Bernstein: Why Are We Not Angrier At Brian Kelly?

A college football coach is responsible for a dead kid, and we don’t really seem to care.

I realized it again yesterday, when former coach Gerry DiNardo described himself to us as “physically ill” in response to the news: he understood – and articulated – the clear, specific responsibility a coach has to ensure the safety of everyone at practice, before any concerns about winning a football game.

He wondered about all the practices he had overseen as head coach of Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana, and what kind of risks were taken placing student assistants high in the air on camera platforms. His empathy and retroactive fear were palpable.

He reminded us, in so many words, that a grave, terrible error was made by someone entrusted to know better.

Yet Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly shows no such remorse, in his words or his demeanor. Why was there no trace of feeling from him? If another coach can feel so terribly just imagining himself with blood on his hands, how can the actual culprit respond as he did?

In his first appearance in front of reporters after the incident, Kelly was content to mutter about the importance of “productivity” in practice, gallingly revealing that “…the next thing that is important is that it’s a safe session.”

If that is the case, coach, you’re fired. That prioritization is wholly wrong. It should set off alarm bells in the homes of anyone you recruit now and hereafter.

Fans and media seem content to shrug off tragedy – what’s the death of Declan Sullivan matter when there’s the playcalling in the loss to Tulsa to discuss?

Get him in the ground, “celebrate his life,” and put those helmets back on, boys! Let the news cycle chew forward. Nothing to see here! Too bad this all happened, of course. Who do we play Saturday?

Shame on Kelly, and shame on the oily priests in charge who appear more concerned with lawyering up than anything else.

Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick – himself a lawyer – actually had the nerve to say that he thought the weather was fine that day.

Well, Jack, it wasn’t.

When Northwestern’s Rashidi Wheeler dropped dead on the practice field, his mother was angry. Linda Will fought loudly and relentlessly for the truth to be found and justice done. Her loyalties were with her son’s memory – not a football program. She wanted answers for why her baby’s asthma attack proved fatal, after she had trusted others with his safety. She kept the heat on, perhaps even overly so at the end of the process.

Maybe the Sullivan family will eventually respond similarly, but their statement to the media indicates otherwise. They said “The grief we feel is tempered by the knowledge that Dec was doing what he loved in the place he most wanted to be.”

If you had read his Twitter posts from just before the scissor-lift fell, you’d know he wanted to be anywhere but up there.

If I were his father, my grief would be tempered by nothing.

I would be angry.

You should be, too.

More from Dan Bernstein
  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Thank you Bernsie for a superb blog.
    My son went to ND, tutored jocks in Calculus as his contribution to the football program.
    My heart is sick and has been ever since I saw this tragic news on WNDU.
    My heart goes out to the family, and I hope they sue the $hit out of ND.

    • Tighe Curran

      B & B,

      I can tell you that I have enough outrage to go around.

      As a student at ND thirty years ago, I was bound by the handbook “du Lac”, which contained the phrase “in loco parentis”, which was drilled into my head.

      “In Loco parentis”, meaning “in the place of the parent”. Not in the tuck-you-in bed and kiss on the cheek manner, but in the do-what-I-say manner. “In loco parentis” was the University’s stated authority to act in behavior, disciplinary and other matters.

      I don’t know Declan Sullivan’s father, but I know my Dad – or any Dad – would have looked up at a kid on a scissors lift in 30 mile-an hour (sustained) winds and said “get down from there, you’re going to get yourself killed”.

      Every University employee on site that fateful day outranked Declan Sullivan and could have invoked “in loco parentis” and said the same thing. Get down.

      From the head coach, to the trainer, to the groundskeeper to the AD – ALL had the power and authority to say so. Unless Sullivan was on that lift strictly against orders, all on site University staff share in the failure to exercise “in loco parentis”.

      This was not a freak accident. It was the result you would expect from misuse of the equipment under those conditions.

      I’ve grown to dislike the University’s very public sanctimony and like of humility in championing its own cause. If the University is everything it purports to be, there is only one thing to do right now.

      Stop lawyering. Show genuine remorse, humility and deep Contrition (yes, in the Catholic sense, too) by publicly accepting full responsibility for what happened. This must be done now, regardless of the financial ramifications.

      This young man’s death was preventable and numerous University employees had the opportunity to prevent it. All must be held accountable.

      But the University must first accept the ultimate responsibility.

      There is no other right, moral or ethical response to this tragedy.

      • Chet's Inflated Ego

        Wow Tighe.
        Thank you.
        That was the best comment yet.
        You truly have the heart of a Domer and learned much at Our Lady’s University.
        Thank you again.

    • Steve Spy

      Thank you for the well written blog. I share your anger at ND and Head Coach Brian Kelly. I have two comments:

      1. It’s not fair to call the parent’s grief into question. I have never lost a child, thank God, but I can see how they may be reaching for any bright spot in this time of darkness. Finding solace by saying Declan died doing what he loves may make them feel a bit better, and that is fine with me.

      2. Is it possible Kelly was criminally negligent? Beyond a civil complaint that may or may not be coming from the family against the program and or school, shouldn’t the authorities be looking into a moron who ordered an 18 year old kid into a life threatening situation so he can get some good film of his horrible team’s practice? Is there going to be an investigation by the Authorities?

      Keep up the good blog and that bad show.

      Steve Spy

  • Lydell

    Celebration of Life seems more like Calibration of Death. Calculus?

  • irishsph

    well put.
    as an ardent ND fan, I am outraged by the complete lack of outrage over this.
    BK is responsible for EVERY ASPECT of the football operation and is paid lavishly to assume such responsibility. His complete lack of regard for another’s life makes me, like Gerry DiNardo, sick to my stomach.

    • Chet's Inflated Ego

      Let’s not forget that Gerry DiNardo is a Domer himself…maybe that’s why he has more heart than a hired-gun coach.

  • Lydell

    I expect the “God’s Will” defense should they ever actually be cornered into a response. The key is keeping a straight face.

  • bronzo

    As a south side Irishman ( who HATES ND) I’m obviously in the minority there, I’ve been asking myself and other people that same question! I can’t believe there has not been more outrage over this. if you caught his on field post game interview after last week’s loss he completely ignored the question when it was posed to him. “How do you feel “etc. he said he was proud of his teams effort blah blah blah.

  • Edgy Tom

    I have never liked that school and their better-than-everyone attitude.
    When I heard what happened, I couldn’t believe that they would even allow someone up there in those conditions. What a lack of sensibility on their part.
    If I were the parents, I would bring that school to their knees.

  • kaufmak

    There are indications that the kid was forced to go up in the lift that day, threatened with being removed from his position if he refused. If that is the case, Kelly should be fired immediately. Unfortunately, ND is never too fond of discovering the truth if it may reveal a blackeye to their program.

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Any litigators out there who might comment.
    Even though Bernsie went to Drake, I think he missed one strategic point.
    If ND wants to be on the defensive and stone-wall this, then they don’t want to fire BK because they need him to be a cooperative witness for the defense.

    Sad to say that in my lifetime many of the holy priests there have been replaced by those whom Bernsie correctly described as oily.

    I’m still glad my son went there but I have no feeling for the institution (apart from disgust) but appreciate individual professors and others.

    I don’t live too far from the Dome and I would not have gone up to clean my gutters that day no less have that poor kid go up 50 feet in what is essentially a large campstool.


      They fired Charlie Weiss for bad coaching. He still had a contract.
      This is a no-brainer. Really.

      “thank you mr. bern- stine.”

  • George Oscar Bluth

    Chet, yeah, certainly there is a a multi-count lawsuit waiting against the University if the family chooses to go that way. Assumption of risk defense would play about as well for ND as its defense did against Tulsa.

  • Donna Spicuzza

    I am outraged by the lack of remorse and sadness from the coach and ND regarding this needless tragedy. Thank you for not giving up on the issue.

  • Wayne

    What a shame….from what I have read, SOME of the players attended the funeral??? What about respect, the whole team, coaches and President should have been on their bus and attended..not to do so, was to me, a slap in the face for Declan and his family. ND needs a lesson in manners and humility.

    My prayers go out to the Sullivan family…

    • Chet's Inflated Ego

      Amen Wayne.

      ND should be an exemplar of The Culture of Life…..but very sadly the institution has lost its way and is an exemplar of The Culture of Wealth.

      Again, I hope that the family sues the $hit out of ND.


    The more I read about the Declan Sullivan tragedy at Notre Dame a week ago today, the angrier I am. In my opinion, head coach Brian Kelly and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick should be held accountable for this kid dying unnecessarily in an accident that was preventable! It NEVER should have happened and both of those guys beneath the Golden Dome should be sent packing as a result of this!

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    Not to change the subject… but to change the subject…

    Representative Jon Runyan? Well, Politics is dirty when you get into the trenches.

    (Possibly) Governor Chris Dudley (He’s leading my the slimmest of margins and the race isn’t called)? There’s gotta be a wonderful pun I’m missing there.

    • Chet's Inflated Ego

      But Shawn Bradley (R) lost his bid for the Utah legislature.
      I was rooting for him because he was soooo fun-bad.

  • Lydell

    Bradley’s long wingspan may have been perceived as TOO inclusive.

  • Pulseczar

    Hearing, seeing, and reading Kelly’s responses to this has me suspecting he might be a sociopath (or psychopath). I’ve been more moved by seeing complete strangers stub their toes than this coach in charge of the safety of peoples’ children was after seeing a child fall to his death. Then to try to explain it like he and Swarbrick (et al) did? Sickening.

    • Chet's Inflated Ego

      Well said, Pulseczar, very well said.
      I have no doubt that while that poor kid’s body was still warm, ND had called its liability insurance carrier and then it’s lawyer-up, wagons in a circle.

      In loco parentis?

      Notre Dame “Family”???

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Hot Stove question:
    are the Pirates and Mets the only teams with an open manager’s position?


      As an asside, why do you fire the coach of the Pirates?
      Could Sandberg be headed there?

      I think you’re right, Chet’s I.E.

  • meesohawnee

    Thats funny… i ikept calling out the Dante Stallworth disaster a complete joke and you couldnt get a rise out of anyone in the MSM..Now this blog?
    Of course. Dan is right on the money. And thanks for a thought other than what will Randy do or not , But lets face it. Our society is composed of making people pay based on what they bring as a benefit to others. If you dont you get crucified. .. if so you get a pass. Situational accountability can we call it? Maybe the Catholics will just start writing the checks like the Hillbilly from MS is probably doin
    Oh chet ill pass on the commentary from litigators.. If i hear the word “vigorously” one more time from them im gonna puke! ;)

  • Chet's Inflated Ego

    Did anyone notice the good news on the WSCR website that the Sox will be on the Score for another 5 years?

    • Lydell

      Are they locked into Frick and Frack in the booth? Say it ain’t so, Mitch.

  • duh

    Um, the Declan was an adult, if he was scared or felt uncomfortable, why didn’t he listen to his instincts and remove himself from this scary situation?

    • Chet's Inflated Ego

      kaufmak, toward the top of the blog responses, said that the kid was threatened with the loss of his position…which I think is a scholarship position…if he didn’t get up there and video.

  • thebizkit

    Not to sound insensitive but aren’t ND students supposed to be smart?

    If that was me on the scissor lift and I knew that 50 MPH winds were creating an unsafe situation for my self, I would not be twittering or face-booking my fears I would have gotten the Fuk down and if they fired me so what!

    That being said ND should be held accountable for the kids death but for godsake use your smarts and get down from that damn lift. People were calling that wind storm a storm of the decade, no way I would have gotten up there.

  • KazooBoy

    This auto refreshing feature has to go it is maddening…fix this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • KazooBoy

    ND is the most hypocritical institution on the planet. They call themselves a “Christian” university and they’re a fraud. They’re all about money and power which is about as un-biblical as it gets.

    Never ever ever confuse Catholicism with Christianity.

    So for the controversial comment…good day.

    • Tim

      Sorry, but Christianity as a whole is growing more and more towards money and power…not only ONE denomination of it.

      • KazooBoy

        Sadly, this is true Tim. I agree. All you have to do is watch the false prophets on TV. However, most denoniminations are not as institutionally and systemically evil as the Catholic church.

  • KazooBoy

    I meant “Sorry for” not “So for” (typo).

  • KazooBoy

    One more thing…I’ve never understood the “At least he (she) died doing what he (she) loved” comment either. I’m sure the act of dying is horrific no matter what you’re doing. If I “loved” fixing cars I wouldn’t want to die if the engine exploded and 1,000 metal shards pierced my face.

  • El Guapo

    What’s an oily priest? Correct me if I’m wrong but did Kelly had a gun to the young man’s head? I know this is coming from angry Jew that always has a vendetta toward the Catholic church…but everyone has the right to refuse unsafe work. Nice piece Bernstein! Next time try not to copy off another writer’s work (Whitlock’s piece). P.S. I hate ND and GO CANES!!!!!!!

    • Lydell

      Anyone who walks upright and has half a functioning antenna thinks the Catholic Church is a racket. Just like all churches. Baah-Baah…

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