SOUTH BEND, Ind.—There was an interesting parallel between yet another wrenching Notre Dame loss and yet another bristly Brian Kelly post-game press conference.
For most of the way in their 20-19 crusher against Georgia and Kelly’s post-mortem, I had a tentative feeling that both things were going to end well for the Irish. And even if they didn’t, there were going to be positives to build on.
And then, as quick as a Georgia sack and fumble, Mount Kelly erupted. And called a lot of things into question.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Yup. Tough loss. The Bulldogs clearly had an edge in playmakers on both sides of the ball. But the Irish were no slouches, as they say.
And the Dawgs also had the baggage of 12 penalties for 127 yards (to ND’s 8 for 63) and two turnovers (to ND’s none).
When the Irish got the ball back at their own 19 with 1:57 left, despite back-to-back three-and-outs, it was reasonable to assume they could maneuver their way into Justin Yoon’s fifth field goal.
But on first down at the 36—poof! Down went Brandon Wimbush, who coughed up the ball on first-and-10 at the Irish 36 with 1:27 left after receiving a devastating shot from an unblocked Davin Bellamy.
For a while, Kelly, while disapointed, said the right things. The loss hurt, but give the credit to Georgia for making plays—yada yada.
``Man, when it all comes together, these press conferences will be a little different,’’ Kelly said.
And then—poof! Well, here’s the transcript of what happened. . .
- Obviously you made a ton of changes, changed the culture, everything. But obviously, you lost and at the very end, kind of like last year, seven of eight losses, how do you --
COACH KELLY: What's the question?
Q. I'm getting to it.
COACH KELLY: Well, get to the question.
Q. How do you keep this from snowballing?
COACH KELLY: It's not going to snowball. Next question.
Q. Well, what exactly will be different, I guess.
COACH KELLY: There's nothing different. I go to work every day, and I coach my football team.
COACH KELLY: Is that -- is that good enough for you?
Q. Yeah, I was just asking about how it was different from last year's losing by one possession.
COACH KELLY: Okay.
Q. Tonight was also like that, so I was just wondering.
COACH KELLY: Losing by one possession?
COACH KELLY: No, it was one point.
COACH KELLY: Okay. Thanks.
End of discussion.
All credit to earnest and talented Indy Star reporter Laken Litman for having the courage to ask a question that was fair and obvious—but very difficult to ask an emotional and drained coach at that time.
I can see why Kelly bristled. Losing a big-time opportunity to defeat a really stout Georgia team that has an excellent chance to play in the SEC championship game is different than many of last year’s Irish meltdowns.
On the other hand, Kelly, who clearly knew the question was coming—he’s probably heard variations on it, um, a few times in the last nine months—could have kept his cool.
It kind of reminded me of Moises Alou losing his cool when Bartman reached for that baseball.
You make a bad situation worse when you let them see you sweat.
I still believe what Kelly was saying, that Notre Dame could have a really good season.
With the talent the Irish have, and with the effort they had against Georgia, they could accomplish a lot this fall.
But keep your cool—as tough as it is after a really difficult ending to what could have been a really important win.
This is where college football in general—and Notre Dame in particular—live in a very different media world than the one I knew in days of yore, when Gerry Faust was bumping along and when Lou Holtz was making the Golden Dome shine.
In the old days, Irish coaches didn’t get heavy-handed with well-intentioned media who were simply doing their job by asking tough questions.
Spar. Smile. Go off on a tangent. But never let ‘em see you sweat.
In Kelly’s defense, that’s tough to do after a loss like that. Then again, it comes with the territory—like all those zeroes at the end of his salary.
Another thing we had going for us in the old days was this: The post-game press conference was merely a sound-bite prelude for TV and radio.
Afterward, we headed into the locker room to talk to players. And coaches like Faust and Holtz came in later, for quiet little exchanges with print guys.
That’s when the coach could say, ``Look, this isn’t like last year.’’ And give his version.
He could also explain why stuff happens with a quarterback making his second start. And maybe even explain why—and who—messed up on his offensive line, without throwing people under the bus.
Because in those days, there was time and trust, and all kinds of things that aren’t happening in the modern world.
Those ships have sailed. I understand. There are too many media members. And too many television dollars.
We shouldn’t be surprised that coach Kelly tends to lose his cool. It has happened before. And will happen again. He’s a competitor in a very compeititve line of work.
What I wonder, though, is if the outbursts help his team.
I think not.[/membership]