Notre Dame's Kelly must go

BY Jason Whitlock • October 29, 2010

There are some mistakes coaches can’t survive. Brian Kelly made one Wednesday.

Before Notre Dame reaches a financial settlement with the family of Declan Sullivan, the 20-year-old videographer who died in a tragic practice accident, the school must sever ties with its first-year head football coach.

Kelly should not coach the Irish on Saturday when they take on Tulsa.

We don’t need a thorough and exhaustive investigation to recognize Kelly’s negligence. A coach’s most important job, particularly at the amateur level, is to take every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of the young people under his control.

Kelly failed in the worst way possible.

In recent years, Notre Dame dismissed Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis for failing to win enough games. The school canned George O’Leary for exaggerating on his resume.

Those "crimes" pale in comparison to allowing student managers to go up in 50-foot-tall lifts to film practice in hazardous wind conditions.

Mitigating circumstances do not matter. Notre Dame’s video coordinator should not be held responsible. Declan Sullivan, who tweeted before and during practice the weather conditions were terrifying and life threatening, certainly isn’t to blame.

The head football coach has final say over everything that transpires on the practice field. Everything. That’s why Ohio State’s Jim Tressel moved the Buckeyes’ practice inside on Tuesday when wind gusts made conditions unsafe.

“I don’t know if we’ll be inside or out,” Tressel told Ohio reporters 24 hours before the Notre Dame tragedy. “It looks a little nasty. I worry about our cameramen, their well-being up there 50 feet in the air.”

That’s the proper mindset of a head football coach. He’s paranoid about everything.

On Tuesday, Kelly and the Irish practiced indoors because of tornado warnings. On Wednesday, Kelly chose to take the Irish out into the elements. Coaches love to say, “If we’re going to play in the North Pole, we’re going to practice in the North Pole.”

That’s fine for the players. Student videographers don’t film games from 50-foot lifts on Saturdays. Not to mention lifts of the kind that aren’t recommended for use in winds above 25 mph.

Kelly’s negligence is inexcusable. He ignored the risks. Notre Dame should treat Kelly like a drunk driver whose negligent behavior killed a passenger or another driver. An apology and a financial settlement are not enough.

Please do not read this as a demonization of Brian Kelly.

Having been young and stupid, I know how people make the mistake of drinking and driving. When I read about a drunk-driving tragedy, I have sympathy for all parties involved.

Having played college football and worked with coaches most of my life, I know how Kelly made this mistake. His team is soft. He wanted to test his players mentally and physically in difficult conditions and he wanted to grade the test on tape.

I get it. And I get that he’s experiencing terrible emotional pain.

But there are some mistakes coaches just can’t make without suffering stiff repercussions. This is one.

This is worse than a recruiting violation or a sex scandal or even academic fraud. This is a 20-year-old kid who lost his life when he absolutely didn’t have to. This is a fundamental failure.

Notre Dame and athletic director Jack Swarbrick have no choice but to remove Kelly from his position. On Thursday, during a news conference, Swarbrick seemed most interested in making sure he retained his job and minimizing the public-relations damage.

Swarbrick made it clear that he was at practice less than four or five minutes before the lift holding Sullivan fell over. Swarbrick told reporters that he was on a conference call before he walked over to practice — the inference being he wasn’t there long enough to tell Sullivan to come down from the lift.

Swarbrick then suggested the winds gusted with an unprecedented ferocity, leading to the accident that killed Sullivan.

“Things started flying by me that otherwise had been stationary for all of practice,” Swarbrick said. “Gatorade containers, towels, etc. I noticed the netting on the goal posts start to bend dramatically, and I heard a crash.”

How does Swarbrick know what was “stationary for all of practice” if he only arrived four or five minutes before the crash? And given the weather reports for that part of northern Indiana on Wednesday, it’s ridiculous for Swarbrick to suggest the 50-mph wind gusts were surprising.

Notre Dame might need a new coach and AD.