a Monday night, you sent this entire campus and the entire college football world into a complete frenzy. No one, not even your confidant and biggest supporter athletic director Jack Swarbrick, knew that you were about to commit the most heinous crime in Notre Dame football history.
This is hands down the most monumental event in my time as a student at Notre Dame. For the last 24 hours, I have yet to pick up my phone without someone texting or tweeting me about you. I can’t remember a time when I walked through the hallways in DeBart, and every single conversation I overheard was about the same thing.
Your sudden departure hits close to home for me in more ways than you probably realize. For the majority of my life, you’ve been the Notre Dame head football coach, which means that you’ve piloted the team that I grew up watching religiously every fall Saturday. From a fan’s perspective, it feels like you’ve disrespected a family member, and I won’t stand by quietly without a response. You’ve also been the head coach for the last four seasons, which means I have written about you extensively in these pages. From a student journalist’s perspective, you’ve given me the biggest story of my lifetime, and I won’t let the opportunity to give some analysis pass me by.
It’s taken me the last day to formulate my opinions and collect my thoughts, but now that you’ve landed in the Bayou, I hope this piece somehow makes its way to you. This column includes my personal reactions to you jumping ship for LSU, an analysis of your coaching career at Notre Dame, what your departure means for this year’s Irish moving forward, and what I think your future holds. To help me out, I’ve enlisted the help of none other than Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo.
“You betrayed me, and I know that you’ll never feel sorry”
These lyrics from Rodrigo’s “traitor” capture exactly how I feel about you right now. How could you leave at a time like this? You said it yourself following a win over Wisconsin in September, which put you ahead of Knute Rockne as the winningest football coach in Notre Dame history, that you will be remembered as the Notre Dame coach that won the most games without a national championship. If you haven’t noticed, Notre Dame is on the brink of securing a third college football berth in the last four seasons. If things break the right way on championship Saturday, the Irish are likely the fourth team in. As associate sports editor Aidan Thomas pointed out in his last column, this might be Notre Dame’s best shot to win the school’s first national championship since the 1988-1989 season. The Irish are peaking at the perfect time and would head into the playoffs with a full head of steam after throttling Georgia Tech and Stanford. The Georgia team that Notre Dame would most likely play isn’t 2018 Clemson or 2020 Alabama. Notre Dame matches up much better with the Bulldogs than they did with the teams they played in their previous two trips to the CFP. I understand that the early signing period for head coaches in college football makes for a difficult situation when other opportunities open up, but how can you give up on this program now, when everything you’ve preached about for the last 12 years is right in front of you?
Your players are six days away from figuring out their playoff fate. They have worked every day since the spring to build the foundations of a team that can vault itself into the realm of college football’s elite. These players have committed their academic and football careers to this university after you went and recruited them. You have built relationships with them that have helped shape them into the people they are today. How, when everything you’ve promised them is on the line, do you send them an eleventh-hour text message, reportedly meet with them for 11 minutes and call it a day? These players, this team, these recruits, this fanbase, everyone deserves better, and all you did was spit in our faces with this cowardly move.
I know, for a fact, that you don’t feel sorry about this. In your Monday press conference 10 days ago, you said it would take a fairy godmother, a $250 million check and your wife’s approval to leave the Notre Dame job. LSU signed you for a heck of a lot less than that, but still the richest contract for a head coach in college football history. As someone who serves as a leader, it’s disheartening to know that all you’ve ever cared about is yourself, and that at the end of the day, you’ve let money and status be your guides rather than what’s best for the young men you serve. I understand you said you wanted to explore a new opportunity, but you sure didn’t give your best effort to see the one you had already started to fruition. Not only did you quit on the program you helped resurrect after the miserable final three seasons of Charlie Weiss, but you’re taking the ship down with you. Trying to poach defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees as bowl season approaches is a classless move that can only be made by someone with no moral compass like yourself. Your legacy won’t be the coach who surpassed Knute Rockne. Instead, it will be the guy who tried to self-destruct the program on his way out the door.
“I knew you were trouble when you walked in”
T-Swizzle’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” describes what I always knew about your abilities as a head coach. The first time I was in the same room as you wasn’t at a post-game press conference, but actually a Dunne Hall event in South Dining Hall. Much like Tuesday’s player meeting, you spoke to us for about three minutes. The words I’ll use to describe that speech were pompous, uninspiring and laughable. These words also characterize in part your time at Notre Dame in my estimation.
Pompous is an apt word to describe your offensive strategy. After getting blown out by Nick Saban in the 2013 BCS National Championship game, you vowed to reshape your program using the Alabama Crimson Tide as your model. That meant recruiting an offensive line that could punish people in the trenches and running backs that could tote the rock thirty times a game. And you have no doubt succeeded. Notre Dame has become a factory for churning out NFL offensive linemen, and four- and five-star running backs are eager to come to South Bend. But it’s not 2013 anymore, and air-raid offense is king in the CFP era. The most recent national championship winning Alabama team is evidence of that. However, you never seemed to want to make the adjustment. The development of young and speedy wide receivers was never prioritized until this year when Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie finally got involved. Four- and five-star quarterbacks and wideouts flocked elsewhere. Notre Dame could never find a way to stay competitive in games where the Irish fell behind because the offense was never built to do so. Your inability to adapt your stay in front of the chains offense doomed us in games against better competition.
Uninspiring is a word that describes your leadership. Never once did I get the sense that you were a player’s coach. That’s not everyone’s style and that’s perfectly fine, but a coach does need to be able to connect with his players. Many current members of the team have said that Notre Dame is more than a coach, and that they chose this program for other more important reasons. Swarbrick said himself that “It’s not Brian Kelly’s culture — it’s the culture built by the 118 young men on that team.” All of this is showing me that players did not care for you in the same way you said you cared for them in your final message, which someone leaked to the media. When I look around college football, I see successful coaches like Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Ohio State’s Ryan Day who don’t have the personality of a rock. Players want to run through a brick wall for them because they treat their players like they’re their own sons. You never showed me you had the desire to do that at Notre Dame.
Laughable is also how I’ll remember you. Next to Saban and Swinney, you seemed like you were stuck at the kids table while the grown ups got to have all the fun. In New Year’s Six bowl games, playoff matchups and conference championship games, you never seemed to have your team prepared. Let’s be honest, most of those games weren’t competitive because the moment was always too big for you. The coaches that are remembered in this sport are the ones who rose to the occasion and found a way to deliver for their team and for their school on their day of reckoning. You won’t be remembered as a hero because you shriveled under the bright lights.
“Now we’ve got bad blood, you know, what used to be mad love”
What does your Judas-like betrayal mean for the 2021 Fighting Irish moving forward? Bad Blood, my favorite song on 1989, my favorite Taylor Swift album, has the answer. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you credit for all of the good you’ve done for the Notre Dame football program. The Irish have been a model of consistency with five straight 10-win seasons. The team has also been the paradigm for academic achievement in college football and players have exemplified what it means to be successful student athletes that are actively involved in their communities. Before Monday, for the most part, it was mad love in Irish Nation for the team and for their head coach.
But you decided to throw that all away and give a huge middle finger to the administration that stood by you ardently after going 4-8 in 2016 and missing a bowl for the first time in 6 seasons. And baby, now we’ve got bad blood.
Supporters are rallying around this group of players more than I have ever seen in my lifetime. I can guarantee you that this Irish team will play with more fire and tenacity than they ever did under you, whether they land in the CFP or not. You just gave one of the most talented rosters in college football the extra motivation it needed to get over the hump against college football’s elite if they even get the opportunity. Hopefully you haven’t damaged this team’s resume enough to keep them out of final four, because that would be a damn shame. This team will win in the postseason out of spite for you, not because of you. Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if the guy who couldn’t win the big game has to watch his former team bathe in the national championship confetti from his couch?
“Good 4 u Brian, you look happy and healthy”
Rodrigo’s all-time summer bop “Good 4 u” is the only way to close a piece that made me so irate. I hope you’re happy, Brian, because I don’t think it’s going to get all that much better for you at LSU. Not only is your buzzkill persona going to make it difficult for you to recruit against SEC powerhouses in their backyard, but you now get to play Nick Saban every single year. Boy, I really can’t wait to watch you get rolled by the Crimson Tide over and over and over again. I’m confident that you’ll find that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence, and crawfish doesn’t taste nearly as good as you thought it would. Not to mention karma’s a you-know-what. Good riddance, Brian. Please never come back.
Your old friend,