Brian Kelly talks hypotheticals and realities about Notre Dame academic probe

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The most poignant words out of Brian Kelly’s mouth Thursday night were purely hypothetical, but compelling, nevertheless.

“If I got them back tomorrow, they’d play on Saturday,” the Notre Dame head football coach said after leading his team’s practice session in Notre Dame Stadium for Saturday night’s 42nd and foreseeably final showdown with rival Michigan, also at the same venue.

“They” are the five players at the center of ND’s ongoing, and some might say protracted, academic fraud investigation process, which started July 29, was revealed to Kelly and the NCAA on Aug. 14 and added the fifth player, Eilar Hardy, to the mix late last week.

Starters cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels along with reserve linebacker Kendall Moore have been held out of practices since the university announced some details of the process on Aug. 15. Hardy, a reserve safety, joined them on the sidelines on Aug. 28.

None of them played in ND’s 48-17 season-opening victory over Rice last Saturday.

“They get their four tickets and they’re in the stands,” Kelly responded as to how they spend their game days.

The investigative phase of the probe, Kelly was told, ended late last week. Hearings for the players before honesty committees of the respective college or department that offered the courses in question was the next phase.

But when?

“I was told that hearings were going to take place very quickly. And that was on Monday,” Kelly said. “Today’s Thursday. So that was the last information I got relative to our players in the process of the honor code violations.”

When asked whether the hearings process could have started, Kelly responded, “I was not told that any of our players were in the process itself, that the process has not actually begun for them. My understanding is it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s about to occur very soon.”

Twitter has been extremely active lately with observers expressing frustration with the length of the process. Prominent ND alumnus Tom Mendoza, after whom the university’s business school is named, tweeted Thursday: “Still crickets coming out of SB. Any other program with a game of this magnitude would have found a way to conclude by now. #frustration”

And this from Daniels’ father Phillip: “We don't ever put our kids on the back burner! Never have and never will!!!!” and “DAY 19 and counting! #Unbelievable”.

Kelly, meanwhile, has expressed patience, at least publicly.

“I had put it behind me, really, in terms of whether it was two weeks or three weeks or a month,” he said, “and had really relied and continued to rely on (Notre Dame athletic director) Jack (Swarbrick) to update me on any information, and that’s what I continue to do.

“I have dealt with this situation when I first heard of it with maybe blinders on in that I focused on the guys that I have,” Kelly continued. “I miss the guys. I care about them, but I really have a responsibility to the guys on my team. And so I’ve really just stayed focused on them and coaching the heck out of them.

"I hope that doesn’t come across as callous. That’s really been my focus. I haven’t woken up every morning going, ‘Is this the day?’ I really haven’t done that.”

He’ll wake up Saturday morning with the 16th-ranked team in the country, but will the Irish (1-0) be at full strength?

“I can get them ready like right away,” Kelly said speaking hypothetically when asked about a possible Friday resolution. “I mean, they’re physically conditioned. I know they’re working out with (ND director of strength and conditioning Paul) Longo.

“I can tell you that for sure. So they are conditioned. They’ve been going to class — I know that. And other than that, they haven’t been taking any football reps. But if we were, hypothetically, to get that call, they’d be running out of that tunnel on Saturday.”

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Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly claps on stage during the Notre Dame football pep rally Friday before hosting Rice. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)