Brian Kelly discusses the Declan Sullivan accident


Before Kelly addressed the 28-27 loss to Tulsa, he spoke at length about the video tower’s collapse and the death of Declan Sullivan.

Here is the entirety of his statement:

Obviously a very difficult loss for our football team. Certain pales in comparison to the unimaginable sorrow we had this week in the loss of Declan Sullivan. As a father of three, I can only imagine the sorrow that accompanies the loss of your son. So it’s been a very difficult time for me and everybody within our football family.

I didn’t think we were going to have to go through something like this so close to the tragedy we had with Matt James. You know, you think you’re strong and able to handle all of those things that are thrown at you. This one was very difficult. All we can do in these very difficult times is what we did, and that’s support Declan and his family, rally like we did here at Notre Dame to provide for all those affected with this great loss the opportunity to heal.

So it’s been, from a personal perspective, a very difficult week for all of us. I focused strictly on the Sullivan family, our football family and my own family. Really that’s been all the things that have taken up my time since this tragedy occurred.

Declan, you know, quite frankly, I don’t know if it’s customary or not, but the head coach usually doesn’t come in contact on a day-to-day basis with a lot of videographers. They come in and we leave. Our time never really syncs up where we get a chance to spend much time.

But I got a chance to meet Declan and know him because of all the time he spent in our office, especially this summer. As you know, he was a lover of film and writing. He was a great writer. I’ve got great memories of him just being in the film and video offices, putting things together secretive on most occasions. I’d look over his shoulder.

I pass that on because this one hurts because, again, in my 20 years I don’t know that I’ve had maybe a dozen people, student workers, that I knew. I knew Declan. It’s was a very, very difficult week for all of us.

Extraordinary the way the university has come together. The mass was so good for me and everybody on our football team, our football family, the university. The leadership that Father Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick has helped me with me and all those associated with our football program.

On Wednesday I made the decision that we could have a productive and safe practice outdoors. Productive because the conditions were such, although windy, were not unlike many days that I had practiced at other universities, including here at the University of Notre Dame. Productive practice is important obviously within our offense, as well. Throwing the football, you have to be able to look at the weather conditions and find out whether you believe it’s going to be a productive day first. We believed it to be productive. It was productive, obviously up until the tragedy.

The next thing that is important is that it’s a safe session, that the practice must be safe. That takes on a litany of different things when you talk about safe. When we’re indoors, my biggest concern is always running out on the track or running in an area where there’s medical equipment or water bottles or just the safety of our football team.

Outdoors, different weather elements obviously play in that relative to safety, as well. You know, whether it’s a tornado warning the day before or it’s a lightning storm that’s in the area, or the heat index is at a certain number, and certainly wind. All of those elements have to be evaluated in making the decision, which I made the decision that I felt it was productive and safe.

We have systems in place to make certain and that deal with issues of safety. Clearly in this instance, they failed. We are in the process of examining all of those systems that are in place and looking for those answers. That’s currently where we are: investigating this tragedy and carefully looking at everything relative to safety.
You know, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that, when you talk about taking your football team outside, those items are at the forefront of every coach’s – not just me, not just here at the University of Notre Dame – everybody in the country thinks about the same things. That’s probably the one area obviously that we’re all grappling with right now.

I can recall being out at the practice site. It was a windy day, but a productive day. Next thing I knew, I heard that the tower was down. First thing that I did is I got to my coaches that were obviously affected by the situation, some of them running around. I gathered the coaches quickly, two of them, and said, Keep practicing. At that point we had players that were starting to migrate towards the accident scene. I thought it was important for me to keep our guys away from that accident scene.
Our coaches did a great job of monitoring our players, staying with our players, keeping them preoccupied, as I then left to go to the accident scene.

I got to the accident scene and saw that our training staff were with Declan, and I wanted to make certain that that area was in good hands. It looked like to me everything was moving in the right direction. We had Notre Dame responders, we had ambulance responders. And once I felt comfortable in that situation, where we had professionals on-site dealing with it, I went back inside to the practice field and subsequently called our football team together at midfield. We prayed for Declan. I told and informed our football team of the injury, the seriousness of it, and I then dismissed our football team.

That’s my best recollection of the events surrounding the accident itself.
Obviously there’s going to be a lot of speculation, there’s going to be a lot of questions. I’m not really adept at being able to handle some of the specifics. I can tell you that we’re working hard to get all those answers. We’re so close to this event occurring that we’re still putting together a lot of the information that everybody I’m sure is interested in, as we are as well. We’re very interested in making sure that we provide, my staff has been incredible, in providing as much information as possible. That’s really important.

For me, it was important for me to get a chance to spend time with Declan’s family before the mass and pass on to them our entire football team’s sincere sorrow for what has occurred. It’s just a devastating thing for everybody. But it was really important, I wanted to be able to meet the family. I was very, very fortunate to do so.

I’m trying to cover as many of the notes that I have scribbled down here.
Again, I think the most important thing is that for me, productive and safe. Weather-related factors are examined every day relative to that safe atmosphere. We’ve got systems in place to deal with that. We’re obviously examining them very, very carefully, especially obviously wind.
So, again, I don’t have a lot of answers relative to specifics. I’ll open it up to some questions.

Q. When did you realize that it was Declan that was down? Did you know when practice started that it was him?
COACH KELLY: I knew once the tower went over who it was.

Q. Why didn’t anyone tell him to come down? Who is responsible for monitoring stuff during practice as conditions change? Why wasn’t there anyone to tell him to bring the lift down?
COACH KELLY: Certainly, as you know, those are all the things that we’re examining right now. We could probably come up with a number of different things that we’re all wondering. Those are the questions that are being asked exactly as you’ve asked them. We’re doing that, and have been doing it since the accident occurred.

Q. Is there a max wind speed prescribed for those pieces of equipment, that you know of?
COACH KELLY: I don’t. Again, if I had the knowledge specifically of wind speed and heights of lifts, all of those, I certainly would provide those to you. I just don’t have that information.

Q. The daily protocol of the videographers, do they come in and get assigned, or do they do their duties knowing what they are?
COACH KELLY: Typically they all meet together, get a practice schedule, because each one of them are assigned different areas of the field to film. Declan was on the defensive field. His duties were generally filming the defensive and our offensive show squad. Everybody knew their roles as they began the day. We’re given a schedule as to, We want you filming in this area at this particular time.

Q. When you met with his family, in what capacity did you meet with him? Where were you?
COACH KELLY: We were in the main building. It was a great exchange because Declan had informed his family how much he enjoyed his year here with me and the staff. It was great to hear that. But more importantly, it was me telling the family how much he meant to our entire football team. His personality was so easy to recognize. He stood out from everybody else.
Obviously, we wanted to pass on our sorrow, as well, not only individually, but also as a team.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH KELLY: Not that I’m aware of.

Q. Will you be back outside again next week and will you have videographers up in the lift?
COACH KELLY: We will be outside. We will not be using the lifts until we clearly have more information relative to some of the questions that were asked here today.

Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.

How we got here: The Defense

05 September 2015:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands with his players in action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

The first of a multi-part series as we look at the 2-5 Irish at the bye week. 


Notre Dame’s season was sunk by Brian VanGorder’s defense. That sentence is much easier to write after seeing the unit without its former coordinator. But it was just as clear after watching the Irish play their first four games of 2016 that Brian Kelly needed to make a change. The Irish gave up a combined 124 points in their three September defeats, a season-high for either yards or points (against FBS competition) for Texas, Michigan State and Duke.

For many VanGorder detractors, the move came four games too late. The Irish were plagued by big plays and schematic breakdowns throughout 2015 (and before), a fatal flaw of a defense filled with talented personnel that too often underperformed.

How did the Irish get here? Any why did Kelly make the decision to hire VanGorder—a decision that has already impacted his legacy in South Bend?

Let’s look back.



When Brian Kelly tapped VanGorder to replace Bob Diaco, he was hiring a coach who seemed like an evolutionary next step. While Diaco’s 3-4 base and point prevention philosophies were the perfect tonic for improving a team that was wrecked by the Tenuta era, Alabama undressed the Irish at the end of the 2012 season, a simplicity in Notre Dame’s scheme that received a few comments from Alabama players in the postgame glow that likely had Kelly wondering if they’d hit their ceiling.

That’s an important factor to remember when Kelly was hiring Diaco’s replacement. Because the foundation of the defense was well established. Kelly needed someone to build on top of it.

That likely made VanGorder’s pitch music to Kelly’s ears. Because while Diaco relied heavily on his base set, VanGorder’s DNA included sub-packages, complementary parts, Rex Ryan-inspired blitzes, and a philosophy that no throw would be conceded— underneath or otherwise.

Add to that Kelly’s personal relationship with VanGorder. Kelly had watched his former Grand Valley State colleague from the beginning of his career. He had seen him work with young players and believed in him as a teacher (something he referenced multiple times when he introduced VanGorder to the local media) before blazing his own trail, earning a head coaching opportunity at Wayne State, a high-profile coordinator position at Georgia and eventually making his way to the NFL—for a long time, farther up the food chain than Kelly.

Perhaps that was enough to dismiss his chaotic year at Auburn, when the Tigers season—and defense—went up in smoke as Gene Chizik was fired and VanGorder’s defense gave up 63 to No. 20 Texas A&M, 38 to No. 5 Georgia, and were blown out 49-0 to Alabama—after after mid-October.

But for a variety of reasons, likely his success turning to coaches with a personal connection, Kelly once again did so, hiring an NFL position coach who was a few years removed from being an elite-level coaching target for a vacancy that was a high-profile national opening.



The challenge with VanGorder’s struggles always seemed to be the caveats. Injuries decimated his first defense, a group that shutout Michigan and stymied Stanford, but crumbled by the end of the season, with USC naming a number and the Irish tumbling after giving up big, ugly scores to Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC.

The 2015 defense had strong moments—dominating Texas, holding Clemson to 24 points and nice wins over option opponents Georgia Tech and Navy—but obviously imploded late against Stanford and never stood a chance against Ohio State, with injuries once again leveling the depth chart.

But there were improvements. Between 2014 and 2015 VanGorder’s unit got a better handle on up-tempo attacks. An offseason committed to stopping the option saw those goals achieved with successful defensive performances against Georgia Tech and Navy. And even if VanGorder’s veteran-heavy 2015 unit was mostly moving on (the talent exodus is staggering now that you look at it), most had talked themselves into believing that Year Three would have better institutional knowledge for all, a depth chart ready to step in and perform.

[A necessary footnote: Luck certainly wasn’t on VanGorder’s side. Injuries, transfers and suspensions certainly didn’t do him any favors, either. Whether it was the disappearance of edge rushers—Kolin Hill, Jhonny Williams, Bo Wallace—or the loss of KeiVarae Russell and Max Redfield, injuries to Jarron Jones, Shaun Crawford, Nick Watkins and Drue Tranquill, there was always the defense VanGorder hoped to put on the field… and then the one that he actually did.]



Austin, Texas. Opening night, 2016.

The Irish defense was exposed against the Longhorns, shredded by both the power running attack and freshman Shane Buechele’s passing. It was an all-systems failure: Scheme, blown assignments, questionable personnel decisions—all pointing back to a game plan that required a bunch of assumptions (new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert was difficult to scout), but nonetheless was a disastrous start.



Even if Kelly gave the staff’s performance a passing grade, by noon after the loss to Duke, the decision was made to relieve VanGorder of his duties.

“This is a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t it where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”



While Kelly won’t likely go any deeper into the decision to make the change than he’s done in a few media sessions, it’s telling just how different the defense is organized with VanGorder out the door.

Full-unit meetings have been turned into position group teaching sessions. Depth chart’s have been reshuffled, resulting in major personnel changes. A base three-man front has taken over as the status quo. And the defense has stopped giving up points and big plays, especially after they found their footing against Syracuse.

Where Kelly goes from here is anyone’s guess—especially considering he’s still trying his best to get this season under control. But after tapping into his personal coaching network to fill a premium vacancy, don’t expect Kelly to settle on the familiar—or for Swarbrick to allow it—when his roster is loaded with young talent and in need of a fundamentally sound plan.

CB Elijah Hicks commits to Notre Dame

Irish 247

Just hours after one member of Notre Dame’s 2017 class stepped away, another took his place. Southern California defensive back Elijah Hicks committed to the Irish. The four-star prospect, an all-purpose defender who can play safety, cornerback and contribute in special teams, pulled the trigger just days after taking his official visit to South Bend.

He made the news official via Twitter and recorded a commitment video with Irish 247’s Tom Loy. And even as Notre Dame’s season continues in the wrong direction, Hicks bought in to the message being sold by the Irish coaching staff, picking Notre Dame over programs like UCLA, USC, Michigan and Washington.

A year after stocking up the secondary—Hicks gives the Irish a nice piece to pair with Paulson Adebo and all-purpose athlete Isaiah Robertson. And as we watch Troy Pride, Julian Love, Donte Vaughn and Devin Studstill might a quick impact on the back end, Hicks compares favorably to that quartet, another prospect with elite offers who will come into South Bend ready to fight for a spot in the two-deep.

Hicks told why he pulled the trigger now:

“I chose Notre Dame because on my official visit I felt comfortable and it felt like home,” said Hicks. “One of my favorite quotes about Notre Dame is, ‘Other teams play college football, Notre Dame is college football.’ Coach Lyght, I feel like he could give me the tools that’s necessary to make it to the NFL and have a long career. Also, they have a rich tradition and great academic support.”

Hicks plays for La Mirada High School, the same program that produced reserve Irish tight end Tyler Luatua. He returns Notre Dame’s 2017 class to 18, a Top 10 group by any evaluation.


Irish suffer first recruiting defection with Donovan Jeter


After five losses, Notre Dame suffered their first consequence of a poor season in recruiting. Donovan Jeter, a four-star defensive lineman, has stepped away from his verbal commitment.

Jeter made the news public on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to send Irish fans into a tailspin.

The sky isn’t quite falling. Jeter called the Irish his top school, likely just getting ahead of the news that he’ll start taking official visits to other schools, something Notre Dame’s recruiting staff has worked well to slow down the past few cycles. Also helping the Irish’s cause is his proximity and connection to fellow Western Pennsylvania prospects David Adams, Kurt Hinish and Josh Lugg.

Still, after making it through last recruiting cycle without a defection, finding a way to win back Jeter is priority No. 1, a versatile defensive lineman who had an elite offer list and picked Notre Dame after basically dismissing them over the summer. The Irish have done it before, getting Stephon Tuitt back in the fold after Georgia Tech sold him on staying home. They won a battle with current defensive coordinator Greg Hudson when he was at Florida State for Aaron Lynch, though Lynch only lasted a season in South Bend.

Usually a decommitment—especially this time of year—isn’t ground for a news story. But as all eyes focus on Brian Kelly and his grasp on the Irish program, this serves as ammo for those looking for cracks in the foundation.


Jeter posted a Tweet that essentially confirmed my speculation. And also should serve as a reminder—DO. NOT. TWEET. AT. RECRUITS.