Brian Kelly’s impossible task of following up an unexpected visit to the BCS National Championship Game is becoming increasingly difficult with each offseason blow.
It was a visit that arrived a year or two earlier than most anticipated, although the excitement from this dramatic rise has been short-lived. The goodwill from his team’s rapid resurgence is seemingly absent, which is both unfair but not surprising given recent turbulence.
The Irish's 12-0 record seems like a forgotten milestone.
Much like Notre Dame’s 2012 regular season, the offseason is starting to have a similar feel: unexpected, full of bizarre twists and a stranglehold on national headlines. Unlike the Irish’s incredible unbeaten campaign, however, the losses are beginning to mount.
In fact, outside of a magnificent recruiting class landed in February—although even this has produced its own bit of unsolved drama—the past five months have been tiresome and relentless.
The latest drama, of course, surrounds starting quarterback Everett Golson, who will not play for Notre Dame during the 2013 season. His future at the school beyond that is up in the air.
Although details are still hazy about the direct cause, tidbits surrounding this unexpected development are beginning to come to light. Academics, in some form, are the root of it all.
Everett Golson's statement to Tom Rinaldi cites "poor academic judgment."— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) May 26, 2013
For an offense that will feature new faces all around, this will likely be be the most damning development of them all. The Golson news, however, has company. And it all started back on January 7.
The 42-14 beatdown Alabama handed Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game could be summed up in one moment. Not a Manti Te’o missed tackle or Notre Dame three-and-out, both of which were featured regularly, but rather, Brian Kelly’s halftime encounter while heading to the locker room.
His response tells a story; the second half followed the script.
As they say, the rest is history. Distant history for the Irish, who still had a magnificent season despite closing with a whimper. Yet the incredible ground made up feels somehow lost.
With the Notre Dame wounds still fresh, Kelly engaged in serious conversations with the Philadelphia Eagles about taking the vacant coaching position immediately after his team was blown out.
At the beginning of these conversations, it felt like he was simply leveraging for more money. As it dragged out, however, the silence became deafening. He eventually turned down the NFL, although what a week it was.
Kelly then handed the headline baton off to former linebacker and Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o only days later. The stretch continued.
As the Kelly rumors cooled, Deadspin’s comprehensive piece on Te’o’s catfish story created a frenzy. It prompted a whirlwind of questions, timeline checklists, bizarre statements and cryptic interviews. Kelly, who became aware of the Te’o situation in December, was put in an impossible spot.
He was forced to sit on the information, all while behind-the-scenes investigations took place and Notre Dame prepared for the biggest game in its history. Kelly went to bat for Te’o a few weeks after the game, arguing that it didn’t impact his performance, although the head coach’s influence throughout the bizarre situation remains unclear.
As the Te’o news faded away, Notre Dame had more than a month of calm.
Then blue-chip recruit and freshman quarterback Gunner Kiel said goodbye to the Irish in early March, announcing he was transferring. It was the least surprising (but still newsworthy) offseason event of them all.
Given Kiel’s eventful recruitment and Golson’s solid foundation as the team’s starter—at least at the time—this departure seemed imminent. Still, a position of strength and incredible depth became that much weaker. Months later, and it’s a much different picture under center.
Even Notre Dame’s lone bright spot during the offseason suddenly has a dark cloud overhead. After landing the No. 3 class in the country, according to 247Sports, the commitment of the crown jewel of the class is up in the air.
The No. 6 overall player, defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, may or may not be reporting to campus, according to Joe Davidson of the Sacramento Bee. At the moment, no one knows where he’ll end up in 2013 or the back story for the sudden change.
Vanderdoes’ father has only added more fuel to the fire, with much of this remaining a mystery.
Vanderdoes Dad: "When Eddie explains his side it will shed some light."— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) May 23, 2013
On the topic of unknown futures, this brings us full circle to the current (and latest) situation that Kelly has been thrown into.
Although Golson’s absence for the 2013 season is now clear, rumors are also circulating that Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels could be close behind.
Many are expecting Daniels to take a dramatic leap forward during the 2013 season, and his loss would be devastating. That would be one more key weapon for the Irish to replace.
Keith Arnold of NBC Sports acknowledged this amid rapid speculation, although nothing has been confirmed.
Hearing that even DaVaris Daniels is unsure of his own fate. That, plus Golson news reminds you no offseason is truly off in South Bend.— Keith Arnold (@KeithArnoldNBC) May 26, 2013
Still, it generates even more uneasiness for an offseason that has become all too familiar with distractions and bad news. Although, at the moment, Notre Dame has only lost its starting quarterback for the 2013 season, the new year has not been kind.
Kelly, of course, will be tasked with winning football games the moment August 31 rolls around. If he does that, the offseason will be forgotten, much like the national championship game now feels like a blur. Winning cures all, and it’ll be his job to shift momentum back in the other direction.
The good news: Notre Dame’s defense, despite the loss of Manti Te’o, will be one of the nation’s best. The roster as a whole has been infused with young, impressive talent thanks to tremendous recruiting over the past few years. Although there are distractions, losses and possibly more to come, the Irish are set up to win over the long haul.
But the pressure will be enormous, just like it always is in South Bend. Kelly can’t be blamed for much of what has transpired in recent months, but he will be blamed if the results don’t come. He has set the bar incredibly high, and the expectations have morphed drastically in one year.
Whether this bottomless pit of an offseason impacts this will be known in the coming months, although nothing has come easy of late. And it’s only May.