It took less than one game into his second year at Notre Dame for Brian Kelly to draw the inevitable bull's-eye that comes with coaching the nation's most polarizing program.
Yes, a season-opening loss to South Florida, which was beginning its 11th season as an FBS program, was seen as unforgivable. But what really brought attention to South Bend, Ind., after one week was what happened on the sideline, as Kelly lost his temper on several occasions, turning purple in the face with anger and becoming fodder for national analysts and opposing fan bases after the Irish's five-turnover showing.
The National Catholic Register had strong words for Kelly's actions. During ESPN's "College GameDay" broadcast the following week, a fan in the Michigan crowd held up a picture of Kelly at his worst from a week before, with the admittedly funny caption: "UMad Bro?"
Kelly, for his part, admitted afterward that he needed to do a better job of knowing that the camera is on him at all times. Then came a fourth-quarter collapse at the Big House -- a game that featured five more turnovers -- and, well, who with a rooting interest in Notre Dame wasn't turning all sorts of different colors in the face after two early unthinkable losses doomed preseason expectations?
As the Sporting News' Matt Hayes wrote after the game:
If I’m Brian Kelly, you know what I say?
You want to coach this schizophrenic Notre Dame team? See how far you get without uttering a four-letter bomb.
The day Kelly becomes Ward Cleaver is the day Notre Dame looks for another coach. Until then, he’ll keep doing everything he can to win games – while on the sideline watching the unfathomable follow the unreal.
All of it against his Irish.
Kelly isn't the first football coach to get mad on the sideline and he won't be the last. He ended up going the rest of the season without any sideline dust-ups like the ones in the opener -- even if his team's performances in losses to USC and Florida State gave him every reason to -- and he is generally as media savvy as any college football coach around. When I asked readers for their opinions on Kelly's demeanor earlier this year, the response was overwhelmingly one-sided: We don't care, so long as he wins games.
The pressures of any college head-coaching job is a stress none of us can imagine. Throw in the circumstances at Notre Dame -- with alumni and fans spread all over the nation, huge expectations despite a mediocre recent history and many more restrictions than other power schools -- and it's easy to see why one can lose his cool every now and then.
At Notre Dame, everything is bigger. You'll probably get too much blame for losing and, as we've seen in the past year, you'll get too much criticism for the way you handle yourself on game day. But, as we learned in the early years of Charlie Weis, that works the other way, too. Win games, and the narrative changes: Notre Dame's coach becomes the villain for an entirely different reason.