National Columnist

Nothing golden about Kelly playing hard ball with waffling recruit

Brian Kelly is making Eddie Vanderdoes pay for wanting out of his Notre Dame commitment. (USATSI, 247Sports)
Brian Kelly is making Eddie Vanderdoes pay for wanting out of his Notre Dame commitment. (USATSI, 247Sports)

The system is broken, and not by accident. It's broken on purpose. The system allows coaches like Brian Kelly to switch schools as they please -- and for more money -- but players who want to switch schools are at the mercy of those same coaches. Because the system sucks.

But Notre Dame doesn't have to follow the system. Notre Dame, leader that it considers itself among institutions of higher learning, could refuse to follow along. It could allow the system to work for an 18-year-old high school senior, but it won't. Notre Dame is playing hard ball with five-star recruit Eddie Vanderdoes, which means Notre Dame is part of the problem.

So it's not just the system that sucks. For playing along with the system, Notre Dame sucks too.

Visceral language, right? You offended?

Be offended. Know what offends me? That a school like Notre Dame, and a coach like Brian Kelly, would stick it to an 18-year-old kid like Eddie Vanderdoes.

True, he's an enormous kid. He's about 6-foot-3, 300 pounds. He looks like a man, and given that he's 18 years old, technically I guess he is a man. But he's 18. Just graduated high school. Still lives with his parents. He's a kid, is what he is. A kid faced with a bigger decision than most of us faced at such a young age, and a kid who clearly was overwhelmed by it all. He committed to Southern California. He signed with Notre Dame. He wants to attend UCLA. He's 18, you know?

Empathy would help, and while I don't expect it from many Notre Dame fans, I like to think the rest of you are capable of putting yourself in the shoes of a high school senior being pursued by famous men at famous college football programs, and the mind-blowing whir that must pass for a normal day when Lane Kiffin is calling you and Brian Kelly is texting you and Jim Mora Jr. is pulling into your driveway.

That's a problem we'd all like to have had in high school -- but wouldn't you also like to be given a break if you picked one school, a school 2,000 miles away, a school in a different climate, and then changed your mind? Wouldn't you like to be excused if you were Eddie Vanderdoes from Auburn, Calif., and you decided after signing with Notre Dame that you'd rather play for UCLA?

If that were me, I'd like that break. If it were my son, I'd like that break. And you know what? If it's Eddie Vanderdoes, who I wouldn't know if he knocked on my door, I'd like that break.

Because it's the right thing to do.

But this is the NCAA we're talking about, and it's college football we're talking about, and it's Brian Kelly and Notre Dame we're talking about, and the right thing doesn't always get done in those circles.

Kelly's a self-serving phony, is one way of saying it. He flirted with the Philadelphia Eagles after the BCS title game, which was his right. A person should have the freedom to pursue his options, and Brian Kelly exercised that freedom. He pursued the NFL. Then backed off.

But Eddie Vanderdoes cannot flirt with UCLA. Cannot pursue that option. Cannot decide to go to school there -- not if he expects to play football this season, or for the four years entitled to college athletes.

And this is where Brian Kelly is a complete phony. How can I say that? You wouldn't believe how easy it is for me to say that. See, on National Signing Day in 2012, Kelly had this to say about receiver Deontay Greenberry, who was committed to Notre Dame but signed instead with Houston:

"I used to have a saying [about situations like this one]," Kelly said on Feb. 1, 2012. "I'd rather play against him four times than have to have him with us four years if he's not the right kind of fit."

Not a bad saying (though after the comments appeared, Notre Dame's P.R. department implausibly claimed Kelly wasn't talking specifically about Greenberry). Hell, I like that saying -- and Kelly's right. If a player doesn't want to be on your campus, better to deal with him four times a year as an opponent than have to deal with him every day for four years.

Only, Kelly didn't do that with Vanderdoes. He's not going to have to "play against him four times" -- because he didn't release Vanderdoes from his National Letter-of-Intent. Vanderdoes can still go to UCLA this fall, but he can't play. Worse than that, much worse, this year will count as a year of eligibility, meaning he will have four years to play three seasons at UCLA starting in 2014.

Brian Kelly is screwing Eddie Vanderdoes, an 18-year-old who wanted to stay in his home state. Why? Because he can. Because the system sucks.

When Kelly was at Cincinnati -- I live in Cincinnati, not that it matters; Mark Dantonio of Michigan State left Cincinnati in 2006, and he's my favorite football coach -- he left for Notre Dame. And he didn't leave at a good time, either.

He didn't leave, for example, in June.

Kelly left Cincinnati in December 2009. After Cincinnati had gone 12-0 in the regular season, but before the Bearcats played Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Cincinnati had a shot at perfection, at magic, but Kelly was gone. Why? Because he could. Because the system let him. Because Notre Dame was a better job and who cares if Cincinnati was in the middle of its season?

Brian Kelly didn't care.

Now Eddie Vanderdoes would like to play this season at UCLA. He told Notre Dame in June. That gives Kelly time to find another defensive lineman, if he feels he needs one for the 2013 season. Will that lineman be as good as Vanderdoes? Of course not. Vanderdoes is considered the best recruit at his position in the country.

Not the point. Point is, Kelly thought it was fine to leave Cincinnati between games, but he doesn't think it's fine for Eddie Vanderdoes to leave Notre Dame before he even reports to Notre Dame. So Vanderdoes can't play in 2013 for UCLA. And he loses the year of eligibility.

Kelly wins, but only because of a broken system that rewards craven men like himself, and punishes confused kids like Eddie Vanderdoes.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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