By JOHN FINERAN
Special To woodypaige.com
It’s been a rough five months for Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, who will be back in 2017 despite a 4-8 finish by the Irish. But The Heat Is On.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who extended Kelly last January through the 2021 season, gave his beleaguered coach a vote of confidence during the season. Swarbrick then re-emphasized his support for Kelly after the season concluded with a 45-27 loss at Southern California during which Adoree’ Jackson returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns for the Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
That hasn’t sat well with some alumni, who paid for ads in the school newspaper, The Observer, and last Sunday’s South Bend Tribune urging the school to fire both Swarbrick and Kelly.
Prior to the season, six Irish players were involved with two separate incidents with law enforcement, with one player (Max Redfield) booted from the team by Kelly and another (Devin Butler) suspended.
Then the Irish, who were ranked in some preseason polls inside the Top 10, underachieved, losing the opener at Texas in two overtimes, 50-47. After a 38-35 home loss against Duke in late September dropped the Irish to 1-3, Kelly fired his hand-picked defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. But the Irish won only three of their next eight games.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the NCAA put Notre Dame on academic probation for academic fraud and ordered the school to vacate the 21 victories earned by Kelly’s teams in the 2012 and ’13 seasons. The school is appealing the ruling.
Earlier this week, quarterback DeShone Kizer, who was named one of the team’s seven captains for next season, announced he would skip his final two seasons of eligibility to enter the 2017 NFL Draft.
Then Wednesday, Kelly’s coaching staff lost two more coordinators. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford Jr. left to become the youngest Football Bowls Subdivision head coach – at age 34 – at Western Kentucky, which last week saw Jeff Brohm leave to become head coach at Purdue.
Meanwhile, special teams coach Scott Booker, who also was tight ends coach and an important recruiter, was fired, according to the South Bend Tribune.
Without vacating the victories in the two seasons, Kelly is 59-31 since leaving Cincinnati after the 2009 season. And next season, after he reshapes his staff and turns to a new quarterback, expected to be the red-shirted Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame’s season is as follows: Sept. 2Temple at home; Sept. 9 Georgia at home; Sept. 16 at Boston College; Sept. 23 at Michigan State; Sept. 30 Miami (Ohio) at home; Oct. 7 at North Carolina; Oct. 21 USC at home; Oct. 28North Carolina State at home; Nov. 4 Wake Forest at home; Nov. 11 at Miami, Fla.; Nov. 18 Navy at home; Nov. 25 at Stanford.
At Notre Dame, where the high Thursday is expected to be 11 degrees, The Heat Is On. Right, Glenn?
Another excellent documentary you must see is “MLB Network Presents: Joy in Wrigleyville.” It celebrates the end of the Chicago Cubs’ 108-year championship drought through the eyes of some of their long-suffering, passionate fans. Don’t be surprised if you wipe away a few tears watching it. It’s that good.
Here’s how one long-time Cubs fan chose to decorate his family’s Christmas tree, posting on Facebook, “(His wife) was gone tonight so I surprised her and finished decorating the tree without her.”
In case you need a reminder of the moment that frustration finally ended, watch the crowd reaction as the marquee outside Wrigley Field at the corner of Clark and Addison changed at11:46 p.m. Central time on Nov. 2, 2016 and tell me you don’t get goosebumps:
HE’S GOT THE FEVER … FOR MORE SLEIGH BELL?
Remember that classic Saturday Night Live skit where Will Farrell, Jimmy Fallon and others from the comedy show portray members of Blue Oyster Cult recording their hit song, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper?” Farrell is seen pounding a cowbell enthusiastically (Fallon and others in the skit have to stifle their laughter). But it was not good enough for their producer, played by the Academy Award-winning actor Walken, who begs for more cowbell.
(John Fineran has covered sporting events for more than 40 years for newspapers in Michigan, Indiana, Florida and his native New Jersey. When your football team goes 4-8, Christmas can’t come soon enough.)