Published January 10, 2013
Breathe in, breathe out, Notre Dame.
It's going to be OK. Don't panic.
Not again. If Brian Kelly leaves, things will be OK.
Kelly reportedly interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles roughly 96 hours after he said he had no idea if any NFL team had contacted his agent. He also had said Saturday in Miami before the BCS Championship Game, that leaving Notre Dame was not an option.
Basically, he lied. Leaving is an option, and it always was. Not only that, but I think he should take the job, unless the Chicago Bears have called, too. For several reasons, Kelly is a good fit for the NFL, where he can focus entirely on football, and not on the things he isn't into, like molding young men. I wrote about it Monday here .
The question is where this leaves Notre Dame. What should it do now?
First thing is to take a deep breath, and keep one thing in mind: Notre Dame is still paying Charlie Weis millions.
The right play with Kelly is to offer him a raise, an extension, but not to go Charlie Weis-crazy over it.
The lesson of Weis is that Notre Dame gave him a 10-year deal not because of what he had done with the Irish but because the school and its big-dollar lawyer-boosters had lost all confidence in the place. Even the fan base was so desperate that it bought into Weis based on hot air.
Notre Dame is still embarrassed about that, as it should be. Don't repeat your mistakes.
There is no reason to feel the same way this time. Kelly has changed the place, no matter how bad the beating was Monday night to Alabama in the national championship game.
Before Weis, Touchdown Jesus had become Field Goal Jesus, and the power boys at Notre Dame went after the Urban Meyers and John Grudens of the world but couldn't get them to take the job. On top of that, they had settled for Bob Davie and Ty Willingham, and had the embarrassment of hiring George O'Leary and his fictional resume, only to let him leave before he ever coached a game.
Once, they had believed that there was no better job in the country than coaching Notre Dame football. Then suddenly, they feared that their greatness was all history.
Critics said that Notre Dame couldn't do it the Irish way anymore. They needed the speed of Southern teams, they needed to join a conference.
Notre Dame, trying to hold onto its past, found one guy it could believe in who still believed in return.
So they brought in Weis, who had to learn how to be a head coach. He was basically an intern, but he talked a big game, talked love for Notre Dame and wore (and flashed to any critics) those Super Bowl rings from his days as a coordinator with the Patriots.
Remember? And then it was his big victory over USC in his first year that got him the long contract extension and proved that he had Notre Dame back to the top. Oops, no. That was wrong. The Irish lost that game to USC, but it was close.
And panicky boosters were so thrilled to have anyone keeping Notre Dame close -- just close -- that it went all in on Weis.
The Chicago Tribune reported in May, after obtaining Notre Dame tax documents, that the Irish had paid Weis $8.7 million, and counting, to go away after he failed.
So now Kelly is looking at the NFL, as he should, and it's a test of Notre Dame, and whether it has lost its uncharacteristic inferiority complex.
Nobody leaves Notre Dame without retiring or being fired. Nobody leaves Notre Dame on purpose to go to another job.
If Kelly leaves, will that, coupled with the blowout loss to Alabama, be another shot at Notre Dame's confidence? It shouldn't be.
Look, unlike Weis, Kelly has proven something. He has shown any perspective big-name coach -- Gruden? -- that it can still be done at Notre Dame.
It's possible that Kelly is only bluffing, trying to get a Weis-like contract extension. Hey, this is business.
But to me, Kelly has shown, through his handling of off-field problems, that he is obsessed with football and not with the human-development aspects required of college coaches. Kelly is best at player development, which is the most important thing for a college coach.
His handling of the Declan Sullivan tragedy, though, showed what you needed to know about Kelly. Sullivan, the student videographer, died when he went up on a scissor-lift in dangerously high winds for a team practice. Kelly never should have let that kid go up there, but his focus wasn't on danger, but rather practice, and film.
I am only guessing, but Kelly is looking at the NFL so he can think only about football. It could be a bluff for a big pay raise, but I don't think so.
Look for Kelly to leave, unless the big-dollar boys panic again. Kelly is good, but he hasn't proven anything the way Nick Saban has at Alabama.
Make him a good offer to stay, Notre Dame, but if he doesn't take it, let him go.
Just don't panic again.