Is There a Power Struggle at Notre Dame?

Brian Kelly - Notre Dame Head Coach
Photo: Matt Kartozian // USA TODAY Sports

The statistics are nothing new. Notre Dame’s defense is ranked No. 101 nationally in points surrendered per game (33.5). The defense has allowed over 200 yards rushing per game under Brian VanGorder’s leadership and was the last of all the 128 FBS teams to register a sack, performances so poor it shouldn’t have been shocking when Duke handed Notre Dame its biggest upset in decades. Yet it was hard to feel anything but disbelief as the same Blue Devils team that mustered only 27 points in its first two games piled on nearly 500 yards of total offense and 38 points against a helpless Notre Dame defense. But the most troubling part of the weekend may have taken place long after the lights went out at Notre Dame Stadium.

Brian Kelly has won everywhere he’s been as a head coach. Kelly made three national championship appearances with Grand Valley State University, winning two national titles and boasting a better winning percentage than fellow Division II alum and former Ohio State coach, Jim Tressel. At Central Michigan Kelly turned around a CMU program that had long been a Mid-American Conference doormat, discovering and recruiting players such as NFL stars Antonio Brown and J.J. Watt that helped the Chippewas win their first conference championship in over a decade. At Cincinnati Kelly really hit his stride, posting a 34-6 record and notching two conference titles before accepting his current position in South Bend.

Brian Kelly is a winner, and for the first time in his career he has found himself in a position of true adversity. How would he handle the pressure of having to answer to the media after posting a 1-3 record when his team was in the AP’s preseason top ten? The reasonable expectation for a coach in such a situation is to circle the wagons around the program and reinforce the fact that while the results are unacceptable, the coaches and players are all in it together. Brian Kelly, however, opted for a more perplexing and disturbing approach and instead built a moat around his coaching staff, leaving his players to fend for themselves.

“Coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today,” Kelly said during his postgame press conference. “We’ve got to look for the guys that want to have fun and play this game with passion and energy and that’s where we got to go.”

After laying the blame at the doorstep of his players, Kelly took it a step further and doubled down on his protection of VanGorder.

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“Actually that’s probably the one area that I feel better about today,” Kelly said when asked about one of the nation’s worst defenses. “We did what I wanted today in terms of coaching, and coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today. I was pleased from that perspective.”

The ramifications of Kelly’s decision to create an “us” and “them” dynamic between his coaching staff and his players are yet to be seen, but if former players are any indication, Kelly likely failed his first test of adversity in a big way. Former Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels tweeted the following after hearing of Kelly’s press conference.

While some may dismiss Daniels’ remark as the ramblings of a grudge-holder given his dismissal from Notre Dame for academic misconduct several years ago, it’s important to remember that this is not the first time Kelly has angered members of Notre Dame’s team by placing blame solely on their shoulders.

In 2011, Notre Dame suffered a brutal loss to the USC Trojans that snapped a four-game winning streak. When faced with criticism of Notre Dame’s performance Kelly was quick to remind the media he had only one recruiting class of his own on the roster, drawing a distinction between “his guys” and Charlie Weis’ holdovers. The comment did not sit well with a host of Notre Dame’s players, including team captain Manti Te’o, who tweeted after the remark, “Playin’ for my bros and that’s it!!!!”

Adding to the strangeness of the weekend is that less than 24 hours after Kelly drew a line in the sand regarding his staff news broke that VanGorder was fired, leading many to wonder if a power struggle is taking place in the shadows of the Golden Dome. Whatever may be transpiring behind the scenes, with eight games remaining all Notre Dame fans can do is hope Kelly receives a crash course in adversity before the 2016 season heads into an unrecoverable tailspin.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for The Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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51 comments

  1. M. Allen 3 years ago

    I watched the Duke game and its was evident that those were playing with no heart/fire. It maybe the result of players thinking and not reacting, which could be a symptom of BVG’s defense. Also at times young players can rest on the fact that they are at Notre Dame, not realizing what that means (that they have a target on their backs for every team they play, especially teams like Duke). I refuse to believe these coaches don’t coach hard week in week out. The offense is clearly doing what it should do, the defense is the problem here.

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  2. Damian 3 years ago

    Coach E. I figure Greek man 99 must be a Navy fan, at least judging from his Go Navy. Which is fine. But why would a fan of another team come on an opposing team fan site to trash talk that team.

    Not sure what his issue is either. I haven’t seen an Navy trash talk here recently and I think most ND fans respect our rivalry with Navy. So not sure what his problem is.

    I don’t like da U. But I’m not going to go on to their sites to trash talk their team. I have better things to do.

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  3. Dominic Vara 3 years ago

    Who would have dreamed?
    Loved BK… Truly believed he was our guy. But keeping BVG after last year FLOORED me. Figured BK was smarter. Now, he looks supremely foolish.
    Talk about fire and grit???? Lou would have been screaming his head off on the sidelines, firing the boys up! BK sets with his arms crossed, all composed, never rallies the troops- stands out front and gives too much disretion to underling coaches.

    Hate the thought of starting over again. But this is really bad! What to do?

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    1. Coach E 3 years ago

      Look BK is still a good coach! So he got complacent and thought the team could run itself. He has the fire and grit still! He’s still got the football knowledge. In football you’re taught to believe in the man next to you and fight for him and the team. Why do we think coaches shouldn’t do the same. He wanted to have faith and believe that BVG could right the ship. There’s no crime In that people. Hudson will make adjustments and you will see those stars beside the players names matter again. Watch them get more than a couple wins in a row and everybody be forced to eat crow. Keep the faith ND!!

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