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Column: Is ND's Kelly latest rent-a-coach?

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Column: Is ND's Kelly latest rent-a-coach?

Coaches bailing out on their teams is nothing new. Neither is saying one thing and doing the opposite. It's practically an occupational hazard.

In the past few weeks, more than a half-dozen pulled that surprise on their teams between the end of the regular season and before the bowl game that was supposed to be their reward. In other sports, a few have departed right after winning a championship. Even so, Notre Dame's Brian Kelly may have taken insincerity to a new level.

Kelly apparently sat for an interview Tuesday with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. That was roughly a year after Notre Dame signed him to a two-year extension and promised to begin discussing a raise and yet another extension. And just four days after Kelly called his ``the best job in the country'' and added, ``Leaving is not an option. I don't even think about it.''

Now fast forward to the early hours of Tuesday morning, moments after Alabama crushed Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS championship game, and an exchange between Kelly and a reporter in the interview room. The questioner asked Kelly ``how optimistic'' he was about making big strides in the Irish passing game, since both sophomore receiver DaVaris Daniels and freshman quarterback Everett Golson were coming back with plenty of valuable experience under their belts.

Kelly pretended to panic.

He began his answer, ``Well, if Everett would come back for another year,'' and then turned to face Golson. For a second, it was hard to tell whether Kelly was still acting.

``Are you coming back?'' he asked.

``Yeah,'' Golson said after a brief silence, playing along. ``I'm coming back.''

Kelly's role as a straight man doesn't seem quite as funny today as it did at the moment. Especially since he answered a handful of questions on either side of that routine with statements like ``now it's pretty clear what we need to do to get over the top'' and ``as we move forward'' and ``we're all going to learn'' and so on. Because just a few hours later, while talking to the Eagles, it's a safe bet that Kelly used the word ``I'' a lot more than he did ``we.''

Of course, Kelly is free to explore job opportunities, same as anybody else. He might genuinely be interested in testing his skills at the highest level of the game, or simply looking for leverage when he sits down soon after his vacation this week to talk about a new contract. Yet neither Kelly nor athletic director Jack Swarbrick needed reminding what happened after Notre Dame, responding to rumors that then-first year coach Charlie Weis was being contacted about a return to the NFL, doubled Weis' original five-year deal. But only one of them is interested in making sure the school doesn't make a mistake that expensive again.

To be fair, despite a sometimes-rocky start, Kelly has been good for Notre Dame. After cameras caught him browbeating players on the sideline, he promised to tone down his act and did. His initial response to allegations of sexual assault against one of his players, as well as the accidental death of a student videographer who was filming football practice in 2010 was callous - at best. But he's learned to better handle the responsibility that comes with Notre Dame's exalted place in the college game since.

Kelly has also made the Irish program seem relevant again, a perception that's been reinforced by a 2013 recruiting class rated among the top three in the nation.

Exactly why he chose to introduce a wrinkle into what looked like a comfortable relationship is something only Kelly can answer, and he took off on vacation before anyone had a chance to pose the question. Swarbrick, too, has declined comment since reports of Kelly's interview with the Eagles surfaced, but he knew his coach's reputation as a ``climber'' before he hired him. Kelly stuck around for 13 seasons in his first job, building Grand Valley State into a Division II powerhouse, but his stints at Central Michigan and Cincinnati lasted only three full seasons in both places.

That's hardly proof of a pattern, though something else Kelly said on the eve of the national championship game suggests it might be.

``When I took the job at Notre Dame, I think I said it was a dream job. But I never went around day to day saying anything about being the Notre Dame head coach, because the job that I had in hand was what I was thinking about.

``And I think,'' Kelly added, though it sounds a lot less reassuring now than it did at the time, ``that's the same thing with the NFL.''

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.