(Image courtesy of Associated Press/Chris O’Meara)
I’m not usually one of those guys who boasts about his predictions coming true, but this is a very special case.
That’s right: I told you so.
Ever since the Twitter-plosion that occurred just a couple of days after Notre Dame lost in the BCS Championship Game in Miami, I tried to restore sanity. I tried telling people not to worry. I tried telling people that they were freaking out over nothing. As is human nature, the people chose chaos and misery instead.
Let’s look at a timeline of everything that happened:
- January 5th – Brian Kelly tells reporters that he has no interest in moving to the NFL. He said leaving “is not an option.” When asked why he didn’t think he would be intrigued by an NFL position, Kelly responded by saying, “How can you not be? I still think it comes down to time and place. What is the right time, and what is the right place? I never take any of that off the board.”
- January 7th – Notre Dame loses the BCS Championship Game.
- January 8th – Kelly interviews for open Philadelphia Eagles position.
- January 9th – News of the interview breaks after Kelly leaves for vacation; Notre Dame Twitterverse implodes and explodes simultaneously.
- January 10th/11th – Speculation continues as Notre Dame loses one of their top recruits and still no communication from Kelly. Eagles say Kelly to come back for second interview. Rumors of the Chicago Bears being interested surface.
- January 12th – Brian Kelly returns from vacation as planned and he and Athletic Director Jack “Radio Silence” Swarbrick announce Kelly will be returning to South Bend for the 2013 season. A contract extension and pay raise for Kelly is being worked out.
Okay, just so we’re all clear: Brian Kelly never publicly said he wanted the Philadelphia job. And no, interviewing for a job and wanting a job are not the same thing. They’re not. Stop it…you’re wrong.
I don’t care who you are or what your profession is; if someone from a larger, more-profitable company calls you up and says they are interested in you, you listen. You don’t say “no” to them. Ever. You know why? What if you want that job in three years? You do NOT close doors to the future; especially in the fickle, childish world of professional sports.
Go back to what all of those tweets from ESPN guys said. Go back to everything the Eagles said. Go back, calmly this time, and re-read everything. What were the phrasings being used? ”Eagles interested in Notre Dame’s Kelly”. “Brian Kelly on top of Eagles’ list”. “Eagles willing to throw the bank at Kelly”.
What can we deduce from these sentences? This is third grade English here, people. All of the information was coming from Eagles. None of it was coming from Brian Kelly. No one ever once reported the likes of “Brian Kelly wants Philly job”. Kelly didn’t contact the NFL, the NFL contacted him.
If you are a professor at IU South Bend and Notre Dame calls you about an open office, you find out more about the job, right? If you’re a server at Friday’s and you get a call to interview for a manager position at Chili’s, you at least listen, right?
Of course you do – and that’s what Kelly did here.
So if the NFL is so special, why would Brian Kelly turn it down, you ask? It’s simple: unfinished business.
It’s more than just a tee shirt slogan. Brian Kelly was brought here with one goal: win a championship. It’s not like Cincinnati where his goal was likely “win the conference”. This is Notre Dame and we want a BCS championship. That was Kelly’s goal as much as it was Notre Dame’s goal for Kelly. He wants it. He needs it. He believes it can be done and he thinks he’s the one that can make it happen.
I’ll admit here that Kelly is from a unique breed. That the driving force of winning that championship is more powerful than the paycheck of an NFL franchise is rare. Yes, most coaches likely would jump at the chance to move to the NFL (though lately it seems harder than in the past to poach the college ranks; see: Chip Kelly). The money is generally better. The hours are better.
Yesterday, Kelly and Swarbrick reaffirmed their mission. In a statement released by the University, Kelly finally spoke:
“This week, I had an incredible opportunity to speak with one of the premier organizations in sports about becoming their head coach. Like every kid who has ever put on a pair of football cleats, I have had thoughts about being a part of the NFL. However, after much reflection and conversation with those closest to me, I have decided to remain at Notre Dame. This decision was motivated purely by my love for Notre Dame and the entire Fighting Irish community, the young men I have the great fortune to coach, and my desire to continue to build the best football program in the country. We still have a lot of work to do and my staff and I are excited about the challenges ahead.”
So there it is. “Who wouldn’t want a job in the NFL?” and “I have unfinished business here” all wrapped up into one quote. Exactly how I’ve said it would be. Kelly gave us all the clues we needed during media day. Do you think it’s just coincidence that Kelly would repeat those two themes just a week later?
He knew this was coming. He knew he would be interviewing with the Eagles and tried to prepare us for it. He said the NFL is always a possible destination but that he’s not ready to take that leap yet; then he said it again yesterday. He twice brought up timing and how it wasn’t quite right.
Instead of listening carefully, Notre Dame fans did what Notre Dame fans do best: stand on the edge with their toes hanging over the cliff. It’s not totally our fault, either; it’s been a rough couple of decades.
Swarbrick was “always confident that Brian would continue to lead our football program, I am very happy to have that confirmed and share Brian’s excitement about what lies ahead for our program.” Now I know he’s far more in the loop than we are, but he’s a smart man. He knows the difference between Kelly wanting to leave and Kelly being offered another job. He’s also a lawyer – he knows the power of language and I’m sure had a hand in how Kelly chose his words on media day. These men are very smart and I put nothing past them.
So what’s ahead for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly?
The Irish have already lost the early enrollment of Alex Anzalone (LB – Pennsylvania) who decided to decommit from Notre Dame and instead enroll at Florida. Personally, I think a move like this was bound to happen from a kid who was no stranger to decommitting from schools. I’ve followed his recruitment and he has Aaron Lynch attitude problems written all over his less-talented body.
Notre Dame proved this year that the team comes first. Almost all 2013 recruits immediately affirmed their commitment to Notre Dame with or without Brian Kelly – except for Anzalone. I feel like the team won’t be hurt as badly as some might have you believe.
There is potential long-term damage done, though. With recruits being worried about a possible NFL jump by Kelly, they may be scared to commit to the coach. Sure he’s there now, but what about 2016 when they’re a junior? It is even more important now for Kelly and Swarbrick to come together on a contract extension; a tangible number that says “I will be here.” It will also be important to sell the school to these kids as much as the program.
If there was one theme I saw with tweets from recruits it was this: “I’m still a Domer”. We could all learn a little lesson from this. Whether Brian Kelly leaves us in the future or not, we are all still Domers. Notre Dame isn’t going anywhere.
The golden dome will still shine in the sun and they will keep putting port-o-potties in the parking lots every mid-August. Next time just remember to breathe a little bit.