SOUTH BEND -- Winning will soothe the indignation of ND Nation.
That’s the only mea culpa Notre Dame football fans care to accept.
Brian Kelly doesn’t already know it by now, he’ll find out in the near future.
Pride and passion are at the core of an Irish football fan. The beat-all, end-all job, in their perspective, is that of head football coach at Notre Dame.
There’s a reason they plunk down thousands of dollars and travel en masse no matter where the Notre Dame circus happens to set up its tents.
Having a brief fling with that NFL mistress is hard for them to fathom. Fidelity to the cause is a basic premise to the position. Loyalty is as essential as an All-American linebacker.
This breach of faith can be worse than a breach of contract.
Now that Kelly has forsaken the tempting siren, what will the damage to his public perception be?
Within his program, professional protocol will be understood. That’s where those involved are able to accept the business end of the proposition. Hot commodities get that sort of attention every year.
High risk, high reward.
The biggest concern may have been how players and recruits were left in the lurch. That three-day window — from Kelly’s Tuesday interview with the Philadelphia Eagles to Saturday’s announcement that he would be returning — was a time of silence that allowed negative recruiting against the Irish to be heard loud and clear.
The one apparent casualty may have been University of Florida early-enrollee linebacker Alex Anzalone, though the whole of his recruiting process made Gunner Kiel’s last year seem normal.
Dealing with the campus community might be more difficult for Kelly now. In their eyes, the university’s highest-paid, most high-profile employee obviously didn’t feel his situation was good enough. He sent that message to them in no uncertain terms.
Kelly had been a welcome relief to the Notre Dame world beyond the Gug, after the bull-in-a-china-shop approach of Charlie Weis.
Now, maybe Charlie wasn’t so bad, after all.
Fans may hold a grudge the longest. So many felt betrayed by a guy who had the audacity to consider that coaching at Notre Dame wasn’t a privilege to be treasured until he was told he couldn’t coach there anymore.
Fired or retired.
That’s the way it has always been — a destination, packed with plenty of clout and cash. How dare some carpet bagger make Notre Dame a three-year stopover before something better comes along.
Given his history, Kelly has been plagued by the three-year itch. Central Michigan and Cincinnati were both places he barely had time to unpack before he was gone.
This most recent interlude would have been a mid-life crisis for the 51-year-old Kelly.
The word “fan” is derived from “fanatic.” That word implies someone who sometimes might not think logically, or whose perception might be skewed by allegiance. Though he might try, it’s going to be really hard for Kelly to talk his way off this slippery slope.
He backed himself into a tough corner more than a week ago when he said during the buildup for the BCS National Championship Game that leaving Notre Dame “is not an option.”
Obviously, a few days later, it was.
Lou Holtz always said a coach should never be held accountable for what he says at a pep rally.
Kelly just came up with a different twist to that train of thought.
Those are words that won’t go away anytime soon. That will be a big part of the damage control he’ll have to take on with his team, his colleagues, his recruits, the media and the fans.
More words will only go so far in the healing process. There’s a wide chasm between forgiving and forgetting.
Winning would build the bridge.