COMMENTARY: Pattern at Notre Dame under Brian Kelly is alarming

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune


SOUTH BEND – Accountability has been the billboard of the Notre Dame football program constructed by Brian Kelly.

Stand behind what’s been done and said. Enjoy success, and do it the right way.

A disconnect is becoming obvious.

An alarming pattern of poorly-managed situations is mounting during the five-year run of the Kelly regime.

Though each case has its unique circumstances, that ol’ saying applies: The buck stops here.

Lots has happened on Kelly’s watch.

Saint Mary’s College student Lizzy Seeberg’s suicide followed an alleged sexual assault by Irish player Prince Shembo, and Declan Sullivan’s death while filming practice on a scissor lift that tipped over in high winds cast a pall over the 2010 season.

Star receiver Michael Floyd had his status with the team first in jeopardy, then restored, after a DUI arrest in 2011.

The start of the 2012 season in Ireland happened without quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlos Calabrese, after the two ran afoul of the law at an off-campus party.

Quarterback Everett Golson’s academic-induced suspension from school for the 2013 season, was followed by a similar sentence handed to receiver DaVaris Daniels for the spring semester.

Now this.

Friday’s blockbuster that has caused four Notre Dame players — KeiVarae Russell, Daniels, Ishaq Williams and Kendall Moore — to be exiled, but not yet booted, is just another strike against the foundation of the program.

Is this just the start of a story that will include more Irish players on past teams that could devastate everything good that has happened the last four years? Or is it an isolated incident with some young fellows who deserve a stern reprimand?

If there’s one thing that Notre Dame does well, it’s damage control. Circle the wagons. Put on a unified front. Clear it through the legal team. And offer it up for public consumption.

University president Rev. John I. Jenkins and athletic director Jack Swarbrick did just that Friday evening. They offered 30 minutes of the company line.

“This really isn’t about student-athletes, it’s about students,” Jenkins said.

Yeah, but…

Tell that to millions of fans who base their lives around these guys every Saturday in the fall.

“Our concern is with reinforcing the ideals of academic honesty and holding students accountable …,” Jenkins added.

There’s that word again. Accountable.

 Jenkins sidestepped the suggestion that academic standards need to be increased to keep student-athletes who can’t compete in the classroom from being admitted.

“We’re confident that the students we admit have the capacity to be successful (academically),” Jenkins said. “I am confident in our admissions office to make those decisions.”

 The president said his faith in Kelly, despite the laundry list of incidents, hasn’t wavered.

“We have great confidence in Brian and his staff,” Jenkins said.

“For every misstep, we have hundreds of stories of young people who come here and take full advantage of the opportunity,” Swarbrick said.

Yeah, but… Those missteps get an awful lot of attention.

 Then there’s the notion that this predicament could actually strengthen the relationship between the academic and athletic factions on campus.

“We have gotten nothing but cooperation from Jack, from Brian Kelly, from everybody in the athletic office,” Jenkins said. “If there’s anything I’m proud of right now, when a suspicion arose, the athletic department brought it directly to us. It was investigated and we’ve had nothing but cooperation.

“It signals the close cooperation and common purpose. We’re all educators.”

Well, then, what’s all the fuss? Everything seems to be hunky-dory under the Golden Dome. So many positives. What was the problem again?

Oh yeah. Seems that some ambassadors for one of the most prominent academic institutions in the country neglected to take the honor code seriously.

That’s pretty bad. Without honor, accountability is just a word.

Take a step back and consider the big picture.

Bottom line: Accountability starts, and ends, in the corner office.

Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly speaks to the media about the upcoming 2014 season on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 inside the Gugleilmino Athletics Complex on the Notre Dame campus in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

2010: Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide after an alleged sexual assault by former Irish player Prince Shembo.

2010: Declan Sullivan, a manager for the Irish football team , died when a scissor lift on which he was filming practice toppled over in high winds.

2011: Star receiver Michael Floyd was arrested and charged with a DUI. He was suspended from the team, then reinstated.

2012: Tommy Rees and Carlo Calabrese were suspended for the season opener after being arrested at an off-campus party.

2013: Quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for the season for an academic issue.

2014: Receiver DaVaris Daniels suspended for the spring semester for an academic issue.

2014: Four players have been re-moved from the team during an investigation into academic fraud.