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Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly doesn’t know when to say when

Notre Dame football players Michael Floyd (left) Tommy Rees (center) Carlo Calabrese have all had alcohol-related incidents under coach Brian

Notre Dame football players Michael Floyd (left), Tommy Rees (center) and Carlo Calabrese have all had alcohol-related incidents under coach Brian Kelly.

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Updated: May 17, 2012 9:49PM



Everybody on the Notre Dame football team wants to be the next Michael Floyd. What a surprise.

Former Vernon Hills High School star DaVaris Daniels became the third Notre Dame football player involved in an alcohol-related incident in the past month when he was one of 29 people cited for underage drinking at a party in Vernon Hills earlier this week.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly shouldn’t be surprised. Kelly made an example of Floyd and his teammates are following it. Isn’t that what you expect from a ‘‘leader?’’

Kelly’s handling of Floyd’s DUI arrest last year was a big win for Floyd, Kelly and Notre Dame. Floyd could have been kicked out of school and kicked off the team after a third alcohol-related incident since coming to Notre Dame. Instead, he was able to resume his college career without missing even a game by adhering to an unspecified set of conditions that proved he had altered his behavior.

Though it seemed like bad parenting, it was outstanding coaching. Floyd had 100 receptions for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns, stayed off the police blotter and is in line for a $10 million (guaranteed) contract after being the 13th overall pick in the NFL draft. And Kelly kept most of his critics at bay with an 8-5 season that could easily have been 5-8 without Floyd.

But Kelly neglected to consider one factor in resurrecting Floyd’s college career: He had 84 other players on his team. Sure enough, the heretofore feel-good Floyd story seems to have an unintended — but not unexpected — negative consequence. Now other Notre Dame players seem to think they can cross the line and get away with it.

Kelly is an excellent coach who will win at Notre Dame if he can ever figure how to keep difference-making players like Aaron Lynch on the team. And having covered the Irish in Kelly’s first year in 2010, I’m convinced he’s more sincere than most about his commitments to team, family, charity, citizenship and the student-athlete concept.

But he has an odd standard of discipline that I think is costing him. Weeks after paving the way for Floyd to rejoin the team after a third alcohol-related incident without missing a game, Kelly suspended freshman defensive end Stephon Tuitt for the Purdue game because Tuitt missed a class. Even considering the circumstances (Floyd’s offense was in the offseason; Tuitt’s was during the season), it doesn’t seem right that missing a class costs you a game, but a DUI does not.

And it’s not just that. Prior to Kelly’s first season in July, 2010, eight football players were arrested for alcohol-related charges (mostly underage drinking) stemming from an off-campus party. The discipline was handled internally, as it always is at Notre Dame. But it appeared to be a harsh talking-to and a slap on the wrist. None of the players missed a game.

‘‘This was a teachable moment,’’ Kelly told reporters during a break at a charity function in Chicago a week after the incident. ‘‘It was dealt with with the appropriate attention and our players clearly know that I’m not happy about reading about Notre Dame in the newspaper when it comes to things like this. They’ll have a very short leash. I want to see positive things in the paper. We had a meeting about it. I met with our team on Sunday. They clearly know how I feel about it.’’

My issue with that incident is that it occurred three months after incoming freshman Matt James died when he fell off a hotel balcony during spring break with a blood-alcohol level of 0.19. When I asked Kelly if he was disappointed that the offending players didn’t learn from that previous ‘‘teachable moment,’’ I was unimpressed with his defensive response.

‘‘I think if you’re saying that South Bend is the only place in the world where that occurs, then maybe that would be true,’’ he said. ‘‘But these are things we deal with in society all over the country. Everybody’s working to teach and communicate about making good choices. But I don’t think it’s isolated to South Bend, Ind. or the Notre Dame football team. Yeah, bad choices. We’re going to hit them right over the head again with how to make good choices. We’re going to hope that the guys model and lead the right way.

‘‘But it just tells you about your job as a coach or a parent — you don’t get time off. You don’t get time off from being a good dad. You have to do it every day. And when we don’t have contact with our players, every so often they can make some bad choices. So we’re excited about getting the chance to get back with these guys.’’

After two years, Kelly is still facing the same issues. And I don’t care how many other programs are facing similar problems. Notre Dame is all about being different, being better and setting its own standard of excellence. The university can’t pick and choose when it decides to abide by that guideline.

Regardless, Notre Dame’s football program doesn’t seem to be faring very well by any standard in recent years — maybe because Brian Kelly hasn’t learned from his own teachable moments. You give a football player the choice of being ‘‘hit over the head’’ and missing football games as a punishment and he’ll take being hit over the head every time.



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