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A brief history of Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly blaming other people for losses

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The Irish coach could learn a lot from coaches who manage to keep their frustrations from constantly going public.

Notre Dame v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Notre Dame is 2-4 this year. They’re bad! Even if the Fighting Irish win out, this will be one of the worst seasons under Brian Kelly. And considering they lost to a bad Duke team at home, it seems pretty unlikely they’ll win out: their remaining schedule features three ranked teams, plus Stanford and USC. They’ll be lucky to avoid a losing record.

Kelly wants you to know one thing.

One problem: Kelly has blamed players.

He blamed a player last week, when the Irish lost, 10-3, to NC State.

The center did a very bad job snapping the ball. But lots of players on both teams had trouble handling the ball in a hurricane. (It was really funny to watch.) And yet Kelly continued to ask Mustipher to snap out of the shotgun. And he continued to ask DeShone Kizer to pass the ball, even though conditions made it difficult. NC State simply chose to run the ball instead of passing a lot.

A better coach would’ve prepared his team for a rainy day by focusing on non-shotgun snaps and running plays. An equally bad coach with a better heart would’ve accepted responsibility for failing to do so. Kelly did neither, instead opting to trash his center.

College football players fail frequently. It’s part of what makes the sport interesting. But when they do, multimillionaire coaches should at least accept blame for not doing a better job of coaching players.

Kelly often forgets about that part of the bargain.

Oct. 28, 2011: Kelly complains about how he can’t blame players, then blames players recruited by Charlie Weis

In Year 2 of the Kelly era, the Irish were embarrassed by Lane Kiffin’s USC. They fell behind, 17-0, and lost, 31-17. In the postgame press conference, Kelly said he couldn’t possibly shoulder all the blame. He was a very successful coach with a very successful history, and he would be lying if he said it was all his fault.

“You know, I generally — I’m falling on the sword nine out of 10 times,” Kelly said. “But I know what I’m doing on a bye week. I’ve had great success. I know what it looks like.”

“I’m certainly not going to go back and second-guess the way I’ve prepared over 21 years in a bye week. Sometimes there’s some accountability from everybody, coaches and players alike ... They didn’t play as well as they needed to play.”

Kelly also said he wasn’t pleased with QB Dayne Crist:

The next day, when a writer asked Kelly whether he was concerned about Crist's mental state, Kelly said, "No, I don't have to worry about it. He does."

But the coup de grâce came when Kelly indicted all his upperclassmen, demeaning the attitude and skills of players recruited by the coach before him:

"You can see the players that I recruited here," Kelly said Thursday. "You know who they are. We've had one class … that I've had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along. But it's a process. It can't happen overnight. They're getting there.

That included future NFL players like Manti Te’o and Kapron Lewis-Moore, both of whom tweeted their displeasure with Kelly’s comments, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Kelly publicly made up with his team in the days before their next game against Navy.

Nov. 9, 2014: Kelly makes sure you know those interceptions were Everett Golson’s fault

Against Arizona State, Golson had five turnovers. That’s bad, but normally a coach might say he’d work with the player on ball security and help him make smarter decisions.

Instead, Kelly absolved himself of responsibility and criticized Golson, literally saying “I don’t know what else to do.”

A reporter pointed out the interceptions weren’t all Golson’s fault — one bounced off a receiver’s hands — and Kelly responded by asking, “Why aren’t they all on Golson?”

He wasn’t just blaming Golson: he was attributing blame to Golson that wasn’t even technically justifiable. He eventually agreed with the reporter.

Nov. 1, 2015: Kelly shoves a coach by grabbing a fistful of his shirt, then says it was the assistant’s fault

Against Temple, Kelly was seen shoving strength and conditioning coach David Grimes.

When asked about it, Kelly explained how Grimes had failed:

"David was going to get us a 15-yard penalty," Kelly said after the game, via Tyler James of NDInsider. "I had to control the sideline. I wasn't going to let that happen. He got a little too close and I backed him up out of the way to make sure we didn't get a 15-yard penalty."

Sept. 19, 2016: Kelly blames a social media staffer for hitting the wrong button

Somebody sent out a tweet with the phrase “#FireVanGorder,” referring to defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Kelly’s Twitter account liked that tweet. Kelly insisted it wasn’t his fault.

“I have a number of people that manage my twitter account,” he said. “Obviously, going through it somebody unfortunately made a mistake as they were scrolling through and inadvertently hit it. It was just an unfortunate mistake made by one of my staff members.”

He’s probably telling the truth. Many public figures do have Twitter accounts run by a bunch of people. But I think it’s funny that even with Twitter, Kelly had to say it was a mistake by somebody else.

Kelly fired VanGorder less than a week later.

Sept. 25, 2016: Kelly blames Notre Dame’s heart after Duke loss

Notre Dame lost at home to a team that had just lost to Wake Forest and Northwestern. Kelly focused on his team’s lack of motivation.

"If you want to play for me moving forward, you better … have some damn fire and energy in you. We lack it. Severely."

He specifically had criticism for Kizer, saying his QB play was "below standard" and "not acceptable" after Kizer threw for a career-high 381 yards and led the team in rushing.

Nov. 22, 2016

After the Irish were hit with NCAA violations for an athletic trainer giving players academic help in 2012 and 2013:

It’s certainly plausible that he had nothing to do with it, but there’s probably a more graceful way to put it.

Pretty much always: Kelly yells

All coaches yell at players sometimes, of course. Kelly just has a history of being madder and redder than the average coach.

College football head coach is one of the most powerful positions in sports.

He’s not just a coach. He’s also a GM, a teacher, a judge, and a jury. Coaches decide which players make their team, tell those players what plays to run, tells those players what they are and aren’t allowed to do off the field, and punishes those players if they break the rules he made.

They are responsible for everything. Even if they’re not responsible for something, it’s their job to say they’re responsible. This is the deal: coaches make millions of dollars and players only make scholarships, but at least the coach takes the bulk of the blame publicly.

Kelly has repeatedly shirked that responsibility. He repeatedly criticizes his players in public, a trait that makes him look bad and probably doesn’t help the development of his players.

(It’s important to note plenty of actual bad things have happened off the field during Kelly’s tenure.)

Notre Dame has been good at football for most of his tenure. Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis led Notre Dame to farts. Kelly has gotten the team to a national championship game and New Year’s bowl games without a single losing season. And when that’s true, people ignore the yelling.

But now the Irish are 2-4, and it’s going to be an uphill battle to bowl eligibility. So we’re going to talk about the yelling.