SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Four weeks after Notre Dame’s expedited penalty hearing with an NCAA Committee on Infractions panel, athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN.com coach that Brian Kelly “will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year.”
Swarbrick, Kelly, Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins and vice president and general counsel Marianne Corr represented Notre Dame at that Sept. 23 hearing in Indianapolis. During the proceedings, the NCAA rejected all four pillars of Notre Dame's argument as to why it shouldn't vacate its 2012 and 2013 football records. A day later, Notre Dame lost, 38-35 to Duke to fall to 1-3, and a day after that, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was fired.
Shortly after the NCAA dropped its report on Notre Dame’s academic violations on Tuesday, Jenkins and Notre Dame released a statement detailing why they’ll contest the panel’s ruling that the university should vacate those 21 wins from 2012 and 2013. Among the passages:
“Everyone involved — those in Academic Services for Student-Athletes, in our football program and in our Compliance Office — and the faculty and students resolving these cases under our Honor Code did everything that we could have asked of them,” Jenkins said.
Kelly, of course, would be among those in the football program who Jenkins said acted properly during the process. In fact, Kelly probably went above and beyond his duties —from mid-August through mid-October of 2014, he was the only Notre Dame official to take questions about the university’s investigation, consistently and professionally handling a difficult matter in front of the media on a weekly basis.
Kelly on Tuesday shouldn’t have spoken in absolutes when he said he bears “zero, none, absolutely none” of the culpability for the academic violations — he recruited the players to Notre Dame, after all. And he spoke off the cuff when he said “80 percent of colleges go through cheating. … That doesn’t condone it, but we know what the culture is.”
But the NCAA was clear in that Kelly, nor anyone at Notre Dame besides the part-time student-athletic trainer and the players in question, was not responsible for the violations. So, Kelly said he’s not concerned about being fired after Notre Dame concludes its first losing season since 2007 Saturday at USC.
“I have no reason to believe that I'm not,” Kelly said when asked if he think he’ll be the head coach of Notre Dame in 2017. “I mean, I think you guys are confusing this statement with the win-loss record. A win-loss record is always under scrutiny at Notre Dame, and it should be. That's part of it.
“But this matter here has been a long-standing matter that the university has handled, handled in a positive way relative to how we handled it internally. Everybody has felt that every support staff member has represented Notre Dame in a positive way.
“Today's statement should be a validation that my collateral responsibilities at Notre Dame as the head coach are outstanding. However, he's got to win more football games. And so that hasn't changed. We're still 4-7. So if you want me to answer you the question on 4-7, I think every football coach that's 4-7 has got to win more football games.”
While university officials have backed Kelly throughout the disastrous 2016 season, it’s worth noting that in 2004 the Notre Dame board of trustees called an emergency meeting the Monday after the Irish were blown out by USC in their season finale. The purpose of that meeting was to fire coach Tyrone Willingham, which went against the wishes of then-athletic director Kevin White, according to ESPN.
2016’s disastrous results have already led to a cacophony of calls for Kelly to be fired from various areas of the internet and social media. And while the seventh-year Irish coach was never alleged to have lost institutional control or failed to monitor his program, that the NCAA levied its penalties only a few days before Notre Dame could finish its season 4-8 is opportune timing for those that oppose Kelly.
“The announcement that comes out today has nothing to do with lack of additional support for Brian Kelly,” Kelly said. “Any negative criticism that's out there about me right now is because we're 4-7. It has nothing to do with the public announcement that came out here today.”