Monday, November 28, 2016

Your reverse vote of confidence for today

The prepared statement hit the cyberwhatsis in the skinny hours of Sunday morning -- 3:30 a.m. -- which of course calls to mind the standard chastisement of night owls and their various calamities.

To wit: Nothing good ever happens after midnight.

Not sure if Brian Kelly's denial of a roaming eye falls into that category, but it was wee-hours curious, sort of a reverse vote of confidence in the University of Notre Dame. No, Kelly said, he's not really looking for someplace to land. He assumes he's not going to need one. Which is a completely in-character take for Kelly, who has shown himself time and again not to be underserved with self-regard.

Only Kelly, perhaps, could be so arrogant as to assume he'll be back after such a shipwreck of a season. ND's spiritless drubbing at the hands of USC the other night wrapped up a 4-8 season, the worst in South Bend since Charlie Weis schematically advantaged his way to a 3-9 campaign in 2007. Football coaches at Notre Dame don't often survive seasons like that, especially when they're coaches who are as loathe to accept responsibility for their programs as Kelly seems to be.

You can survive a losing season or two at a place like Notre Dame -- Weis lasted two more years after going 3-9 -- but it's a lot harder when you're as willing to use players, assistant coaches and, yes, former student athletic trainers as human shields to avoid responsibility when things go south. The litany of misadventures on Kelly's watch is long and sometimes disturbing, going back to a young woman's suicide after claiming to have been sexually assaulted by one of Kelly's players, and the death of a student worker when an observation tower blew over on a day Kelly's team had no earthly business practicing outdoors.

In both those cases and others, you can reasonably say Kelly's responsibility was peripheral at best, which is why Notre Dame has so frequently not held him to account. That goes for the 2014 incident in which a student trainer wrote papers for players -- an act of academic fraud that, two years later, has provoked the NCAA to wipe out Kelly's signature season, the 2012 campaign that saw the Irish go 12-1 and reach the national championship game for the first time in 23 years.

At the  news conference after the NCAA's announcement, Kelly stayed in character, saying the cheating was student-on-student and that he had "zero" culpability in it. Again, it seemed, he had plausible  deniability. And again, he hid behind it.

It was foolishness squared. You can get away with doing that if you're going 12-1 or 10-3 and taking your team to some cash-cow bowl game. It doesn't work quite as well when you're going 4-8 and blowing comfortable leads at home. And it's a bad look in either case, because it calls into question your leadership ability.

Leaders, you see, hold themselves accountable for everything that happens on their watch, even those things for which they likely aren't accountable. If you're a leader, you step up and take responsibility for it anyway. You own it, even if it's not plausibly yours to own.

Kelly is remarkably averse to that. And Notre Dame, frankly, has publicly allowed him to be averse to it. Which is why he's probably right when he says he's not going anywhere.

The only caveat to that: For now.

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