ND’s Kelly takes another hit
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org April 14, 2012 11:42PM
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly yelss to his team during the second half of an NCAA college football game against the Boston College in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Notre Dame defeated Boston College 16-14. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: May 16, 2012 8:30AM
The inevitable stomach-turning email from the Notre Dame sports information department arrived in my inbox at 8:59 a.m. Friday.
Aaron Lynch was leaving school.
Lynch had foreshadowed his departure a week earlier when Brian Kelly sent him home for five days after Irish Illustrated reported he got into a tussle with a teammate at practice.
The Kelly press conference about Lynch started one minute after the email arrived. This is how efficiently and seamlessly the public relations machine at Notre Dame works.
It took Brian Kelly just 11 minutes, 8 seconds to dissect the Lynch news to a small group of reporters, and then the program stumbled forward into the college football BCS abyss without its best defensive lineman.
Lately, the Irish have dealt with a wave of not-so-good news. Tee Shepherd, their best cornerback recruit from the 2012 class, left under unexplained conditions eight weeks after he enrolled. Shepherd’s cousin, Deontay Greenberry, a highly ranked wide receiver, jilted Notre Dame on signing day and enrolled at Houston instead. Ronald Darby, another elite cornerback the Irish desperately needed, decommitted from Notre Dame in January and went to Florida State instead. David Perkins, a running back from South Bend Washington, committed and then decommitted from the Irish, likely by mutual agreement. He’s at Ohio State now.
Lynch was a beast at defensive end. A pass rushing machine, he had led the Irish with 51/2 sacks and seven tackles for losses despite the fact that the coaches routinely talked about how mediocre his technique was. With some time and teaching, Lynch had the potential to be an all-time great.
He was exactly the kind of player the Irish needed to get back to that BCS perch.
This is why his departure is so troubling. There really was nothing Kelly could do about Lynch leaving. He was unhappy with the general climate of the school. It was pretty simple. He didn’t like the Notre Dame culture. He didn’t get it and it made Lynch, who is from Florida, generally miserable.
“It wasn’t so much geographical as it was his comfort level here,” Kelly said.
What do the swings and misses for so many highly ranked players mean? That Kelly is at least trying to get elite level talent into Notre Dame.
The problem is, the margin of error for great players is razor thin at Notre Dame. There are dorms, cold winters, high academic standards and an institutional culture that is one-of-a-kind to deal with.
Not everybody gets it. A lot of the very best football players in the country either can’t hack it or don’t even want to try to hack it.
Kelly tried to rationalize the blow-up over Lynch’s departure by saying that players leave all the time.
“I’ve been in this for 25 years,” he said. “It happens. It’s part of the process. The only reason it’s news-worthy is because he’s a great player.”
That’s precisely the problem. Great players — potential first-round draft NFL picks — don’t leave USC or Florida State or Alabama after their first year because they aren’t comfortable there. Not players that are and were an integral part of the team. It just doesn’t happen that way.
Therein lies the dilemma for Kelly, whom I actually felt sympathy for in a small way Friday: He can continue to recruit the right kind of guys — players who are comfortable with the Notre Dame experience and yet who may not be good enough to get the Irish back to their BCS-level expectations — or take chances on players like Shepherd and Lynch and hope it works out.
The answer for Kelly, of course, is that he always has to push forward for the great players even if the fit might seem questionable. Having Lynch for one season was better than not having him at all. Kelly has to take chances here. There is no real choice, given the unyielding demands of the rabid fan base.
The eternal question for the program is, are there enough really good players out there that actually want to play at Notre Dame, can thrive there and make the Irish great again?
Hard to say, but the roll call of coaches who have failed under the rigid requirements — Charlie Weis, Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie — grows with each passing generation.
Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeHuttonPT