Everett Golson will transfer from Notre Dame and reportedly be eligible to quarterback another team in 2015, and this is precisely the best thing for both Golson and the school. Theirs was a poisoned partnership by now, the relationship eroded all the way to the foundation. Golson’s tantalizing arm and dangerous feet didn’t produce the results to match, and his erratic performances unspooled coach Brian Kelly’s confidence in a seemingly ideal spread-offense orchestrator. Once that lack of confidence led to Golson’s benching for last December's Music City Bowl, whatever goodwill Kelly had built by welcoming Golson back following an academic suspension was atomized. The idea that the quarterback would fight to win a job he’d won twice before was just another prayer at the Grotto.
What happened instead is what everyone expected, because it simply makes the most sense. If the Fighting Irish are staggered by the news in the moment—though that’s doubtful—they should be galvanized by it for the next four months.
Golson’s ticket out of town should help Notre Dame commit to its best approach to the 2015 season, when one of the nation’s best offensive lines and a trove of tailback talent should prescribe the path to a potential College Football Playoff berth. There will be no temptation for Kelly or offensive coordinator Mike Sanford to play quarterback whisperer. There will be no backslide into counterproductive, genius-mode play-calling. The Irish will have no choice but to run first, second and as often as possible, alleviating the burden on a first-time starter (Malik Zaire) and a risk-taking defense. It’s an uncomplicated path to 10-plus wins this fall—minimum competency, given the Irish’s schedule—and it is the ideal plan whether Golson was on campus or not.
The good news is Kelly said as much after his club’s spring game on April 18— “We’ll continue to go to our strength, which we believe is up front,” the Irish coach proclaimed—in what now makes him seem almost prescient. As if, you know, he could see this exact dynamic playing out in less than a month’s time.
Which, apparently, he did.
“We, of course, have approached our preparations for the upcoming season with this possibility in mind,” Kelly said in a statement released on Thursday. “The emergence of Malik Zaire, based on his performance in the Music City Bowl win over LSU, and throughout spring practice, has given our staff supreme confidence that he can lead our team to great success in 2015.”
Surely, the pearl- or rosary-clutching now begins for Zaire, the 6-foot lefty with 35 career passing attempts, all coming in the final two games of the 2014 campaign. There is no guarantee he will take better care of the football than Golson, who coughed up 22 turnovers in his final 10 outings at Notre Dame.
But the best way to limit Zaire’s failures is to limit his opportunities to fail. And the best way to do that is to deploy backs Tarean Folston, C.J. Prosise and Greg Bryant unremittingly, taking full advantage of an offensive line that is as deep as any Kelly has enjoyed in South Bend. The Irish roster, in fact, should force this philosophy into reality. Never mind the idea of protecting Zaire against mistakes borne of inexperience; there won’t be any viable alternatives but Zaire to whom Kelly can turn. Quarterback DeShone Kizer will be a hulking sophomore who didn’t see a snap in 2014. Brandon Wimbush is a freshman who will arrive this summer.
Kelly’s pain threshold with quarterbacks is lower when he knows he has another option on hand. He won’t have any option but Zaire in 2015, meaning Notre Dame should have no option but to stick to a ground-focused plan.
Golson, meanwhile, won’t be without a home for long. The very qualities that made him a bit of a corrosive element for Notre Dame—the arm, the athleticism and the untapped potential—will make him irresistible to other coaching staffs convinced there is more raw material to mine and refine.
This is, after all, a quarterback with 5,890 passing yards and 41 touchdowns to his name, not to mention the experience of playing in a national title game. He will be someone’s best option this fall, and he won’t be dredging the gutters of college football when he is. One staffer at a major-conference program, when notified of Golson’s intent to move, immediately replied: “Florida State?”
A transfer is the smartest move Golson could make, as there was no assurance Notre Dame would make the same investment to him that a quarterback-starved program would. For the Irish faithful who wish Golson’s exit came earlier, so Zaire would not have shared snaps during spring practice, consider Kelly’s remarks on Thursday. Zaire, in all likelihood, got every bit of work he needed. (And in staying, Golson completed his degree, which Notre Dame fans are quick to point out is kind of a big deal.)
For the sectors of observers that wish Golson would have stayed and battled to reclaim his starting spot: That’s cute, and tantamount to expecting a water-into-wine miracle. Golson didn’t owe Notre Dame more than what he’d already given it. Now, he’s free to seek fulfillment elsewhere.
Besides, the mercurial career of Golson ends with a gift. He will transfer away and take the promise of a fleet-footed, field-stretching, veteran dual-threat prototype with him. He has delivered Notre Dame and Kelly from temptation in 2015, while delivering the best excuse possible to play to the roster’s self-evident strengths.
It’s the best conceivable ending to a relationship that broke bad. Golson walks away, and Notre Dame is off and running.
at Boston College