May 26, 2013

Crossing The Lines

Brian Kelly asks a lot from his players.

But what the head coach demands is simple.

Reduce the motivational murals inside the Guglielmino Center to one message and you get what the players say before every practice and every game: Count on me.

Notre Dame can't count on Everett Golson.

That's the harsh truth that led to the predictable departure of Notre Dame's historically successful quarterback.

Multiple sources told Irish Illustrated that Golson's departure hinges on academic misconduct. Sources also told Irish Illustrated that Golson's offense wasn't his first, which would maintain the precedent of a semester departure for punishment.

On Sunday Golson admitted to "poor academic judgment" in a statement released to multiple media outlets.

"I have been informed by the University of Notre Dame that due to my poor academic judgment that I have been suspended from the University for the 2013 Fall Term," Golson said. "I take full responsibility for my poor choices and will do all that is asked of me to regain the trust of my family, friends, teammates, coaches and the entire Notre Dame community."

Former Notre Dame players have returned from these kinds of mistakes. They've come back to graduate, come back to develop into NFL talents. Golson could pay the same price and follow the same path. And while it's easy to imagine Kelly wanting Golson back, it's hard to imagine the head coach trusting a quarterback whose eligibility would be a constant question.

It's clear Tommy Rees is the answer in the short term, even if that means a job share with Andrew Hendrix or Malik Zaire. It's nowhere near as obvious that Golson could get his job back after letting down the entire program, from the head coach to the last walk-on.

Some will point to Rees' arrest and one-game suspension last season as evidence a quarterback can lead a personal comeback in just months. But the University's reputation isn't built momentary lapses in judgment. It's built on student-athletes performing in the classroom and doing their own work.

That Golson failed to keep up academically despite being surrounded by the best academic support staff in major college football is inexplicable. The University provides its student-athletes with every opportunity to succeed as long as they're willing to work.

Notre Dame's graduation rate isn't tops in college football because the school is too hard.

Obviously, it's been a bad calendar year for the program, starting with the BCS National Championship Game. Kelly's NFL flirtation followed. Then came the Manti Te'o hoax and national overreaction. Gunner Kiel, Davonte' Neal and Justin Ferguson all quit this spring. Lately it's been the Eddie Vanderdoes drama.

Now this.

All that negative momentum will frame the Golson departure. But if Notre Dame survived Tyrone Willingham, the worst contract extension in college football history and a 3-9 season, it can survive its starting quarterback embarrassing the program.

For all the nonsense of the past five months, Kelly remains the head coach. And as long as he's running this program, Notre Dame should continue to scratch out wins, even if this year feels like it will include fewer of them.

If there was ever a moment for Notre Dame to put the finishing touches on Kelly's contract extension, this is that moment. For all the focus on the identity of Notre Dame's next quarterback, the University needs to acknowledge its most important employee in public.

The identity of the head coach can't change. A new contract can assure that it won't.

Remember that Everett Golson started just 11 games.

Remember that Brian Kelly won 199 of them.

Notre Dame's immediate future darkened on Saturday when the news broke of Golson's departure. With questions at every position on offense other than left tackle and left guard, there's no debating that point. Even if Golson returns as expected his credibility has been damaged to the point that wins won't automatically repair it.

"My parents and the community I grew up in have instilled values in me that have and will continue to allow me to be successful in the future," Golson said. "There have been many lessons learned as I worked to become the starting quarterback at Notre Dame and each was a result of coach Kelly's belief in me as an athlete and a person.

"At this point, I understand how my integrity could be in question but I want to reassure my supporters that through this experience I will return a better student athlete as well as a better individual.
"Lastly, I want to thank the University of Notre Dame for the opportunity already granted and also the opportunity going forth to regain my eligibility in the winter of 2014."

With one of the nation's top recruiting classes coming in - even minus Vanderdoes - and another top class under construction, these crises can be more detour than dead end.

So whether it's Rees, Hendrix or Zaire next season, the most critical part of the Notre Dame football program remains its head coach and his assistants. If the University can convince Kelly and staff to stick around to weather these storms, Notre Dame can continue to win big for the long haul.

Count on that.

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