Draft Letter to the BOT, COA, and Fr. Jenkins
Edited on 2016-12-09 15:41:16
Dear Members of the Board of Trustees, the Committee on Athletics, and Fr. Jenkins:
We write to express and explain our belief that Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick should be removed from their respective positions as Head Football Coach and Director of Athletics. We alumni and fans of Notre Dame love this University and always will. But changes are necessary.
The football program’s performance, particularly during the past four years, has fallen well short of Notre Dame’s standards, on and off the field. Coach Kelly, with the support of Mr. Swarbrick, has been granted the resources and latitude to succeed, and he has not done so. Both men have done good things for and at Notre Dame. But both have established an alarming tendency toward poor judgment and leadership, leading to an increasingly adversarial relationship with alumni and fans. We will discuss each in turn.
Neither Coach Kelly's seven-year record nor any multi-year subset has been satisfactory. He has coached one outstanding season, one enjoyable 10-3 season diminished by an inability to win any of the three games played against strong competition, and five seasons that have ranged from disappointing to disastrous.
We do not ignore the 2012 season. That year was special, and both Coach Kelly and his players deserve full credit for the achievements and memories of that season. As we write today, however, the wins from that season may be vacated, due to an academic cheating scandal that occurred on Coach Kelly's watch. You will further remember that season ended poorly, with a lopsided bowl loss and news that Coach Kelly -- while still in Miami -- had interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The four years since 2012 have not gone well. He has posted a 31-20 record in that time. From 2013-2016, using end-of-season Associated Press rankings, Kelly's ND teams went 1-6 against top-ten teams and 4-13 against top-25 teams. His 22-16 record over the last three seasons, history tells us, is below Notre Dame's standards. A 21-16 record was poor enough to end Tyrone Willingham's ND tenure in 2004, and it is no more impressive now.
We also want to emphasize that the four teams since 2012 have been entirely Coach Kelly's. They represent the best evidence to use in forecasting the future. Those four seasons do not reveal or predict success. In that entire time span, Notre Dame has exactly one notable win, against Michigan State in 2013. The same period saw two blowout losses to our rival, Southern Cal, as well as losses to Duke, Northwestern, and Navy.
Obviously, the most recent season has been the worst. A quick summary:
• 4-8 record;
• No wins over ranked teams;
• Four losses to teams currently unranked: a convincing loss to 3-9 Michigan State, as well as losses to 5-7 Texas, 4-8 Duke, and 6-6 NC State; and
• Scoring offenses and defenses ranked outside the national top 50.
A 4-8 record of that nature, in year seven, against that opposition, would be damning in isolation. As the culmination of an underwhelming four-year run, it should end his tenure at Notre Dame. His dismal record against top-ten and top-25 teams, his losses to unranked teams, and his failure to field a competitive team in a major bowl game makes this argument self-evident to everyone but his boss.
Finally, much has been made of Coach Kelly's lapses in self-control and deflections of blame. His deficits in judgment and leadership have been uncomfortable to witness and have been reflected on and off the field. Some say we magnify the faults of those we follow most closely. But we ask you, do you approve of Coach Kelly's sideline tirade against TJ Jones, his shameful postgame comments after losses -- particularly after the 2011 USC game and the 2016 NC State game -- and his physical altercation with David Grimes? Do you find it acceptable that, when asked about his own accountability for the NCAA violations, he defiantly and immediately retorted, "Zero. None"? Do you find it coincidental that the 2016 team lacked leadership, when six players were arrested within weeks of the Texas game? These are just a few examples. This undisciplined behavior has spread beyond the coach's desk, impacting not merely the play on the field, but the reputation of the program itself.
Making a coaching change is never without risk, but Notre Dame should never stop reaching for success. And the risk itself may be overstated – despite a series of coaching changes during Coach Kelly’s tenure, USC and Michigan lost no ground to Notre Dame, and now (at least in Michigan’s case) appear to be heading in the right directions under the right coaches. Not making a coaching change after this season would be, in our view, a missed opportunity.
Like Coach Kelly, Mr. Swarbrick has had time to establish his own track record, and that record has in several material respects been underwhelming. While is true Mr. Swarbrick has done little harm to men's and women's basketball (though both programs are still without acceptable practice facilities), and Olympic sports continue their strong record of success, we will be candid: our greatest source of disappointment is Mr. Swarbrick’s stewardship of the football program. Football is the sport that attracts eight-figure capital spending projects. Football is the sport for which Notre Dame charges as much as $150 a ticket. You do not apologize for the role football plays among Notre Dame sports, and neither do we.
Jack Swarbrick hired Coach Kelly and now, it appears, refuses to fire him. Over and over, Mr. Swarbrick has compounded errors through his attempts to rationalize them. This most recently occurred this season. He painted himself into a corner in mid-October, declaring -- when Notre Dame's record was 2-5 -- that Coach Kelly would "lead the team out of the tunnel” in 2017.
Having placed himself in a hole, he defied the applicable rule and asked for a shovel. It arrived in the form of an "interview" conducted by an athletic-department employee, Jack Nolan. In a series of scripted leading questions, void of follow up, the two agreed that merely qualifying for bowl games was evidence of a "consistent level of success," referenced Stanford (where David Shaw has gone 63-17) as a comparable program, and repeatedly spoke in dismissive, even mocking tones about the alumni and fans that have stood by this program for generations.
Where was this outspoken leader when Notre Dame players were injured by non-penalized targeting hits? Why was Coach Kelly, and not Mr. Swarbrick, left to address the NCAA sanctions? To speak frankly, we found and continue to find this pattern of behavior inexcusable.
We believe Mr. Swarbrick’s continued unwillingness to do what is needed with respect to Coach Kelly necessitates his own resignation or removal.
We are all well-aware of the devotion of Notre Dame fans. A quick comparison of Notre Dame season-and single-game ticket prices to those at Clemson, LSU, and even Alabama is compelling evidence of (among other things) our loyalty. Please keep in mind that ignoring or deriding the passion of one’s supporters is no way to extend its lifetime.
We will close as we opened: Notre Dame alumni will stand by this University as long as it exists. But make no mistake, we will stand up for it with equal passion.
Thank you for your consideration.