The drapes outside the confessional flap in small protest to being pushed aside. Shoosh! The sound of a small door slides open. Brian Kelly kneels in the Basilica confessional, his hair a bit less and fully gray, his pomp deflated and his face still carrying the puzzled bewilderment of a man who has fallen far, fast.
“Bless me father for I have sinned greatly against Notre Dame and her legacy, it’s been 7 seasons since my last confession.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been expecting you.” says a raspy voice vaguely resembling the recently deceased Father Ted.
“Brace yourself, Father,” says Kelly. “I’ve failed, my hubris has hurt many people.”
“We’ve all failed in that way. Think of this as a big embrace of forgiveness from your heavenly father,” says the understanding, but firm voice from behind the window.
Kelly proceeds to give a full account of his transgressions.
“Father, I believe my mistakes started when I thought I was bigger than the program. In 2012 my team was undefeated and was tabbed to play for a national championship.”
From behind the window, a sound emerges that is somewhere between a grunt and a sigh.
“Go on… ”, says the voice that now sounds pained.
“Instead of focusing on the team and all my energy on what could be my one shot at a title and Notre Dame’s first shot at a title in 25 years, I let myself get distracted wifh thoughts of the NFL.”
A sound, that could be interpreted as a priest bouncing his head off the confessional, reverberates though the wall.
“What lessons did you learn?” asks the priest, now more pissed, than pained.
“Well, that as a head coach, it all starts and ends with me. My team was distracted and we were humiliated in that game, even worse, I’d lost the trust of my players who didn’t see why they should be committed if their coach wasn’t”
BAP! There was no mistaking this sound, the priest clearly slaps his forehead. One can almost hear the word “duh” as the priest exhales.
“I understand, go on” came the curt reply.
“Uh, so, the next year it seemed as if the team played with less enthusiasm and that the players were more worried about the NFL, than winning a title. At that point,”
Kelly continues, “I started feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t get my dream of the NFL, the fans seemed unappreciative even thought I took them to a title game and I kind of, well, checked out a bit, ya know?”
“Checked out! You checked out!”, says the father. The clear sound of grinding teeth combined with labored breathing is audible to both.
A faint, breathy “bless me father” clearly not intended to be audible, comes from behind the small door and is ignored by both.
“Sorry, I just wanted to make sure I heard you right. How did you ‘check out’, my son?”
A muffled rosary, now being heavily worked, jingles intermittently.
“Well, I hired a new defensive coordinator and spent even less time with the defense. I wanted to focus on offense, because that’s where I felt the most comfortable tinkering. Special teams weren’t improving, but I left a coach in place there who was struggling. Oh yeah, my good friend Paul Longo, we’ve spent a lot of time together, was foundering a bit. The players weren’t bought in, we changed up their work out routines and we really never got our players to recommit. Instead of blaming him, I blamed Notre Dame.”
“Anything else?” Asked the, now, almost humorous voice.
“Yeah, recruiting. It just became so frustrating. Players didn’t want to come because we weren’t winning at a high level and our morale was low. And, you know, I never thought the head coach at a major college football team should get too involved in recruiting, so I probably didn’t involve myself as much as I could have. Worse, I tried to lower expectations because I didn’t want to be seen as losing off and on the field.”
“Okay, well. At least you had some success on offense… I hope”, says the priest now looking for a sliver lining to build upon.
“Uh, well… you know. I think we had the strategy right, but our players couldn’t execute and our coaches couldn’t get them to execute. I just didn’t understand it, this stuff works in the NFL. So I meddled in the offense a lot and frustrated everybody”, says the befuddled voice.
“You do know that with 20 hours of practice time that requiring quarterbacks to make a lot of pre and post snap reads is a recipe for disaster in the college game??!!” says the priest in a surprisingly firm, direct, incredulous and knowledgeable voice.
“I think I know that now father”, replies Kelly.
“Just so I heard you right, because you were self-pitying you became more insular, neglected oversight for the defense, special teams, strength and conditioning and recruiting and then you tried to micro manage the offense?”
“That’s right.” says Kelly.
“So, was anyone really in charge of Notre Dame football?” asks the priest.
“Um, Jesus?” says Kelly.
“Jesus? You let Jesus take the wheel of Notre Dame football?”
At this point, something cracks. Perhaps a priest crushing his own glasses?
“Father, are you okay?” asks Kelly.
“As well as the lord allows in times like these”, says the priest now sounding as if he needs the help.
“Yeah, I blamed the players when they couldn’t execute even though we over-complicated our game plans, short changed them on the strength coach, recruiting and gave them questionable coaches”, replies Kelly now getting pep in his voice as if a burden has been lifted.
Sounding as if he is slightly hyperventilating, the priest recovers. “And what are your doing to repent for your sins?”
“Yoga every morning” replies Kelly proudly. It helps me keep focused. I’ve lost a lot of weight.”
“Inspiring”, says the father. “Are you sorry for your sins?”
Brian then stumbles his way through the act of contrition mixing up “my grace” with “thy grace”
At this point the priest ignores it and launches into Latin.
“I hadn’t heard that last part before” says Kelly.
I’ll translate, says the father: “There is no academic virtue in playing mediocre football and no academic vice in winning a game that by all odds one should lose...There has indeed been a surrender at Notre Dame, but it is a surrender to excellence on all fronts, and in this we hope to rise above ourselves with the help of God.”
“Gotcha”, says Kelly. “Are we good to go?” He gets up and flips his shades down.
“There is the issue of penance,” says the priest.
"Right." Kelly flips his shades back up, and begrudgingly kneels again. “Okay”
“This is a hard one” says the priest. “These sins are not mortal, nor are they venial, but they are redeemable. Your penance has to reflect this seriousness... as your sins are carried by many, impact millions and are etched into the record books. Brian (letting it slip,) will you vow to make a New Year's 6 bowl every 2 of 3 years and if you don’t make the playoffs within two years and a title within 5 years recuse yourself so that God’s glory can be see again be seen in Notre Dame football?”
Suddenly the faint melodic sound of victory march is heard in the distance.
But is followed by only silence in the confessional.
Then footfalls, light, as if someone who’s taken yoga scampers away silently.
After waiting an inordinate amount of time, the confused visage of Father Ted emerges from the confessional. The drapes still rustle on the outside of the booth next door.
Father Ted’s image looks around. A pair of Under Armour sunglasses, fallen to the floor, are the only sign that anyone was here. Father Ted looks at his own glasses, slightly crushed. He looks up to the heavens.
At that moment, the victory march fades off... Father Ted’s visage melds into the grandeur of the Basilica.
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