Brian Kelly discusses the Declan Sullivan accident

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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.

Brian Kelly & Jack Swarbrick on Notre Dame’s changes moving forward

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Whether 2016’s disappointing 4-8 finish was the impetus to program-wide alterations at Notre Dame this offseason, it certainly underscored the need. For the last few months, Irish coach Brian Kelly has focused those changes on himself and self-assessment, and he reiterated that approach when talking with PFT Live’s Mike Florio early Monday morning.

“This is my 27th year of being a head coach, and prior to last year I had one losing season,” Kelly said. “You have a way of doing things, you have a system in place, you follow that year after year. Certainly you make tweaks along the way, but this is the first time where I’ve really taken a step back and made substantial changes in terms of how I’m doing things on a day-to-day basis…

“From my perspective, after being at it as long as I have, you have to take it on yourself that you’re the one that needs to make the corrections. It’s not the players.”

None of this is new. Kelly has been consistent in his springtime messaging, but others have looked past the effects of the 4-8 record and insist the changes were coming regardless of the win-loss totals. Senior captain Drue Tranquill, for example, acknowledged the severity of the losing record Friday but argued adjustments were needed no matter what the final scores were.

“If you have an average season like 8-4, some things might carry over to the next season,” Tranquill said the day before the spring practice finale. “Whereas when you go 4-8, something has to change.

“But I think even at Notre Dame, 8-4 is never really acceptable or tolerated. Those things that were taking place, just within our culture, would have been noticed whether we were 10-3, 4-8. The criticism gave it a lot more hype and juice. We could kind of feel as guys in the program throughout the past three years that certain things needed to change.

“Those things were finally brought to light and it happened to be during a 4-8 season. I don’t necessarily know that 4-8 was the reason all this change happened.”

New Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko expressed a similar sentiment Friday morning, discussing the pressure moving forward.

“If we were coming off a 12-0 season in which we were competing for the national championship, there would be pressure on us at Notre Dame to be successful this year,” Elko said. “That’s Notre Dame.”

Elko has been a quick study, as his comments were echoed the next day by Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick during NBC Sports Network’s broadcast of the Blue-Gold Game.

“We expect to compete for national championships and 4-8 is not acceptable,” Swarbrick said. “On the other hand, when you’re in that situation, you have to decide how you’re going to move forward. We decided to move forward by making a major investment in retooling our program with Brian as the leader of it. That’s not a one-year investment for us. We brought in some talented assistant coaches. We rebuilt elements of the program

“We view it as a multi-year investment going forward.”

KELLY ON RECRUITING PITCH
Using this week’s NFL Draft as a peg, Florio also asked Kelly about balancing players’ NFL aspirations with team success both in the recruiting process and during the actual season.

“We have to talk more in terms of process over production,” Kelly responded. “We talk in terms of you’re coming to Notre Dame for a reason. You’re going to get a degree, which will set you up for the rest of your life, and you’re going to play on the grandest stage at Notre Dame, so everybody will see you.

“As long as there’s the balance there—and there has to be that balance in terms of getting your education and playing for championships—then we’re okay. It’s when that balance is out of whack, we’ll have an issue. We vet that out in the recruiting process and make sure we don’t take any kids that are coming to Notre Dame just because they’re waiting for that [junior] year to complete so they can go to the draft.”

A reminder: The NFL Draft begins with its first round Thursday night. Kelly will be joining former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer at the draft in Philadelphia to await Kizer’s destination and future employer.

MISSED THE BLUE-GOLD GAME?
It is available for streaming: here.

Following spring practice, will Notre Dame continue habitual progress?

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By no means is Irish coach Brian Kelly going to measure Alizé Mack’s progress by if the junior tight end makes his bed every morning. Mack’s mother might—mine would certainly factor it in—but when Kelly cited the need to start the day with hospital corners, he was simply trying to make a point.

“He’s taking care of business off the field, which invariably it always comes back to this,” Kelly said Wednesday. “If you’re taking care of work in the classroom and you’re starting the day right, making your bed—I’m just using that analogy—if you start the day right, it’s going to trend the right way and it’s trending the right way on the field for him.”

Mack is the most obvious example of a needed change in habits. When you miss a season due to academic issues, reconfiguring your priorities becomes a topic of conversation. His instance, though, serves as a readily-cited example of a more widespread concern. Of all the optimistic conversation and concerted change following last season’s 4-8 disappointment, Kelly’s preaching of good habits simultaneously appears as the most abstract aspect and the easiest understood.

“It starts with guys being aware of it first,” Kelly said following Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game on Saturday. “Then once they are aware that they need to have these good habits to be good football players, then you start to see it show itself in good run support angles. You see it offensively, guys always lined up properly. We had very few penalties today, and that’s a product of some of the habits that are being built on a day-to-day basis.”

It makes sense. If a receiver doesn’t realize he lined up a few feet closer to the sideline than desired, for example, then he will make that same mistake the next time, especially if he still makes a catch on the play. Next time, the defensive back may be more able to capitalize on the gift of less route uncertainty.

It is unrealistic to expect anyone, let alone a 19- or 20-year-old, to display this exacting discipline on the football field without practicing it throughout the rest of the day. Successfully cutting corners in one area of life convinces the psyche it can be done anywhere. Thus, Kelly has needed to harp on his charges about their off-field activities, including—but perhaps not seriously—making their beds.

“I think we ask our guys to do a number of different things on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “First of all, understanding how habits carry over to what they do in the classroom and what they do on the football field.”

Kelly and his coaching staff have had four months to make this impression. The issue is, bad habits are hard to break. They’re usually more fun, anyway. As Kelly pointed out, the rewards of good habits are slow in coming. Delayed gratification, if you will.

“I think our guys understand that it takes time to build those habits, because some of them have bad habits, and to get rid of those bad habits, you really have to be creating good habits over a long period of time,” Kelly said. “That’s the process that is hard for these guys, because it takes time, and they want it to happen right away.

“Sometimes they forget and they just want to go out and play. If you go out and play, but you don’t do it the right way, it’s going to get you beat.”

This all sounds well and good, and some of the effects were evident Saturday. There were few penalties (none, in fact, according to the official statistics), the quarterbacks took advantage of the receiving corps’ size and missed their targets high. But soon comes the toughest time to continue this trend.

Kelly and his staff have worked on the Irish to internalize these lessons. Now, Kelly and his staff will cover the country in recruiting. In a few weeks, the players will scatter home for a break before returning for a summer session spent in the weight room and classroom. If they slip back into old habits, the last four months were spent fruitlessly.

Mack played well Saturday. The question has never been does he have physical talent. He undeniably does.

The question has been, is and will be: Did you make your bed today, Alizé?

What we learned: Hayes, Book star in Notre Dame’s spring finale

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Time spent on a traditional game wrap of a spring intrasquad exhibition seems misspent. Gold won Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold Game 27-14 led by rising sophomore quarterback Ian Book. The first-string defense (Gold) held the first-string offense to an average of 5.4 yards per play. For context’s sake: Last season Notre Dame gained an average of 6.1 yards per play and held opponents to 5.4.

With that abbreviated recap out of the way, what did Saturday’s pseudo-game environment show about the Irish? If the 20,147 in attendance paid attention, they had the chance to learn a few things:

Daelin Hayes will be ready to hit a quarterback in September
Notre Dame’s quarterbacks were off limits all spring. Bulls might charge when they see red, but the Irish defensive line has had to remember to ease up when they come across a quarterback’s red jersey. If sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes had forgotten that Saturday, Notre Dame might not have any quarterbacks left to play in the fall.

“At the end of the day, we’re on the same team,” Hayes said, dismissing any bitterness about the quarterbacks’ protections. “We have to keep our guys healthy. I wasn’t frustrated, but come September 2, you know.”

Officially, Hayes was credited with three sacks and another tackle for loss among his seven tackles. Admittedly, gauging sacks is tricky when the quarterback does not actually go to the ground. How many of Hayes’ three sacks and the defense’s 11 total would have been evaded if the defender needed to do more than touch the passer? That answer is highly subjective, but discounting Hayes’ numbers would miss the bigger picture.

“We showed [pressure] in as far as the quarterback wasn’t getting really comfortable, not having all day to throw back there,” Hayes said. “I think it’s been huge, buying into that process. Seeing it come to fruition today was huge.”

Senior end Jay Hayes (no relation) notched two sacks and sophomore end Ade Ogundeji came the closest to tackling a red jersey when he stripped junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush from behind. The defensive line has been expected to be a weak point for the Irish moving forward, but the spring performance indicates it has a chance at holding its own. These accomplishments bear further merit considering Notre Dame’s offensive line is widely-considered one of its few spots of expected quality.

RELATED READING: Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

“I think it’s pretty clear Daelin Hayes is going to be around the football and be a disruptive player for us,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I’d have to watch the film, but it seemed like [sophomore end] Julian Okwara was a hard guy to block coming off the edge, as well.”

Ian Book provides some peace of mind
Book was not spectacular, but he was also far from incompetent or intimidated. In his first action on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, Book completed 18-of-25 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by a 58-yard connection with sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson. Meanwhile, junior Brandon Wimbush completed 22-of-32 passes for 303 yards.

Bluntly, one has not needed to follow Notre Dame for very long to fit that “long enough” qualification. Last season’s backup, Malik Zaire, saw competitive action against both Texas and Stanford. In 2015, DeShone Kizer came off the bench to start 11 games after Zaire suffered a season-ending ankle injury. (more…)

What Notre Dame players should you actually watch? Plus, catch up on reading

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If technology does its part, this will post as its typist meanders toward finding his credential for the Blue-Gold Game to conclude Notre Dame’s spring practice. If technology doesn’t do its part, well, then this will be lost to the cobwebs of the internet. Such as it goes.

This space has spent much of the past week discussing what to look for in the 12:30 p.m. ET exhibition. Worry about the big picture, not the individuals. Fret about the macro, not the micro.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the indivdual players
Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators
Four defensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game
Four offensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game

But, if insistent on focusing on singular players, look to the inexperienced, the names you are unfamiliar with. The 15th and final practice of spring may be no more than a practice in reality, but it is in front of nearly 30,000 fans in Notre Dame Stadium. Some players do not have so much as that minimal experience.

“The Blue-Gold Game, specifically, is a time for us to emulate a game-like situation,” senior safety/linebacker/rover Drue Tranquill said. “Especially for guys like freshmen, second-semester guys coming in, it’s a great opportunity for them to get that game feeling, but also continue to take steps in the process to get better.”

The question on the tip of your tongue is a fair one. If you are unfamiliar with the names, how are you supposed to focus on those players? How are you to know who fits the appropriate tunnel vision version of perspective?

Let’s turn to Irish coach Brian Kelly’s mentions from Wednesday–primarily, sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara, sophomore long snapper John Shannon, senior kicker Sam Kohler, sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem and sophomore safety Jalen Elliott.

Obviously, that is just a sampling. Less obviously, this post’s purpose may or may not be to link to previous reading material and remind you of the vague but pertinent purposes to today’s endeavor. It is neither be-all nor end-all. It is simply another opportunity to gauge what may come down the line.

But hey, how about a prediction? Per Kelly, the first-team offense and second-team defense will be in blue, against the first-team defense and second-team offense in white.

PREDICTION: Blue 37, White 21

HOW TO WATCH
As a recurring reminder, the Blue-Gold Game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, as well as streamed online at ndstream.nbcsports.com and on the NBC Sports app.