Just a minute: Why did Brian Kelly get a coach of the year award?
Someone owes us all an explanation.
Thursday night, the Home Depot Awards were held at the College Football Hall of Fame, and like usual it was hailed as a celebration of the sport, the athletes and a number of very deserving recipients.
But one award bothered me, and I still don’t understand why the person who won was honored.
It’s the Home Depot Coach of the Year, which went to Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.
It’s the third time he’s won the award, which is voted on by broadcasters at ESPN and ABC. Kelly’s the only multiple winner. He's also been named the winner of this year's Stallings Award, which is presented to the coach who "celebrates humanitarian contributions along with on-field achievements."
According to the accompanying release, Kelly and his wife, Paqui, founded the Kelly Cares Foundation and since 2008 they have raised over $4.6 million to causes locally, nationally and globally through the foundation. In 2014, the Saint Joseph Health System announced the creation of the Paqui and Brian Kelly Comprehensive Breast Center.
However, to say that Kelly's years with the Fighting Irish have been controversial would be a massive understatement. There have been multiple scandals, albeit not recently.
In 2010, a 20-year-old student died while filming the team's practice when the hydraulic lift he was on crashed due to high wind gusts exceeding 50 mph.
Then there’s the freshman at nearby St. Mary’s College who committed suicide after accusing a Notre Dame football player of sexual battery.
Notre Dame forged ahead, and in 2012 went 12-0 during the regular season and Kelly was named the Home Depot Coach of the Year.
Those wins were vacated in 2016 due to academic misconduct by a student athletic trainer. The award wasn’t vacated, though.
In a way, Alabama was more punishing on the field, crushing Notre Fame in the National Championship Game, 42-14.
Even if you don’t believe any of that should matter for a 2018 honor, then I pose a simple question:
What did Notre Dame do this season that warrants Kelly getting a coach of the year award?
The Fighting Irish are 12-0 and have earned their first berth in the College Football Playoff, but it’s not like Notre Dame was a big surprise this season.
For example, in his preseason magazine Phil Steele had it at No. 8 in his rankings and projected the Fighting Irish to be in the Rose Bowl.
Notre Dame’s biggest victory this season was the season opener against Michigan. Numerous teams on its schedule like USC and Stanford didn’t meet expectations, which isn’t the Fighting Irish’s fault, but that only makes some of the other results stand out even more.
Like Ball State 24-16, Vanderbilt 22-17 and Pitt 19-14.
Coach of the year?
There were other coaches who have had an undefeated season, which has much bigger challenges to overcome.
Nick Saban, for example, had to replace all three coordinators, had six new assistant coaches and saw 22 players selected in the last two NFL drafts combined.
Saban, who has won six national championships, has been named the Home Depot Coach of the Year only once, 2008, for a season in which he didn’t win a title.
But I’ll give you someone else’s name, a coach who really knows about overcoming adversity and exceeding expectations this season: Bill Clark at UAB.
When Notre Dame was going through its last scandal, the UAB program was killed. It came back in 2017, and this season the Blazers are conference champions.