Friday, October 28, 2011

Brian Kelly Class Warfare?

It's been a troubling past 7 days in South Bend. First came the humiliating loss to USC on Saturday night. Then came the worries that top commit Tee Shepard might decommit (bringing with him his cousin Deontay Greenberry) following confusion on whether he would be able to enroll early - worries that have since been assuaged. More importantly, however, is the division in the Notre Dame football team as a result of Brian Kelly's comments in a press conference yesterday. The video is included below, and click this for another copy:

What Brian Kelly said at the end:
"You can see the players that I have recruited, you know who they are. We’ve had one class of kids that we’ve recruited that I’ve had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along. It’s a process. It can’t happen overnight. They’re getting it. They’re making good progress. We are 4-3 and could very easily be a lot better than that. If we take care of the ball when it is 17-10 on the one-yard line, who knows what would have happened. So, I don’t want to paint a picture that we are so far away that we can’t get to them, but it is a process. We are banging it every day. It’s the old cliché, you keep hitting the sledge hammer against the wall and you don’t see the cracks and then one day, it cracks down. We’re still banging at it.”
The players Kelly targeted, presumably the upper class of juniors and seniors, have responded on twitter. Manti Te'o, for one said:
Playin for my bros and that's it!!!!

Manti Te'o, supposed leader
So what are we left with? Clearly there is a split in the upper class of the football team. These are players brought in by Charlie Weis to play under his philosophy. There are several undercurrents here but I'll address two of them.

First, these players were recruited by Weis and his staff. One of the criticisms of Weis was that he failed to coach or bring out toughness in his football players, and it certainly showed in the field. For all his supposed decided schematic advantages and genuine recruiting skill, Weis never had the ability to take raw recruits and turn them into successful college football players. Sure, he had Brady Quinn and Jimmy Clausen tear apart records while they were there, but what bowl games did they win (besides the Aloha Bowl or whatever the hell its called Jimmy. That doesn't count.)? What have they done in the pros? Or what have any of his players done in the pros for that matter?

The simple fact is, the senior class had been coddled by Weis for the first year or two of their careers. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Brian Kelly has a way of coaching football, and trust me, it is NOT coddling. He expects his players to live up to the Notre Dame name, and bust their asses to win football games. This means that they work out hard, train hard, practice hard, eat the right food, lead their teammates, and most importantly, play hard.

This leads to the second angle - that Brian Kelly was absolutely, positively, and undeniably right. How could these players possibly be upset? I'm sick of the "oh no mommy, Coach said I'm not good" self-entitled attitude that was bred into these players in the Charlie Weis Lack-of-Accountability era. Get it together "leaders' - YOU JUST HAD YOUR TEETH PUNCHED IN ON NATIONAL TELEVISION IN THE BIGGEST GAME OF YOUR CAREERS, AT HOME! This kind of attitude is exactly why a Notre Dame team that should quite possibly be 7-0 is 4-3.

Manti - the truth hurts sometimes pal. You and the rest of the upper class "leaders" need to get over it. Listen to your coach, who is a proven winner, and get out there and play tough football. I remember complaining after the USC game that the players looked like they weren't trying, or lacked intensity, whatever. Well, it's true. All those USC players calling out the ND players for "quitting?" Yeah, that's true too.

In Kelly We Trust
Kelly is doing the exact right thing at the right time. He needs to light a fire under the asses of the players who are supposed to lead this team. If you're earning a full scholarship to the University of Notre Dame, starting/playing on one of the most traditional and prestigious football programs in the country, and playing some of the most elite and storied programs in the country on a weekly basis, and you can't get up, play hard, and act like a leader, you deserve to be called out.

Kelly is making clear that the Charlie Weis Era of Good Feelings is over. No more showing up to press conferences in a stretch hummer limo, and no more weak efforts on and off the field. Kelly is making clear right now that if you want to play for Notre Dame, you're going to take it seriously, like it should be. Don't like it? Go ahead and find a school that wants to accept an upper class transfer of a player who doesn't work hard. Good luck.

Kelly isn't the only one saying anything. Former Irish Captain Aaron Taylor recently called out the senior leadership on the team as well:

I love what Kelly is doing. He is exactly the type of coach that we need. Kelly isn't here to be your best friend, or hang out or joke around with the players. He's here to win damn football games, something that hasn't been done around Notre Dame for awhile. With success comes happiness, and Kelly knows that there is a time for joking around with the players - it's after winning.

There is a division to be expected anytime a coach takes over for a new program, but after the recovery at the end of the season by the Irish last year, I thought that each player had bought into the system. That's why I was so excited for this season. But after things have turned sour on the Irish, and while it's not all on the upper classmen (it's also due in no small part to Tommy Rees' inability to see that he has a receiver open on nearly 95% of all his plays), the upper class leaders look like they've given up.

So I guess that is what will make this weekend against Navy so interesting to watch. Will the seniors respond to their coach like true players and men, or will they wilt under the pressure like so often happened under Charlie Weis? Time will tell, but one thing is for sure - this is a defining moment in Brian Kelly's tenure, hopefully one that leads in the right direction.