Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fire Brian Kelly

Since Patrick introduced me to the Brian Kelly resume I've been an interested follower in his career arc. Back when it looked like ND would hire him, I was hoping he wouldn't go, more due to my Penn State bias and therefore disdain for the Fighting Irish. But he's a brilliant coach, ND would have been stupid not to throw everything they had to get him, and Kelly realistically would have been stupid not to take the job.

My opinion changed in an instant this week, when student videographer Declan Sullivan died while filming practice for the Irish.

A few things dig into the heart of this matter for me. Perhaps I'm just a naive football fan that doesn't really know how these things work. But right now, I have trouble seeing the blame for this whole thing being placed at anyone's feet other than Kelly, with the possible exception of Jack Swarbrick - ND's AD - holding an equal share of it.

Let's start with the conditions. Swarbrick went on record with strong overtures that there was no reason to think the conditions were dangerous enough for Sullivan to be up in the lift.

In an Oct. 28 media briefing, University Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick described the weather conditions as normal at the time he crossed the field just moments before the incident. He said that “practice was normal” and “plays were being conducted with no difficulty.” Then, he added, he “experienced a pretty extraordinary burst of wind … things started flying by me that had otherwise been stationary through the practice.”

However, this appears to be in direct contrast with tweets that Sullivan made prior to practice.

"Gusts of wind up to 60 mph well today will be fun at work … I guess I've lived long enough."

As if that's not enough, he apparently tweeted while in the lift, prior to the horrific accident, that the conditions were "terrifying." It's probably logical to assume that 20 feet off the ground is no so different from ground level that Swarbrick was feeling a light breeze while Sullivan was staving off a cyclone.

So how's this have anything to do with Kelly? I put the responsibility at the feet of the guy who's driving the practices and ultimately responsible for everything going on around them. While I doubt it went so far as a cartoonish scene where Sullivan was on his knees, tearfully begging not to be sent up on the lift while a half-man-half-ogre Kelly screamed at him to get on that lift before he ate his unborn children; it's almost impossible for me to believe the head coach isn't responsible for the decision to leave the kid up there in conditions in which he never should have been.

I'm sure there's a lot more to the story. Is Kelly an expert at what conditions are safe for lifts and what aren't? I'm sure he's not. Did Kelly tell the kid he had to go up in the lift that day? I have no idea. But ultimately he's responsible for what's going on in practice. If there was a hurricane out there and he sent his kids out to practice and one of them died because of it, would he be getting a pass? No way.

So why should he get one here?

This is a tragedy that shouldn't be forgiven. There's no reason to have sent that kid up there in those conditions. And if Kelly himself didn't know any better then it's his job to make sure he's surrounded by people that can inform him so that he does. Directly or indirectly, he put that kid in mortal danger. And as such, he should bear responsibility for the consequences of those actions.


  1. Every football coach puts about 80 kids per week in mortal danger. I guess they should all be fired.

  2. Not like this, they don't. Reports I heard were that those lifts are stable up to 20 mph winds and the vast majority of teams will not allow anyone up in them if winds reach 10-15 mph. It's one thing if they send a kid up there and the thing just collapses cause of a faulty something-or-other no one knows about. But I don't know anyone that's sending a kid onto a lift in terribly dangerous conditions on a weekly basis.

  3. I think you are drawing a conclusion from a single data point, regardless of what you "heard".

    This was a tragedy, truly, and I don't seek to lessen it. Just imagining that the head coach personally sent the videographer on to the lift, or that he was intimately familiar with its safety parameters and chose to ignore them is a stretch.

    If Kelly really was responsible, it will come out with time but it is very premature to convict him on such flimsy association. It is unlikely that he was very involved with the video department at all, beyond the point where he gets the video from them.

    It seems clear that OSHA standards were violated, but it is not clear who actually violated them. Sullivan had some experience with the lift and generally those lifts require use of a safety harness. If he ignored it ... well, then he ignored it. Bad for Sullivan, bad for Notre Dame. Bad for Kelly even. But his fault? No.

    The statement issued by his parents also doesn't imply blame (I acknowledge that could change with time):

    "This week our family lost Declan Drumm Sullivan in a tragic accident on the University of Notre Dame campus in South Bend, IN. Declan loved Notre Dame. He felt privileged to have a role with the football program videotaping games and practices. The grief we feel is tempered by the knowledge that Dec was doing what he loved in the place he most wanted to be."

  4. I know Miami isn't South Bend, but you can get 30-45 mph gusts out of nowhere pretty quickly.


  5. I get what you're saying, and I don't think he's directly responsible for it. But I do think he, or Swarbrick, should be held ultimately responsible for what happened. It was Kelly's decision to practice out there, and I don't think it's a stretch for a HC - who knows pretty much where everyone is at all times - to think "Hey, maybe we shouldn't have someone up on a lift in high gusting winds."

    This is an opinion piece obviously, I don't expect ND to really fire him or Swarbrick. But I do think he should be held responsible for what happened.


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