Posted by Tom Fornelli
It wasn't supposed to be this hard, this early.
When Brian Kelly was first hired to replace Charlie Weis at Notre Dame, there were plenty of fans who thought the turnaround in South Bend would be instantaneous. Given the recent history at Notre Dame, this kind of thinking tends more towards delusion than optimism, but that's just the way things work in South Bend. (The many years of history and glory, no matter how long ago, always seem to hold greater sway than reality.)
It‘s true, Brian Kelly has brought a different attitude to Notre Dame. A likable coach, Kelly is never afraid to flash a smile and work the room on the rubber chicken circuit.
But on the field, not much has changed. In fact, this week could rightly be considered the toughest in Notre Dame history. A soul-crushing loss to Tulsa, questionable play calling, and season-ending injuries to its star players leave the Irish at 4-5 and in serious danger of missing out on another bowl game, which would be the third time in four seasons the Irish failed to play in a bowl.
The Four Horsemen these are not.
Sandwiched in between this mess was the real tragedy of the week, the death of video assistant Declan Sullivan, who lost his life while filming a Notre Dame practice from a scissor-lift that toppled over amidst high winds. Sullivan’s untimely death, combined with the dismal Irish showing, have put Kelly on the hot seat barely near the end of his first season. Perusing a couple of Notre Dame message boards this morning, believe me when I say there are plenty of calls for Kelly's firing. Granted, most people who regularly frequent college football message boards aren't exactly the stable type, but it’s clear they’re representing a broader sentiment.
As a response solely to the season, the “off with his head“ calls are just silly. As much as Notre Dame fans want to believe he is, Kelly is not a miracle worker. He's a football coach trying to make the best of what he was given, which, recruiting analysts be damned, wasn't much.
The Sullivan tragedy, however, changes the game completely.
Sullivan's death is the tragic outcome of a lot of people not exercising common sense that day. I wish that at some point a member of the school would have told Sullivan he shouldn't go up there, or Sullivan would have realized this himself, but it didn't happen, and nothing can fix it now.
We can look for a scapegoat and given human nature, we will. Whether or not Kelly deserves it, this will loom over his head like a dark cloud for the rest of his tenure in South Bend.
The fact is, if Notre Dame goes on to miss a bowl game this season, and the struggles continue into next year, this incident will be used against Kelly. Fair or not, he is in charge of Notre Dame football, and Sullivan's death happened on his watch.
It's also why Kelly could be fired this season, and with cause. It might not be right, but it's not all that wrong either.