It's already happening: The Brian Kelly Death Watch, and the cries for his burial as Notre Dame head football coach are deafening, but only when it comes to non-decision makers for the Fighting Irish.
Talk about premature.
Let's at least see if Kelly and his reconfigured coaching staff from last year's 4-8 disaster can keep Notre Dame from choking this week by improving to 2-1 with a victory over lowly Boston College on the road.
The Irish dropped a 20-19 thriller Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium to a superior Georgia team ranked nine places higher at the time. Not only that, but the Bulldogs were motivated by 30,000 barking folks wearing red in the stands, and Georgia also was loaded with future Pro Bowl players on defense. The Irish only win these types of games when the Gipper gets involved, and as somebody who was born and raised in South Bend, Ind., where the Golden Dome has shined for 175 years, I'm sorry to report that George Gipp and the Four Horsemen have been deceased for awhile now. You know, both physically and spiritually. To translate, Notre Dame wasn't going to win this game. Nevertheless, I just got an email from one of my best friends, and not coincidentally, he joins me in bleeding blue and gold. Here was good, old Kevin, taking a break from work stuff in his hometown of Muncie, Ind., to continue fuming over the Irish's latest downer on the big stage to offer his Kelly replacements.
DJ Durkin currently the head coach at Maryland. He is 39 years old. Current salary of $2.5 million. Bowling Green graduate. Coached under Urban at BG and Florida. Coached under Harbaugh at Stanford and Michigan. He was a graduate assistant at Notre Dame under Willingham. Durkin is noted as a strong recruiter.
Well, um. OK. If not Durkin, Kevin suggested John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens coach, because John's brother, Jim, did the old "NFL to the legendary college" thing with Michigan, and because, well, here's what Kevin wrote: In August, John Harbaugh was given a one-year extension on his contract with the Ravens. He is also a devout Catholic.
Bob Stoops? He's free these days, and to hear Kevin tell it, if the former Oklahoma coach isn't tan and rested enough to run Notre Dame after a sabbatical this season, then what about Stanford's David Shaw? If you can't beat him (Shaw is 4-2 against both the Irish and Kelly), why not get him? Kevin also likes Jon Gruden, still among everybody's pick to leave the broadcast booth for the hottest pro or college job of the moment, and this is all because Kevin and others are peeved that Kelly can't win key games. I'm not exactly thrilled with the situation. This time, with a massive TV audience and 15th-ranked Georgia playing north above the Mason-Dixon Line for the first time since 1965, the 24th-ranked Irish lost after they couldn't sustain a drive inside of the final two minutes for a potential game-winning field goal.
No offense to Kevin and others, but Georgia's defense was otherworldly, so it didn't matter that the Bulldogs were quarterback-challenged with a sloppy freshman in charge. And, yes, I know. This is Kelly's eighth season at Notre Dame, and except for going undefeated in 2012 before losing to Alabama in the national championship game and sitting a play away in 2015 at both Clemson and Stanford from reaching the College Football Playoff, he's been an eight-victory guy around a place with statues of Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz, all masters of producing double-digits in the win column. Notre Dame's Big Four lived for those Gipper Games, when the underdog Irish would shock the world, usually at home, with a miraculous triumph.
Quick: When is the last time Notre Dame won a game at Notre Dame Stadium against a top-10 opponent?
I'm still waiting.
We're talking 2004 against No. 8 Michigan.
That was two coaches before Kelly, which means Notre Dame's issues regarding these situations don't totally involve the winningest active coach in the Football Bowl Subdivison. That would be Kelly, by the way, with 231. In fact, since No. 2 Notre Dame upset No. 1 Florida State at home in November 1993, the Irish have won just four games at Notre Dame Stadium against teams ranked in the top 10, and thus the bottom line: You have to give Kelly a break here. Then again, his Irish did suffer mindless defeats over the years to Tulsa, South Florida, Northwestern and Louisville. Plus, while Kelly is good, Notre Dame is historically about great, and all of those Georgia folks in the stands meant a bunch of Notre Dame folks have lost their faith in Kelly's ability to win a Gipper Game, which is why they sold their tickets to the highest bidder from The South.
Even so, Kelly isn't going anywhere, not unless he combines the Georgia loss with games the Irish likely will lose the rest of the way (Southern Cal, at Miami and at Stanford) and a collapse at home against Navy or something. What's that, you say? Kelly already has dropped a couple of games to the Midshipmen, including an ugly 28-27 affair last season? Uh-oh. I haven't even mentioned more off-the-field stuff rumbling around Kelly's Notre Dame. Just last week, a former linebacker sued the university for allegedly allowing him to play along the way to a serious injury after he said Notre Dame hid the results of a spinal scan. Notre Dame says the lawsuit is "baseless." Then came a lawsuit from a former student claiming her privacy was violated by university officials who she said closed a sexual assault case to allow a football player to transfer schools. Notre Dame officials have denied the claim.
As for last season, Irish football players were arrested following summer camp during separate incidents involving a gun, drugs and a physical altercation with a police officer in a bar near campus. Years before that, there was controversy under Kelly's watch surrounding the suicide of a female student from nearby Saint Mary's college, a Notre Dame football player and the university's handling of it all. A team manager fell to his death from the tower during a terribly windy day during an Irish practice. Courtesy of an academic scandal, the NCAA ruled last year that Notre Dame must vacate its victories from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but the Irish are waiting for the results from their appeal.
Oh, and then there is the current flap involving Kelly that is ridiculous, but since its national news, I'll mention it. After the Georgia game, Kelly snapped at a reporter who essentially asked if this was 2016 all over again. That's when Notre trailed deep into the second half during seven of their eight defeats before losing by a one-possession score.
With help from Notre Dame's official quote sheet, here's the exchange between Kelly and that reporter to end the press conference.
Q. Obviously you made a ton of changes, changed the culture, everything. But obviously, you lost and at the very end, kind of like last year, seven of eight losses, how do you --
COACH KELLY: What's the question?
Q. I'm getting to it.
COACH KELLY: Well, get to the question.
Q. How do you keep this from snowballing?
COACH KELLY: It's not going to snowball. Next question.
Q. Well, what exactly will be different, I guess.
COACH KELLY: There's nothing different. I go to work every day, and I coach my football team.
COACH KELLY: Is that -- is that good enough for you?
Q. Yeah, I was just asking about how it was different from last year's losing by one possession.
COACH KELLY: Okay.
Q. Tonight was also like that, so I was just wondering.
COACH KELLY: Losing by one possession?
COACH KELLY: No, it was one point.
COACH KELLY: Okay. Thanks.
Sorry, but that's nothing.
Ever hear Nick Saban during any given exchange with reporters? Still, Kelly mentioned during his news conference Tuesday in South Bend that "I probably could have handled it a little bit better. But in the heat of the moment, my thoughts were on the game itself. I stay in the present. In the present, I really like the way our team is put together. I don't think much about last year. I think about how our team played on Saturday. So my vision and my eyes are on how that team showed grit and toughness, didn't back off. We needed to make another play, no question. But our defense gave us three shots with 8:30 and less to go in the game to win it. We needed to make a play."
Notre Dame didn't, and Notre Dame hasn't in a while, but Kelly is safe with the Irish for another reason: He signed a contract with the Irish before the 2016 season that runs for another four years after this one. Even though Notre Dame officials have enough money to pay off the national debt, I'm guessing they haven't the stomach for Charlie Weis, Part II. After they got rid of the overmatched Weis following the 2009 season for Kelly, they were paying their new coach and their former coach through last year.
What's that, you say? Bob Davie flopped as Notre Dame's coach after replacing Holtz in 1997, and Notre Dame officials gave Davie a five-year extension the year before he was fired?