The poor results on the field — the seven-loss debacle of a season — are nothing compared with the embarrassment and shame Brian Kelly just brought on Notre Dame.
Kelly refused to accept any responsibility Tuesday for NCAA violations that resulted in the Irish being stripped of 21 victories from the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The 12-1 record in 2012 that included a trip to the BCS title game, easily the high point of Kelly’s contentious tenure, is now vanished.
And right along with it Notre Dame’s moral high ground.
Notre Dame has always prided itself on being different, a cut above the college athletics world that, let’s be frank, sometimes looks more like a cesspool. It only recruited players of the highest quality, their character as sterling as their talent. Its coaches were the role models for doing things the right way, refusing to compromise their ethics for a couple of extra wins.
Turns out, Notre Dame’s principles are every bit as malleable as the Miamis, the Auburns and all those other schools it’s looked down upon over the years.
It’s true that Kelly did not have any direct involvement in the violations. The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions found that a student-trainer had violated NCAA rules by committing academic misconduct for two football players and providing six others with impermissible extra academic benefits.
“It was student-on-student cheating,” Kelly said. “This matter has nothing to do with me and my status here.”
Wrong. As head coach, it is Kelly’s job to know everything that’s going on with his team, the good and the bad.
Maybe Kelly wouldn’t have first-hand knowledge. But when a team is this high profile, on a campus as insulated as Notre Dame’s, it’s implausible to think people didn’t know about the shadiness. If he or his assistants didn’t hear the whispers and the rumors, it’s because they didn’t want to.
If you want to take credit when the going is good, then you’d better be prepared to accept the blame when things go wrong, too.
And that, even more than his team’s woeful record, will be Kelly’s undoing. He’s had no problem throwing others under the bus when things have gone wrong – you could make a YouTube video of his sideline tantrums alone – and had the audacity to preach about the need for accountability when he disciplined six players who were arrested before the season.
“You want them to enjoy their time here, but they’ve got to make good decisions,” Kelly said in a radio interview after the August arrests. “And then if they don’t, hold them accountable for it, and we certainly have done that.”
Yet Kelly has shown time and again that his standards don’t apply to him.
When a video tower collapsed in October 2010, killing a Notre Dame student who was taping practice, Kelly defended his decision to practice outdoors that day by saying conditions “were not unlike many days that I had practiced.” I lived in South Bend for 3½ years and I can say with total certitude that winds gusting up to 53 mph are not typical.
When Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide in September 2010 after accusing linebacker Prince Shembo of sexual assault, Kelly was one of several university administrators who tried to sweep it under the rug.
Compared to those two incidents, the NCAA violations are minor. But it fits the pattern: Nothing is ever Brian Kelly’s fault.
The role of a college coach is twofold: Win games and try to set a good example for the young men he’s molding.
In both cases, Brian Kelly is failing miserably.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.