As Notre Dame prepares to take on Navy, the team across from them — a squad that’s defeated Notre Dame three of the last four years — may not be the Irish’s biggest opponent this afternoon. Not after the drama of the last 48 hours, more befitting an episode of Glee than a 4-3 football team in dire need of a bounce back win.
It’s been an ugly week in South Bend, with the wick lit last Saturday night, when everybody but the football team turned out for the premiere match-up of the season against USC. Since then, the Irish “faithful” have put all their complaints back on the table — the head coach, his spread offense, the senior class, you name it — as they look for answers as a season with sky-high hopes has started with with a mediocre four wins in seven game.
Of course, the static that comes from an anxiety-filled fan base is nothing new to Notre Dame football players. But when the Irish started to hear news of their head coach’s Thursday comments, things began to unravel.
After Thursday’s practice, Kelly was asked about his players “buying in” to the message he and his coaching staff have delivered. His answer was fairly standard in terms of the daily back and forth with the media and the head coach. Here’s the exact transcript, as recorded by IrishIllustrated.com:
Q: Is it a harder sell at Notre Dame? You went to Cincinnati and guys seem to hit the ground running.
BK: It’s not a buy-in, they’re all bought in. They’re all bought in. Every single one of them is bought in. I coach a style of football that I want played. We’re not getting that style. A lot of the guys that are here, we’re re-training.
Q: That’s not a buying in issue?
BK: Oh no, that’s in their DNA. That’s who they are.
Let me just break it down to this and we can move on to other things. Here’s the best way to put it. Some of them can’t do it. That’s our job to get them to do it. Some of them won’t do it. That’s our job to take care of that.
Q: That gets back to my original question, is it a harder sell at Notre Dame with the kids here than the kids at Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
BK: I had a hard sell in my first year at Central Michigan. I had a couple hard sells along a 21-year career. Some teams are harder than others. This one, we’re working at it. I don’t think that it’s endemic that it’s Notre Dame. I think we’re just going to get this team to play the way we want them to play.
Q: Is it the type of kid here?
BK: You can see the players that I recruited here. You know who they are. We’ve had one class of recruiting kids that I’ve had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along. But it’s a process, it can’t happen overnight. They’re getting there. They’re making good progress. We’re 4-3, very easily could be a lot better than that. If we take care of the ball when it’s 17-10 on the one-yard line, who knows what happens. I don’t want to paint a picture that we’re so far away that we can’t get to them, but it’s a process, we keep banging them every day. It’s the old cliche, keep banging the sledgehammer against the wall and you don’t see the cracks and then one day it cracks down. We’re still banging at it.
Q: Does Stephon Tuitt stay outside with Sean Cwynar back?
BK: He’s going to play somewhere on the D-line.
Like a brush fire, those fairly innocuous comments seemed to spread like wildfire across the internet, becoming more inflammatory as they were sniped into articles and shoved onto Twitter. Veterans like Trevor Robinson and Jake Golic seemed to think the comments were aimed at them. Senior defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, still raw after being lost for the season just days with knee surgery, openly bristled. Kyle Rudolph, having left the Irish early for the NFL, felt the need to commiserate with Robinson, chiming in from Minneapolis. Manti Te’o exchanged barbs with delusional Irish “fans,” who took it upon themselves to chime in via social media. All of this took place on the very open forum of Twitter, the absolute worst place for these kind of in-house issues to be aired.
Depending on the reports, Kelly either “mended fences” by explaining his comments or apologized after an uproar. Either way, it’s an unnecessary distraction before the Irish play Navy, as the Irish look down the barrel of another “must win” football game.
The blame for this one should be shared equally. Veteran players like Robinson should know better — not to mention understand their role in the last four mediocre season at Notre Dame. Reporters shouldn’t cherry-pick quotes from a head coach that provided plenty of context in his remarks. The Twittiots that took to launching attack at college players they allegedly support need serious help. And lastly, Brian Kelly should simply know better — though I’m fairly certain the comments were intentional.
Either way, the added drama should make this afternoon’s game even more interesting.