Is America suddenly going to pull for Notre Dame?
College football fans generally fall into two categories when it comes to the Irish, with the “Hate” crowd far outdistancing the “Love” crowd. But after the events of the past three days, this team is suddenly a real-life edition of “Rudy.” Casual observers might actually be pulling for the blue and gold to stick it to their old coach and complete an underdog story with a Hollywood ending.
In case you hadn’t noticed, it is open season on Brian Kelly. The villain in our script secretly negotiated a deal with LSU to leave Notre Dame. Assistant coaches were in recruits’ homes when the news flooded Twitter on Monday, leaving those coaches feeling like . . . well, the word begins with “a.”
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This came less than a week before Notre Dame receives word on a berth in the College Football Playoff. Assuming No. 1 Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC championship game, Notre Dame needs just one upset from the Big Ten, AAC or Big 12 championship games to have a fairly realistic shot at reaching the playoff for the third time in four years.
And yet Kelly quit on his team before an unexpectedly great season fully played out. He turned his back on a chance to fill the only hole left on his Notre Dame resume — winning a national championship — either because he didn’t think his team was good enough or he simply had enough of Notre Dame and took the roughly $100 million contract from LSU without asking ND to counter.
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College Football Playoff committee chairman Gary Barta admitted Tuesday that the committee can consider Kelly’s absence when evaluating whether Notre Dame is worthy of getting in the playoff. The ND players may get abandoned by their coach and then get dinged by the committee.
Kelly texted his team when the news leaked and then called a meeting for 7 a.m. ET Wednesday. He spoke with the players for less than four minutes about why he was leaving. A report from The Athletic indicated that the meeting did nothing to soothe the players’ feelings and was held simply to make Kelly feel better about himself. There were no questions, no give-and-take, only a goodbye from the coach and an exit. When he left the room, not one player wished him well or gave him any sort of clap. The room was silent.
Kelly then went about trying to hire away Notre Dame’s strength coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator while he was being introduced at LSU. He dodged questions about the timing of his departure and said that he met with the players so he could tell them face-to-face he was leaving them because that’s how he’s done things his whole life and he will do the same at LSU.
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“We will look you in the eye and we will tell you what we’re doing,” Kelly said. “We will be transparent.”
Reactions to the episode, predictably, have not painted Kelly in a favorable light. A story emerged (and was later walked back a bit) from former graduate assistants about how Kelly mistreated them. A South Bend photographer posted a photo on Twitter of Kelly supposedly flipping off former quarterback Tommy Rees after Rees threw an interception in 2013. Defenders of Kelly are hard to come by outside Baton Rouge.
And then, on Wednesday afternoon, Notre Dame’s strength coach said no to LSU. Later in the afternoon, its offensive coordinator (Rees) said no to LSU. Wednesday night, word broke that its defensive coordinator (Marcus Freeman), the players’ first choice to replace Kelly, would be named head coach.
Now, the college football world wants to see how this plays out. Can a galvanized Notre Dame team that Kelly left behind reach the playoff and show him he never should have left?
It’s a movie people would watch.