As Notre Dame instituted an optional pass/fail grading system for this semester of remote learning, the student-athletes should not have any additional worries about the usual GPA thresholds that lead to mid-May piece of news that upsets Irish fans. Instead, letter grades will be factored in only when students choose — in other words, only when those grades will boost a GPA.
That may have reduced some of the stress of audibling to schooling from a distance, but Notre Dame’s coaching staff has still taken on some atypical duties amidst the discord of sending the players home on a moment’s notice.
“Our football coaches took off the football coach’s hat and put on the academic support hat,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said late Wednesday night in an interview on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt. “It’s been challenging, but it’s been fun in that respect, too, because it’s something different.”
That appearance and Kelly’s 30 minutes after Notre Dame’s one spring practice very well may have been Kelly’s only interactions with the media between the postgame scrum at the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28 and a practice date to be determined, hopefully this summer. More so than usual, that kind of public absence makes sense, considering just about any conversation with Kelly would focus on the bigger picture, a topic beyond much reasonable insights at this point and for the foreseeable future.
Here’s the moral of the story: STAY HOME AND WE CAN HAVE FOOTBALL SEASON. WHAT MORE INCENTIVE DO YOU PEOPLE NEED?!
— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) March 28, 2020
With that in mind, a review of Kelly’s comments following that one and only spring practice revealed what is now a bit of irony. In light of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing mechanisms to win the 2017 World Series, Kelly was asked about any concerns over the influx of technology in sports and college football in particular. It was an off-topic question better-suited for another time, but the thought process behind it held a touch of logic.
In response, Kelly pointed to college football’s game day rules around technology use, stringent enough to remove much worry about such cheating.
“Other than that, it really kind of ends the digital piece coming into the sideline or the locker room for us to gain any kind of audio/visual advantage from that perspective,” Kelly said, later expanding a bit on a general lack of technology at this level. “… It just seems like we’re a step behind here, but there are some really simple things we could be doing.”
Something tells me Kelly and the Irish are much more acquainted with tech right now, even if that newfound necessity won’t inherently make it to Saturdays.
Check out the first Notre Dame Minute ⌛
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) March 26, 2020
Of course, both Polian and Rees were chatting from home. Kelly and the rest of the staff are, as well. That’s a rare occurrence for college football coaches, and rare might be a generous description.
“It’s kind of nice as a football coach that’s been in it for 30 years, I’ve seen a lot of my family,” Kelly said of the one silver lining of the current chaos. “It is kind of nice that we’re being able to take advantage of this time to be with our families.”
In light of recent events related to COVID-19, we have unfortunately made the decision to cancel our 2020 Unveiling at Notre Dame. However, we will still be holding a virtual unveiling on April 17th at 6pm! More details to come. For now, stay safe and stay home! ☘️💛 pic.twitter.com/j8B9pLzehU
— The Shirt ND (@theshirtND) March 30, 2020
ON 2017’S IRISH RETURN
When Notre Dame knocked off back-to-back top-15 foes in mid-October of 2017, it rocketed the Irish up to No. 3 in the polls and erased any lingering doubts from 2016’s debacle. The game that stands out to many, as was discussed in the most recent edition of “30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC,” was the 49-14 rout of USC. It was against the most historic of Irish rivals, a known national power and a program seemingly on the rise.
But personally, the 35-14 win a week later against No. 14 North Carolina State stood out more. Sure, the Wolfpack is not as broadly respected, but that was a 6-1 team led by an experienced quarterback in senior Ryan Finley with two dynamic threats at his disposal in Jaylen Samuels and Nyheim Hines. Future top-5 NFL draft pick Bradley Chubb led a threatening defense. In every respect, North Carolina State had the talent to stick with Notre Dame.
When a Wolfpack defender blocked an Irish punt five minutes into the game and recovered it for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead, there was more than talent working against the Irish.
It was a situation reminiscent of moments Notre Dame had folded in for 20 years. A bit of adversity against a quality opponent and the true character of the Irish would be revealed.
Walking through the parking lots afterward with a couple beat writers, a unanimous opinion stood out: Responding to that blocked punt touchdown with a quick-strike touchdown was a moment that may have saved Notre Dame’s season. Josh Adams took a handoff for 35 yards before Brandon Wimbush connected with Durham Smythe for a 25-yard touchdown and a tie game.
“We don’t talk about winning,” Kelly said afterward. “Winning is not even part of our vocabulary. We didn’t talk about winning any games this year.
“It’s about the mindset that we’ve created to dominate our opponent. Winning is not even part of the equation with this group.”
Julian Love later broke the game open with a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown and Adams gave his “33 Trucking” Heisman campaign some momentum with a 77-yard scoring dash, but it was the response to that punt block that showed a demeanor reversed from 2016.
And now my starting defense of favorite #NotreDame players. Remember, not best, but favorite, and have to have watched them play …
DT: Sheldon Day
DE: Anthony Weaver
CB: Vontez Duff
S: Shane Walton
CB: Shaun Crawford https://t.co/0UmfTf2DlG
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) March 24, 2020
INSIDE THE IRISH READING
— Coronavirus impacts some Notre Dame draft hopefuls more than others
— Notre Dame’s, Ian Book’s leadership more vital than ever
— Brian Kelly gives tight timeline to avoid a diminished college football season
— Virtual recruiting the only option for Notre Dame and everyone else
— Long-bodied defensive end Abiara commits to Notre Dame
— 30 Years of Notre Dame on NBC: Blowing out USC completes Irish return
CORONAVIRUS and FOOTBALL READING
— Jack Swarbrick: ‘There’s no chapter in the manual for this’
— No football in the fall? Here are college sports’ biggest worries in wake of pandemic
— One prominent voice would be ‘shocked’ if college football is played this year
— The expected unknown: What happens if a player gets sick when baseball returns?
— We tried the at-home workouts CFB strength coaches create for self-isolation
— James Franklin would lock the country down amid coronavirus pandemic
My top 5 will take on a different taste, because for me it's more about my experience than it is #NotreDame winning or losing.
5) ND 30, Okla. 13, 10/27/12
4) FSU 31, ND 27, 10/18/14
3) South Florida 23, ND 20, 9/3/11
2) Georgia 23, ND 17, 9/21/19
1) ND 20, Stanford 13, 10/13/12 https://t.co/mcI17NQPpf
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) March 30, 2020
— NFL wants April draft to go on as scheduled despite GMs’ recommendation
— Holding NFL draft under current conditions could cause teams to make major mistakes
— Rotoworld’s WR draft rankings
— Rotoworld’s TE draft rankings
— What’s your favorite Notre Dame football play?
— Crowdsourcing Notre Dame’s all-random team
— The best players to wear every jersey number in college football history
— Notre Dame’s ‘energized’ Mike Brey isn’t going anywhere
— College coaching carousel ground to halt amid coronavirus concerns
— The Athletic’s top 100 sports movies
CORONAVIRUS-SPECIFIC READING, largely outside of sports
— I tested positive for COVID-19 and so will you, by a St. Mary’s College undergrad
— Game Zero: Spread of virus linked to Champions League match
— Liberty University brings back its students, and coronavirus, too
— Coronavirus will radically alter the U.S.
— Matt Cashore (@mattcashore) March 29, 2020