In the span of one holiday weekend, the trajectory of Notre Dame’s football program has been irrevocably changed.
That’s not hyperbole. Coming off a twelve-win season and finally solving a quarterback conundrum that took three seasons to sort, Brian Kelly turned down an opportunity to jump to the NFL, presumably because he saw the bright future ahead of him in South Bend.
That all looks much different thanks to Everett Golson’s “poor academic judgment.”
Fans and media can spend the next few months discussing what Golson’s exile means. They can kick dirt on Golson for a variety of reasons — namely wasting the best academic support system in college sports while letting down the teammates and coaches that supported him through last year’s miracle season. But before anyone gets too high and mighty, it bears mentioning that Golson isn’t the only college kid to get wandering eyes during a final exam. And for those that have enjoyed kicking dirt on Notre Dame the past few years, not too many football programs put their starting quarterback on ice for a season because of an honor code violation.
All of this is fodder for the water cooler for the next 100 days, giving this offseason another talking point after a regular season that was just too tidy to believe. But don’t expect to hear much from Kelly. Privacy rules or not, the Irish head coach and his staff have already moved on.
Any tears shed by the staff dried up long before the public revelation of Golson’s fate. No doubt this one hurt. No doubt it’ll limit an offense that was finally coming into the image of its creator. But if you expected this setback to stop Kelly and his coaching staff, you haven’t been paying attention the past few years.
While some Irish fans will revert to the doomsday proclamations and star-crossed concerns of years past, there is no intergalactic conspiracy. This isn’t the first time a Notre Dame student-athlete has been tripped up by the academic challenges the school presents. And it certainly won’t be the last.
A twelve-win regular season didn’t save Irish fans from reawakening their ghosts. But in his three seasons in South Bend, Kelly has proved that there’s no rearview mirror for this program. That’s why Gunner Kiel was never an option to return. That’s why this team didn’t flinch when Aaron Lynch quit or Davonte Neal went home. All spring Kelly talked about this football team finding its identity. After last year’s team was fueled by self-belief, the doubt now being cast on a team that still has plenty of potential could be galvanizing.
Make no mistake, this one stings. But players go down. And while it’ll be hard to look at the 2013 season and not wonder about what could have been, “Next Man In” doesn’t just cover shoulder injuries and graduation.