Brian Kelly is the Notre Dame football coach. He has been catching some heat this week, and not just because his Irish lost their season opener to South Florida.
In cased you missed it -- though you had plenty of opportunities to catch parts of the game last Saturday because delays for lightning stretched the afternoon telecast into prime time -- Kelly was shown getting into his players’ faces as they came off to the sidelines. And yelling at them. And cursing at them.
Certainly they had given him plenty of reason to be upset with all the turnovers and mistakes they were making, errors that cost them the 23-20 setback even though they had come into the home ranked in the top 20 and were facing an unranked opponent.
Now some critics, among them a blogger for the National Catholic Register, are speculating as to whether Kelly went over the line.
The blogger, Matthew Archbold, wondered asked if perhaps Kelly shouldn’t be fired for his rants and ravings.
Wrote Archbold: “While what happened on the field was disappointing, I think what occurred on the sidelines was worse. A purple-faced Brian Kelly cursed and screamed at not only at his players (who are 18-23 years old), but he did it on national television for people of all ages to see. And let me tell you something, you didn’t need to be a lip reader to figure out what he was saying. By the look on my 11-year-old’s face, she figured it out pretty quick.”
Kelly didn’t really apologize a couple of days later, but he did tell USA Today he needed to do a better job of controlling his emotions.
Here’s the thing. There is a lot of this kind of thing that goes on during a game that many fans are not aware of. Even the most mild-manner of coaches often are guilty of such behavior.
I remember back in 1972 when I was covering my last game in Bloomington, Ind., before I went to the Courier-Journal in Louisville. I asked John Pont, then the Indiana coach, if I could spent that last game on the sideline in the bench area.
Pont was a real gentleman, perhaps because he had coached at Yale before he came to Indiana, but a gentleman nevertheless. I wouldn’t say he was a quiet guy or anything like that, but he was about as far from the Hoosiers basketball coach at the time, Bob Knight, as one could get.
Or so it had seemed.
Any way, Pont reached into his desk drawer. pulled out a sideline pass, and tossed it to me.
I was in.
There have been so many games my memory sometimes fades, but two things I recall about that game day, the last IU game I have seen in person, as it turns out.
-- Indiana won and won big, beating a Wisconsin team that featured one of the Big Ten’s best running backs, a little strong guy named Rufus Ferguson (and nicknamed Roadrunner).
-- Pont was an animal on the sidelines.
Both caught me completely by surprise.
The win because it was so unexpected, and rare, and Pont because he was such a gentleman away from the field.
But that day Pont probably was a red-faced at times as Kelly was last week, but since things were going well for the Hoosiers, Pont eventually could cool down.
But any player who had made a mistake pretty much was told about it in no uncertain fashion as he came off the field.
And everybody survived.
Of course, that was nearly 40 years ago, and times have changed. Coaches have had to change their ways because players have changed.
Imagine Bear Bryant today putting players through the kind of meat grinder preseason camp he did his first year at Texas A&M. (See the made-for-TV movie The Junction Boys.) The media would have roasted him and had Bear out of College Station and college football by mid-October. Or tried to.
By comparison, the Kelly’s rants are kind of tame.
Of course, there is the religious aspect to this, a point Archbold brought up.
“We can argue about how Catholic Notre Dame is,” he wrote, “but the fact is that Notre Dame is the most well-known Catholic institution. Screaming and cursing at young students like that just isn’t acceptable.”
To me, much depends on exactly how the cursing is worded. There is a difference between “you f*cked up” and “you’re a f*ckup” with a lot of adjectives throw in as well. Nothing personal to the former. Just business.
I have a suspicion, too, that at times I’ll bet even the legendary and sainted Knute Rockne had a few choice words when things went against the way he thought they should be. He didn’t call on The Gipper every time.
Sometimes “Please don’t fumble again” just doesn’t cut it.
Sometimes “tough love,” and tough words, are what is needed.
Back when I was first in the service I was having some problems (as I look back, I see I was being stupid) and went to my company officer expecting some sympathy and kind, understanding words.
What I got was a kick in the rear and told to get it in gear or I would be out of there.
I got it in gear.
I suspect, too, that the Irish players got Kelly’s point. And it is the players who hold the key here. If Kelly went to far, they will quit performing, and maybe others won’t show up at all in South Bend in the future.
If they get it in gear, Kelly’s tirade will be forgotten.