History suggests Kelly will keep Golson on short leash
September 11, 2012 11:26PM
Brian Kelly, then at Central Michigan, was a candidate for the Michigan State job in 2006. Mark Dantonio got the gig. “That was so long ago for me, my brain is full of so many different things now,” Kelly said. “If I’m on a golf course in Michigan and making the turn and having a hot dog, maybe I’m thinking about it.”
Updated: October 14, 2012 1:48PM
Twenty-eight games into the Brian Kelly era at Notre Dame and there is one unmistakable, defining issue: His handling of quarterbacks.
Over the course of the next 50 games, assuming the Irish follow their historical pattern of allowing their coach to stick around for at least five seasons, Kelly’s future will be determined by how well he pivots from the perpetual quarterback dilemma that has overshadowed his brief time as the Irish coach.
He arrived with a reputation as a coach who could transform quarterbacks. Whether that happens at Notre Dame is still unclear.
Kelly’s resolute declaration that Everett Golson was the starter after he pulled him on the final drive against Purdue certainly didn’t match his actions. Do you really pull the guy you’re married to seven quarters into the season on the final drive with the game tied? If you’re as impatient, impetuous and demanding as Kelly, you do. Golson hadn’t played terribly against Purdue but he certainly was struggling with the pressure of the Boilermakers defensive line and at recognizing defensive fronts.
Tommy Rees was greeted with a smattering of boos from the crowd when he entered the game. Kelly’s gamble, of course, paid off. Rees completed 3 of 6 passes for 35 yards on the final drive, including a harrowing 12-yard pass to John Goodman on third-and-6 in the face of a ferocious rush. That turned out to be the key play of the game. The boos turned to cheers.
Kelly’s instincts were right. He hit the jackpot with the switch. Life was good — at least for another week. Kelly talked vaguely enough about a minor injury that Golson had that made it difficult for him to grip the ball but he later admitted that wasn’t the reason he pulled him. He simply believed Rees was better in a late-game situation, which was accurate. He had success against Michigan and Pittsburgh last year in similar situations.
This seems to be a fair question, though, for a coach. At what point do you perhaps risk losing a game for the long term development of a quarterback who basically has the keys to the car for the next three years, assuming that he continues to improve incrementally? Or is it even safe to really assume that Golson has the keys the car?
The answer to the first question is never for Kelly, who has consistently used multiple quarterbacks in a season, starting with the Rees-Dayne Crist experiment that ended badly. Crist was his starter until he went down with an ACL injury against Tulsa in 2010 and then he was his starter in 2011 until he had an awful first half against South Florida. At which point Rees became his starter until he struggled against USC. At which point he was pulled for a series in favor of Crist, who got his last chance against the Trojans until his fumble led to a USC touchdown. Crist’s demotion led to Andrew Hendrix and Rees sharing time against Stanford and Florida State last year when the offense stalled under Rees.
One theme is consistent with Kelly as it applies to any player on his team — developing players is secondary to winning right away. Charlie Weis admitted, on his way out, that he essentially viewed the 2007 season as a rebuilding year when he started Jimmy Clausen at quarterback over a more experienced Evan Sharpley. Weis made that call because it was likely that whoever played quarterback wasn’t going to make much of a difference in the outcome of the season.
As for the latter question, it should be pretty clear by now that Golson really doesn’t have a firm grasp on the starting job. If Kelly pulls him against Purdue, it’s clear that the opportunities to yank him against better teams like Oklahoma, USC and even Michigan State will be ample if he fails to operate the offense at the warp speed Kelly expects and if he doesn’t move the team efficiently. That is all there is too it. His track record is crystal clear on this tenet.