Notre Dame's Kelly says Daniels must make lasting change
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Thursday was the day DaVaris Daniels has had circled on his calendar since the Notre Dame wide receiver decided early on in his academic exile that facing his problem was better than running from it.
Not that Daniels, or anyone else for that matter, will know what the ND readmissions committee decided officially Thursday behind closed doors until perhaps next week with regard to what is eventually expected to be announced as a reinstatement for summer school.
Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly had May 15 circled too. And the 16th, 17th, 18th ... and every date for the foreseeable future when it comes to days that matter in the evolution of ND’s leading — but most enigmatic — returning receiver into someone on whom he can count, on and off the field.
“Look, we all know he's immensely talented,” Kelly said Thursday. “He's got to have his foot on the pedal all the time. And if he does, he's as good as anybody out there, that I've coached. But there's only so many times you can go to the whip. And this is proof-positive, right? Sooner or later you've got to do it.
“And I think this, hopefully, is that time where he goes, 'I've got to be cognizant of the fact that I've got a lot riding on this. I've got to be that guy every single down.' "
Kelly made his comments Thursday morning prior to the start of the Irish Legends golf outing at the historic Olympia Fields Country Club. The outing, and a gala later in the day at the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago, served as a fund-raiser for the Kelly Cares Foundation, the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation, and the Lou Holtz Foundation.
Kelly, who had to deal with the loss of quarterback Everett Golson a year ago due to academic misconduct, said Thursday that to his knowledge, there will be no academic casualties from the spring semester this year.
Daniels in early January announced his suspension from the university for academic reasons. And in an interview with CBSSports.com’s Jeremy Fowler, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound senior-to-be cited immaturity issues and injuries leading to a fall-off in his production on the field and in the classroom.
He caught 49 passes in 2013 for 745 yards and seven touchdowns. Because he redshirted as a freshman, Daniels retains two seasons of college eligibility.
Kelly was encouraged that if/when Daniels comes back, he’ll be able to have face-to-face contact with the Vernon Hills, Ill., product, because of a change in NCAA rules that allows Kelly and the Irish assistants to work with all of his players in June on a limited basis. But ultimately Kelly knows Daniels will have to be his own catalyst for transformation.
“I don't ever take for granted that those issues of maturity are behind any of our guys,” Kelly said. “I mean, it's going to be a work-in-progress for him. I think there's no question that Double-D, he's a smart kid, that he knows that he's on the clock now. He's got to walk the line. He's got to do things the right way. It's not just Notre Dame; it's his (NFL) career. It's everything now. So I think he knows that all eyes are on him."
As the words were leaving Kelly’s mouth during a Q-and-A with donors Thursday morning, a Notre Dame spokesman framed what sounded like absolutes about Notre Dame Stadium coming from the coach as more accurately concepts in deep discussion.
So caveat emptor.
But Kelly said the markings on the new FieldTurf in the end zones would be the traditional white slashes. And at midfield, there would be a blue-and-gold ND logo.
When asked about the possibility of JumboTrons coming to Notre Dame Stadium as part of the Campus Crossroads expansion and renovation project, Kelly said, “There are going to be some informational boards in the stadium. See how I said that — ‘informational boards.’ I don't think they'll be the kind of boards that will take away from our venue.’’
Kelly also said that part of the renovation may include a cut in the north end of the stadium for a better view of Touchdown Jesus.
A donor then asked Kelly to talk about how the new academic buildings would be built out on the west, south and north sides of the stadium.
Former Irish head coach Lou Holtz, who was also part of the Q-and-A, promptly interrupted.
"What happens to my statue?" he said with a laugh, well aware the sculpture is snug against the existing west side of the stadium.
Holtz swan song
In a very casual passing reference Thursday, Holtz mentioned that 2014 would be his last as college football analyst for ESPN, a job he took in 2005.
When pressed later about whether he was serious, the 77-year-old former coach responded, “Very much so. I’d like to leave when people say, ‘Why you leaving?’ rather than ‘When you leaving?’’’
Holtz added that he tried to walk away from the job four other times, but that ESPN was always able to persuade him to come back. Not this time, he said.
“ESPN is a great organization to work for, and I work with great people,” Holtz said. “They’re like my family, I love ’em. We have fun. We enjoy it, but there comes a time when you need to step aside and let the younger people do it. That’s my feeling
“I wanted to do it (work) this year, because of the playoffs. That will be fun, but I’d like to practice my golf a little bit more. I’ve been everywhere except to bed and spoken to everyone except my wife. I owe it to her just to spend a little more time with her.”
Notre Dame’s first grad-school style transfer, Florida cornerback Cody Riggs, picked up his degree earlier this month and expects to arrive on the ND campus in late May to begin classes in early June.
But the talk Thursday was about traditional transfers, of which Kelly has had two so far. They are former USC running back Amir Carlisle, currently on the Irish roster, and former Florida State offensive lineman Jordan Prestwood. Prestwood, who left ND after running into academic hot water without even playing a game for the Irish, landed at Central Florida, then Arizona Western Community College,
Although Kelly never mentioned departing USC running back Ty Isaac by name on Thursday, Kelly’s description about what ND considers in a transfer player fits the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Joliet, Ill., product almost perfectly.
“For a traditional transfer, my preference is that they have three years of eligibility and they're the right academic fit, and then of course, positionally it makes sense,” he said. “That there's not a backlog of players at that particular position. So I've always got my ear to the ground about transfers. There's transfers right now that we're looking at. So we're on top of what's going on right now."
When asked if he thought ND had a backlog of running backs Kelly said, “Not if it times out the right way. It should time out the right way."
Isaac, who had Notre Dame No. 2 on his list coming out of Joliet Catholic High School, said he wants to play at a school closer to his mother, who is suffering from a complication from surgery. But even though Isaac has received his release, Notre Dame and other schools on USC’s future schedules have been blocked, at least for now.
But maybe not for good?
Isaac's mom told ESPN recruiting analyst Tom VanHaaren that USC missed a deadline on Isaac's release, which in turn would allow him to look at any school, and that the family is awaiting a final word on the subject.
A day after Michigan State athletic director Joe Hollis lamented the difficulty in melding his school’s and Notre Dame’s scheduling openings for future home-and-home series, Kelly said trying to make it work with the Spartans is a high priority.
“Michigan State's a team that, when we're talking about future schedules, their name comes up,” he said. “Whether it's a neutral site or something of that fashion, we would like to play Michigan and Michigan State again.”
The Sept. 6 prime-time game at Notre Dame Stadium is the last on paper in the Michigan-ND series, and the events that led to the indefinite hiatus in the series included some harsh words from both sides and hard feelings. Kelly said it’s his impression that the cold war has thawed between Michigan and ND.
MSU and the Irish take a two-year break beginning this year, then resume in 2016-17, but Hollis isn’t sure how often they’ll be able to meet after that.
“When (ND athletic director) Jack (Swarbrick) and I sit down and we start discussing, ‘What do you want to do?’, we don't start or end that conversation without having Michigan or Michigan State part of that conversation,” Kelly said. “And there's an SEC team involved in that conversation as well. “So I can assure you that Michigan, Michigan State and an SEC school is involved in those conversations.
“How that pans out is a very complicated deal, way more complicated than I'm willing to admit. Jack has got more phone calls in on those games. I can't even imagine how he's been able to put it together. But I'm telling you, it's Michigan, Michigan State and it's an SEC school that those conversations happen all the time."
•Kelly said Thursday that Ara Parseghian sends him a hand-written card after every game with observations. Kelly said he saves and treasures every one of them.
•Kelly on the eight Irish players who were selected in the NFL Draft last weekend, the most at ND since 10 went in the 1994 draft.
"I think more than anything else it’s that we're developing our players,” Kelly said. “That the players are developing, and I think the NFL really likes the program and what we're doing within the program.
“They like the way that they're being developed from a mental and physical standpoint. They believe that they can take the rigors of being in the NFL, from the year-round conditioning, from the way we practice, from the way they prepare. I think they look at it in totality, they see everything.
“And look, that doesn't mean you're going to have eight guys every year, but when they see a guy that they think can play, they're going to take a shot at a kid from Notre Dame."