In my column titled, “Something to Yell About,” I pose the question: “Do we need a seven-digit salary to convince coaches to consider our program, or do coaches seek out our institutional integrity and identity?” This question comes after noting that, “In his memoirs, the late Ralph McInerny, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, recalled that under Fr. Hesburgh, no football coach had ever been paid more than the highest paid professor.” McInerny chides the football program that came after this era, stating that “anyone who requires two million dollars to come to Notre Dame should be wished well in his future endeavors and forgotten.”
Now, various news sources are reporting that the current football coach for Notre Dame, Brian Kelly, had a job interview the day after losing the national championship–an interview for a football job elsewhere. Kelly succeeded Charlie Weiss, who signed a multimillion dollar contract to work for Notre Dame. In 2009, Notre Dame broke its contract and paid more than $6 million to get Weis to leave. We could say of this affair perhaps what Professor McInerny said of the 2004 firing of Ty Willingham, “The point of an athletic contest is to win, but how one wins and loses is crucial for players and fans alike. The original idea of college sports was that games are a moral crucible that prepares one for life. The sad thing about the Willingham firing is that winning at all costs now seems paramount. Fans are by definition fanatic, but a university administration should take a longer view.”
We learn two things from these incidents: 1) Notre Dame is not really committed to its coaches, and 2) Notre Dame’s coaches are not really committed to Notre Dame. Gone are the glory days, when coaches came to Notre Dame primarily because they wanted to come to Notre Dame, and when athletes and athletic staff were really nurtured and cared for as important members of the “Notre Dame community.” Now it appears that coaches only want money and honor, and Notre Dame only wants to win. Coaches can sacrifice Notre Dame for career advancement, and Notre Dame can sacrifice coaches for program advancement.
Kelly’s recent job interview may be appalling, especially since it took place after his players lost a grueling game, the most important game in many of their lives. It should not, however, surprise us.
Still, many claim that this is what is required for Notre Dame to have a nationally-competitive team. Kelly was to join the ranks of four other Notre Dame coaches, who won national championships in their third year as coach. However, we did not win a national championship this year. As Professor McInerny writes, “The irony is that under this new professionalization, fewer rather than more of our football players are drafted into the NFL.”
One Sports Illustrated article has illustrated with great clarity how our football program has lost much of its identity over the last few years. Now, as our coach illustrates how his actions may be at odds with the University’s mission and values, we see ourselves losing again. Consider this: Some have suggested that, through this interview “Kelly may be angling for a pay increase.” If this is true, Notre Dame might as well fire the man for acting contrary to its values. Hundreds of Notre Dame students volunteer with the poorest of the poor every year. For a man who already has a multimillion dollar contract, leveling for more money can only come from one of the seven deadly sins, greed. Only great greed could incite a man in his position to even request more money. We would only further lose ourselves by giving in to such a vice.