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Commentary: Brian Kelly taints image and crushes credibility


Memo to Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly: You lost.

Alabama made your team look like Division II Grand Valley State in comparison during the BCS championship game Monday night that wasn’t your finest hour or three of coaching. You panicked offensively after falling behind early, not that it would have stopped Alabama running backs from leaving cleat marks on Notre Dame defenders. Your fine young men were reduced to looking like boys.

Yet you still had a wonderful, return-to-relevance season at Notre Dame despite losing by 28. Why kill the buzz entirely less than 24 hours later?

The appropriate reaction to such a humbling loss for a coach obsessed with winning a national title entails devoting all his energy into playing in the same game next January when this experience will benefit Notre Dame.

The proper reflex for a coach in Kelly’s situation involves fixation, not flirtation.

The socially accepted response to getting pummeled by four touchdowns on national television doesn’t include a date with a potential new employer the morning after – especially days after calling Notre Dame your “dream job.”

Did failing to wake up the echoes in Miami make Kelly wake up with his mind on Philadelphia? What changed to make an interview with the Eagles so soon after a letdown worth the credibility risk?

Under the circumstances, you don’t say hello to an NFL team unless you could be swayed into saying goodbye to Notre Dame. You say thanks but no thanks, I love my job and belong in college. You say privately what you said publicly, unless it was all empty rhetoric.

Now Kelly’s words before the big game look sillier than anything Brent Musburger said during it. His timing stinks worse than his defense did. He lost the right to complain about any blue-chip recruit who decommits to Notre Dame, the way Manti Te’o’s heir apparent at linebacker, Alex Anzalone, reportedly did Thursday. He put his interests ahead of Notre Dame’s – and for what?

He has a thriving program balancing football and academics arguably better than any in America. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick already assured Kelly another contract extension and raise to his $3 million salary. He already easily is Notre Dame’s most adored coach since Lou Holtz.

Everybody understands a professional wanting to maximize earning potential. Nobody begrudges a coach’s ambition as long as he is forthright about it. But when the issue of NFL interest came up last weekend, he parsed the language like the political operative he used to be. When Kelly said, “leaving was not an option,” he can insist it wasn’t because technically that was true that day.

The least-surprised people about Kelly’s Philly fling probably live in Cincinnati. On Dec. 5, 2009, after Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh in the Big East title game, former Bearcats receiver Mardy Gilyard was asked about Kelly’s rumored departure for Notre Dame.

“It’s like when your mom tells you the sky is blue, you know it’s blue without having to look outside,” Gilyard said. “With Coach Kelly telling us he’s not leaving, we know he’s not going anywhere.”

Five days later, the sky fell on the Cincinnati program. Notre Dame hired Kelly, who the Chicago Tribune reported had met with Irish representatives days before the Cincinnati- Pittsburgh game.

It was easier then to defend Kelly. The Notre Dame job represented the pinnacle for him (at the time) and he had taken Cincinnati as far as could be expected.

Kelly has yet to do that in South Bend. After three impressive years of building, Notre Dame remains a work in progress. Covertly interviewing with the Eagles only makes you question how committed Kelly is to finishing the job.

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