Is Notre Dame finding the right guys under Brian Kelly?

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In the vernacular of Notre Dame football recruiting they’re called RKGs.

Right Kind of Guys.

That’s the measuring stick by which Irish coaches judge the high school players they pursue.

It starts with football talent, then goes much, much deeper. Grades, personality, character and other intangibles are part of the criteria that go into investing into a player.

So what part of the system was flawed when problems that led to the investigation into academic fraud at Notre Dame developed?

Brian Kelly, in his fifth year at the Irish helm, recruited all four involved in the investigation — KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams, DaVaris Daniels and Kendall Moore — along with everyone else on the roster. This is the first year there are no holdovers from the Charlie Weis regime.

“I knew coming to Notre Dame, and one of the reasons I wanted to come here, is that there are some core values as one of the pre-eminent Catholic institutions that you can’t compromise on — and that’s integrity,” Kelly said after Saturday’s practice. “If you see something is going on that’s not right, it’s important that it’s addressed.

“I’m disappointed and saddened, in a way for these young men, because they’re good kids. They made some bad decisions along the way.

“I think we’ve brought in the right young men. I think we have to continue to do a better job educating them. We have to do a better job providing them the resources.

“Look, this is never a one-sided issue. We have to internally look at providing our student-athletes all the resources necessary that, if in fact they took shortcuts, they don’t (in the future).”

Big-time football players have incredible demands on their time. The academic workload, on top of their athletic requirements, is substantial – especially at a place like Notre Dame that takes it seriously.

Still, these aren’t the first RKGs to be challenged. Why is giving them more an answer?

Kelly stated his case about and, at the same time tried to distance himself from, the ongoing investigation. At one point, he called himself a bystander, putting himself at the same vantage point as the media.

He talked about a sign posted in the Irish locker room since the day he took over: Treat women with respect; don’t cheat; don’t lie; don’t steal.

“You have to create an environment for your players, on a day-to-day basis, that they know that you can’t cut corners and that they’re going to be held accountable on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. “That’s the most important thing for me.

“If you let your players do whatever they want, and they feel they’re not accountable, I don’t think you should be a head coach. If you create an environment and you lay out the expectations of your program, and they’re not met, then they should be held accountable.

“That’s been the case every year I’ve been a head coach. That’s how I’ve lived my life. That’s how I’ve coached in everything I’ve done.”

When a question about the problems that have plagued his program over the last five years came up, he was quick to extinguish the smoldering embers.

“This isn’t the time to have a debate on my leadership, or lack thereof,” Kelly said. “My focus is on my football team and getting this team ready. There’s a time and place for that.

“People have their opinions. Certainly, they’re entitled to them. I’m going to focus on this football team and getting them ready for Rice.”

Time to hunker down and apply the blinders.

“I’m a parent and this is an extended family for me,” Kelly said. “It hurt. I know the business that I’m in. I’ve got young 18-21-year-olds that we have to educate every day.”

All the locker room signs and extra tutors in the world won’t help if the “want to” isn’t there.

It all starts with finding the real RKGs.

Maybe that’s where an evaluation should begin.

ALesar@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6318

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches as the team goes through drills Saturday in Notre Dame Stadium (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ).