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Kelly's First Year Defined By More Than Football

(WSCR) - It's difficult enough for a first year Notre Dame head coach to avoid criticism. When you add in a 6-5 season and two tragic deaths with connections to the football team, the criticism grows beyond the football field.

Even by the standards of one of college football's highest-profile jobs, the first season for Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has been tumultuous.

And the game has been the least of it.

There has been tragedy - the death of student videographer when his tower fell over on a windy day as he was filming practice - and now allegations that one of Notre Dame's players committed sexual battery.

Those situations make the problems stemming from a 6-5 record with one regular-season game left seem small.

Kelly says the only way to get through such serious issues is to level with his team.

"The first thing is you don't hide. You try to offer transparency, you try to be direct," Kelly said Tuesday, during his weekly news conference.

"You try to give all the information you can in handling those things. And when I say information, talking to our players. It's important that there is an ongoing conversation with your players, as well, regarding all things surrounding your football program."

Student videographer Declan Sullivan was killed last month when the tower from which he was filming practice fell over. Kelly said earlier it was his decision to hold practice outdoors that day when wind gusts hit 51 mph at the time of the accident.

And on Monday, St. Joseph County prosecuting attorney Michael A. Dvorak said his office is reviewing a report from the Notre Dame campus police about an alleged case of sexual battery on Aug. 31.

The accuser, a St. Mary's College student, said her assailant was a Notre Dame football player, the Chicago Tribune reported Sunday. The woman subsequently died on Sept. 10. The Tribune, citing the sheriff's office, said the cause was a suspected drug overdose.

Notre Dame, citing privacy laws, has not commented specifically on the allegation, and St. Mary's has not provided details of the woman's death.

Amid the tumult, the Irish seem to be building some momentum on the field. Notre Dame is 6-5 with two straight wins headed into a regular-season finale at Southern California. The Irish are expected to be invited to a bowl game - win or lose Saturday.

This season, the Irish have lost one game in overtime - on a fake field goal turned into a touchdown by Michigan State - and two others in the closing seconds against Michigan and Tulsa.

Kelly's stated goal was to make the Irish instant winners who would return to the elite of college football, but that has not come close to happening. A team ravaged by injuries to key players has shown improvement, especially on defense the last two weeks in upsetting No. 23 Utah and beating Army, but clearly there is a long way to go.

"Personally as a coach, I would say 6-5 is not what I had in mind as to where we would be at this point," Kelly said. "I got to do a lot of things better, I got to continue to evaluate myself and game plans and things of that nature.

"... Notre Dame is a high-profile job and with that comes a great deal of scrutiny and I think I was prepared for that. We got a lot of it this year."

If the Irish do get a bowl bid and the 15 extra practices that accompany it, Kelly said one week would probably be devoted mainly to working with younger returning players before integrating the seniors into the final week to get ready for the game.

The Irish hope to have speedy slot receiver Theo Riddick back from an ankle injury to face the Trojans. Kelly said Riddick's status - he's missed four straight games but still is second on the team with 38 receptions - will be determined by how he responds in practice this week.

Copyright 2010 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press contributed to this article. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.


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