SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Brian Kelly knows there are critics everywhere unhappy with him for various reasons. Notre Dame's dismal season for one. And also his role in the death of a student videographer.
In the nearly two weeks since the death of 20-year-old Declan Sullivan, who was filming practice from a tower when it fell over on a windy day, some have called for Kelly to be fired. The head coach was the one who gave the go-ahead for practice that day when wind gusts hit 51 mph.
Kelly, who earlier called Sullivan's death the most difficult time of his life, got a vote of support last week from Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins.
Now he's trying to move ahead, if possible.
"When I decided to be the head football coach at Notre Dame, I knew that there would be a great deal of scrutiny placed upon the leadership position. So we are under that scrutiny," Kelly said Tuesday.
"I recognized that that comes with the job here at Notre Dame. But it doesn't deter me from doing the job that I came here to do, and that is to develop our football team; to win football games, and to get Notre Dame back to the upper echelon of college football. So, yes, I'm very cognizant of that, and it comes with the job. But it doesn't affect how I go to work every day."
Lou Holtz was 5-6 in his first season coaching the Irish back in 1986. Two years later they were 12-0 - the last time Notre Dame captured a national title. The loquacious Holtz went 100-30-2 in his 11 seasons at the helm of the Irish.
"If you know what you are doing and you believe in what you are doing, then be yourself and you will win," Holtz said Tuesday after giving a speech at a luncheon for his charitable foundation. "There was never any doubt in my mind that we would be successful after my first year here."
Holtz said Kelly has proven at other stops that he knows how to put together a program.
"Coach Kelly has won other places not because he has had superior talent, rather he won because he knows how to coach," Holtz said.
"Your offense isn't always going to be there due to wind, rain, competition, things like that, but defense is always the basis. The best teams we ever had, we always started with defense. It takes a while. Remember my first year at Notre Dame wasn't very good and so your first year you have to look at it and ask if you are getting better."
Notre Dame's answer to that with three games remaining would be no. But beating Utah could modify that answer.
And now the question is which Utah team will show up: the one with such a potent offense, angry about the loss? Or an emotionally depleted one after its promising season was so damaged by the talented Horned Frogs?
Kelly figures it will be more of the former.
"This is a team that's won a lot of football games. ... Generally my experience has been a team that has a lot of confidence coming in, is not all of the sudden going to lose all of their confidence," Kelly said.
"They are going to chalk it up to, `Hey, we had a bad day, let's put that behind us, maybe we don't even look at the film.' Let's get going on Notre Dame."
Notre Dame's banged up team will turn to freshman Tommy Rees to make his first start at quarterback. In relief of injured Dayne Crist, Rees threw four TD passes and also three interceptions, one near the end of the game in a 28-27 loss to Tulsa.
Crist, leading rusher Armando Allen, talented tight end Kyle Rudolph and nose guard Ian Williams are all finished for the season with injuries. And speedy slot receiver Theo Riddick will miss a third straight game with a severe ankle sprain.
Rees, an early enrollee last winter, will have to play well against a defense that was shredded for 558 yards last week by TCU, including 381 passing.
When he was put into a game against Michigan in the second week after Crist was shaken up, Rees appeared to be a bit overwhelmed. Now he says he's ready.
"Obviously now we have pressed him into position that he has to do a lot for us," Kelly said.
Junior QB Everett Golson didn't put up any staggering numbers in Notre Dame's 84th annual Blue-Gold game, but Keith Arnold writes in the spring edition of Five Things that numbers can't show how much he's improved in the offseason as a leader.
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