Two coaches, two stances at Notre Dame and Florida State

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Who else wants to know what Jimbo Fisher is really thinking?

Does the Florida State head football coach, in his heart of hearts, believe that his quarterback autographed over 950 items and didn’t pocket a dime?

Remember Jimbo, you’re defending a guy who swiped crab legs from a grocery store.

If that truly is the case, maybe Jameis Winston should major in philanthropy. Or business. Somebody’s making a bunch of bucks from the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s signature.

Oh yeah, there’s that sexual assault situation involving Winston from a while ago that’s being moved up from the back burner by the university’s disciplinary arm. Of course, by the time that issue comes to a hearing, Winston is likely to have one foot out the door, headed to the NFL.

This is a big week for the second-ranked Seminoles. Notre Dame, ranked No. 5, is the best team on their schedule. It’s a week when Fisher should be focused on getting his team prepared for Saturday night, but instead he’s the mouthpiece coming to Winston’s defense.

“Read the reports and read what’s there,” Fisher said earlier this week. “The facts are the facts. I see stories written that don’t have all the facts and taint them toward their side. This country is based on being innocent until proven guilty; not guilty until proven innocent. I don’t want (any victims) ... but there is no victim, because there was no crime. We’re (publicly) convicting a guy over things that are not true based on evidence. There is no evidence.”

Compare all that with what Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has been through since Aug. 15.

That’s the day the university ventured into uncharted waters by withholding (the university doesn’t like to use the word “suspended”) four players since an academic fraud investigation had been launched. Later, a fifth player was added.

After that initial news conference, in which the university named names but hardly detailed what happened, a gag order was instituted. No one in the university’s upper echelon would utter a word about the process as it played out. Trickles here or there leaked, like always.

Kelly was left as the only person who could be asked about the progress — about four times a week for two months. Each time, he’d shake his head and shrug. He tried to say something without saying anything.

Much is asked of college football coaches today. Like it or not, they are responsible for the 100 or so stunningly athletic young men on their roster, some of whom are more vulnerable to making bad decisions than others.

The degree of those mistakes does make a difference.

Both Fisher and Kelly have been designated front men for the issues involving their players. Fisher has offered unconditional support and defense for Winston. Sorry, Jimbo, Jameis would be a tough guy to hang your hat on.

Kelly, meanwhile, has adhered to advice from a higher power, and went so far as to neither confirm nor deny whether he was asked to be a party to any of his players’ honor code hearings (which would have been allowed, according to university guidelines), let alone actually take part.

Thus, the difference between Florida State and Notre Dame.

In the midst of Florida State’s investigation of Winston, the university’s head coach is trumpeting his innocence. While Notre Dame carried on its process, Kelly followed orders and stayed neutral.

After yet another session with the media leading up to last week’s game with North Carolina, Kelly walked away from the podium muttering, “I’m exhausted.”

Is it fair to put either in the role of spokesman? They coach football. They’ve got a possible career-making (or –breaking) game coming up Saturday night.

Talk about distractions.

The cloud caused by the investigation at Notre Dame has all but cleared. All the prominent principals in the investigation have been purged, at least for now.

Turmoil, however, will follow Florida State into its showdown with the Irish, and likely long afterward.

Neither Kelly nor Fisher will be defined by the stances they have taken throughout these troubled times, but the physical toll taken beyond the normal grind of the season must be significant.

Good thing they’re paid so well.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly waits to take the field with his team before an NCAA college football game against Purdue in Indianapolis, Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, right, talks to quarterback Jameis Winston (5) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Syracuse, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, in Syracuse, N.Y. Florida State won the game 38-20. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)