Brian Kelly said Tuesday he was tired of being misquoted in the public arena so, in a twist, he dropped a bombshell with a simple bob of his head.
No actual words were attached to this proclamation yet dozens of attendees, including Rankman, seated at table 11, identified the affirmative nod at the silverware-clanking end of Kelly’s luncheon visit to The Notre Dame Club of Orange County.
What Kelly said—I mean indicated--was outrageous.
Kelly had flown West to honor the OC club for being the top booster organization in Notre Dame’s massive, nation wide, God-fearing, armada of football worshipers.
The OC club is currently led by president Paul Irving, a fine young leprechaun and the son of lifelong friends on my wife’s side of the family. As a younger man, at holiday events, Paul would sometimes call me out for my pernicious L.A. Times coverage of Notre Dame football.
About 1999, for example, I may have written the Irish finished 5-7 under Bob Davie.
Also, in 2002, I covered a game during which undefeated Notre Dame, for no reason, coming off a thrilling victory at Florida State, decided to break out the “green” jerseys for a home game against Boston College. The only team in South Bend motivated by that move was Boston College.
What Paul didn’t know was that I mainly went harder\overboard on Notre Dame to balance the Journalism 101 books on my longtime sports editor, Bill Dwyre. Bill is a Domer (class of '66) who is hard-wired to hate USC and its white horse, Traveler, who also happens to leave huge droppings in our circulation area.
To his professional credit, Dwyre never told me what to write about his alma mater, although he may have been angry enough once to assign me to the paper’s skiing beat. Before the 1998 Nagano Games, best as I remember events, it was Dwyre who encouraged me to rent the best demo equipment available and test run the men’s Olympic downhill course from which Austrian Herman Maier would later be air-lifted by helicopter.
Enough already--what did Brian Kelly say Tuesday that could not, technically, be quoted as him "saying" any such thing?
Kelly doesn’t need any more headaches after last season. He is only recently recovering from a late-April spoken-word event in which he suggested quarterback DeShone Kizer should return to school because he was not ready for the NFL.
The Cleveland Browns, however, thought Kizer was ready to be the No. 52 overall pick.
Anyway, here is how Kelly’s Tuesday “bombshell” announcement unfolded:
First it should be stated: Rankman has had a personal stake in Notre Dame football ever since championing Kelly’s hiring in 2010. I think the headline on my story was “Notre Dame finally gets it right.”
Eight years later, though, here WE solemnly sit after a 4-8 season that was the nightmare of nightmares.
Worse than that, I picked Notre Dame to win the national title last year—can you believe that?
Now that it’s my reputation at stake, of course, it is very important for the Irish to get this right. Not for them, but for ME.
Notre Dame fans used to rag me for my negative coverage; now I’m the dummy who picked preseason No.1 a team that lost at home to Duke.
You can’t win with these people so I have decided to periodically live among them as a full-bellied booster with a personal stake in every grotto pilgrimage and pep rally.
Rankman attended Tuesday’s luncheon to mostly get answered this question: what does 4-8 taste like?
I needed to move my fork and knife through the roast beef, carrots and twice-baked potatoes. I sipped from a glass of genuine Notre Dame Cabernet, bottled by The Brutocao Family Vineyards in Mendocino County.
Thankfully, they were pouring a Notre Dame 2013, not a 2016. The latter was not a very good year.
The Brutocaos attended Tuesday’s performance and presented Kelly with a magnum of their finest stuff, which I immediately pictured Kelly swigging at Huntington Beach while riding the surf board the OC Irish Club presented him a couple of years ago.
Kelly, dressed in tan from head to shoes, did a fine job of assessing the carnage of last year’s season, in which Notre Dame lost seven of eight games in the fourth quarter.
He acknowledged this was his fault for not instilling in his team the physical, or mental, toughness required to finish off games. Seven of Notre Dame’s defeats last year were by eight points or fewer.
“Lessons needed to be learned,” Kelly said.
The coach, OUR coach, took the appropriate amount of blame—all of it.
“It starts with the leader,” he said. “It starts with the head coach. I just lost sight over process over production.”
Kelly promised an upgrade in the weight room and a re commitment to the mental, tactical and technical aspects of the game.
At Alabama, these are known as "the basics."
Notre Dame fans who pulled me aside are shocked, frankly, at the lack of player development. Only two Irish players were chosen in last week’s NFL draft.
Michigan led all schools with 11 players taken; Alabama had 10.
The L.A. Rams, for heaven’s sake, drafted two players from Eastern Washington.
Kelly said all the right things on his West Coast apology tour. He quelled any thought of a quarterback controversy, even after Ian Book’s strong performance in the spring game.
“Brandon Wimbush will be No.1 going into camp,” Kelly said.
We Domers like that kind of strong talk.
It was at the end, during the live auction, conducted by former Irish quarterback Steve Beuerlein, when things got loose and interesting.
Kelly, during his prepared talk, said there are only two goals at Notre Dame: graduating players and winning national championships.
Beuerlein, trying to pry from Kelly a few more pregame sideline passes, called Kelly’s bluff.
“Did you promise the national championship this year?” Beuerlein asked.
Kelly, clearly, nodded his head yes.
He didn’t say it, but we all saw it.
Sorry, coach, but I'm done with outlandish predictions. I learned my lesson last year.
This preseason No.1 is on you.
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