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MORRISSEY: Notre Dame suffering from selective amnesia

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly interviewed with Eagles days after declaring his undying love for Irish. | AP

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly interviewed with the Eagles days after declaring his undying love for the Irish. | AP

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Updated: February 14, 2013 6:38AM



Because Brian Kelly has decided to stay at Notre Dame, I’m guessing Fighting Irish fans will forgive his wandering eye, if not deny it ever existed. Rabid fans are blessed with selective memory.

Kelly announced Saturday he’ll remain at Notre Dame because he lives and breathes Irish football — at least when he’s not interviewing for other jobs. College football coaches are blessed with a complete absence of shame.

For all you cynics out there who think the school threw money at Kelly as though he were working a stripper pole . . . oh, wait, this just in: Word is, Notre Dame is working on a raise and a contract extension for him. Stunning, I know.

‘‘This decision was motivated purely by my love for Notre Dame and the entire Fighting Irish community, the young men I have the great fortune to coach and my desire to continue to build the best football program in the country,’’ Kelly said in a statement.

Not long after he had declared his undying love for Notre Dame during the buildup to the BCS national championship game, he interviewed for the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching vacancy. I wasn’t among the legions of people who were disgusted with him for his slow dance with the Eagles.

Go back eight years, to when the Irish made a conscious decision to do a cannonball into the slop of college football. That’s when they fired coach Tyrone Willingham after he went 21-15 in three seasons.

‘‘What’s so unusual about that?’’ you might ask. ‘‘Coaches come and go like ants in an ant farm.’’

Not at Notre Dame. When the Irish canned Willingham in 2004, it was the first time they had not allowed a coach to fulfill his first contract. That contract — a real contract — was what had set Notre Dame apart from other schools. No matter what the circumstances, the good priests thought a coach needed time to show whether he was right for the school and vice versa.

There was something very noble about that at a time when coaches all over the country were breaking contracts and schools were jettisoning coaches after being pressured by boosters.

But on Nov. 30, 2004, the Irish became just like everybody else. They fired Willingham three years into a five-year contract. The concrete was set. Notre Dame decided it needed to get more serious about playing big-time college football, and that realization brought them from Willingham to Charlie Weis to Kelly and, finally, to the BCS title game against Alabama.

Fair enough, but Notre Dame has reaped what it has sown. Once you throw loyalty out the window, the way the Irish did with Willingham, it opens the door for a lack of loyalty in return.

That brings us back to Kelly, who just completed his third season as Notre Dame’s coach. Perhaps you see the symmetry here. Willingham had just completed his third season in South Bend, Ind., when he was fired. If Irish administrators and fans were feeling betrayed by Kelly’s dalliance with the Eagles, perhaps they should take stock of their recent history. And Kelly’s.

Three years ago, he left Cincinnati before the Bearcats’ Sugar Bowl appearance against Florida. He deserted the same players he previously had referred to as ‘‘family.’’ I don’t recall Notre Dame fans ripping him for that; I do recall Irish fans talking about Kelly being a perfect fit for their program. There are few names more Irish-sounding than ‘‘Brian Kelly.’’ And, as far as getting Notre Dame where its fans think
it belongs, he indeed has been perfect.

By no means am I saying Kelly was an innocent in his flirtation with the Eagles any more than I’m saying Willingham was a great coach. What I am saying is Notre Dame’s leaders might want to look in the mirror before they start screaming, ‘‘Traitor!’’

This is the way corporate college football works. And for a guy who likes to talk about his humble journey, Kelly sure knows how to play the game. There must have been a continuing-education course at Grand Valley State called ‘‘Misdirection and Double Talk: A Coach’s Guide to the Universe.’’

Kelly interviewed with the Eagles mere days after saying that leaving the Irish was ‘‘not an option.’’ Apparently, it was an option.

He simply might have gotten the three-year itch, like Notre Dame did with Willingham. Or maybe, just maybe, Kelly was looking for more money. Just like every other coach.



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