SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly on Saturday dismissed talk that he needs to do a better job of recruiting players who are better students to avoid the academic problems that have plagued the football program for the past 15 months.
“I think we’ve brought in the right young men,” he said. “I think we have to continue to do a better job educating them. We have to do a better job of providing the resources.”
The news conference was the first time Kelly talked to the media since the university announced a day earlier that starting cornerback KeiVarae Russell, leading returning receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams and backup linebacker Kendall Moore were being withheld from practices and games until the university completes an investigation into whether papers and homework they turned in were completed by others.
Kelly said none one involved in the investigation has asked to talk to him or his staff. He cautioned against assuming the players are guilty, saying the investigation is ongoing.
Kelly said it’s his job as head coach to create an environment where players know they can’t cut corners.
“If you let your players do whatever they want and they feel like they’re not accountable, then I don’t think you should be a head coach,” he said. “I think if you create an environment and you lay out the expectations of your program and their not met, then they should be held accountable.”
“Look, this is never a one-sided issue. We have to internally look at providing our student-athletes all of the resources necessary that, if in fact if they took shortcuts, that they don’t. We have to look hard at that,” he said.
Players know the high standards of Notre Dame, Kelly said, adding that his rules of conduct for players are posted in the locker room: “Treat women with respect, don’t cheat, don’t lie and don’t steal.”
Kelly said he doesn’t have any more information about the investigation than what the university announced at the news conference Friday, saying as a coach he will be “on the outside looking in.” He said his reaction to the news was “shock and disappointment.”
But Kelly said he’s proud that Notre Dame has high standards, saying it’s one of the reason he accepted the job.
“We don’t look the other way,” he said.
The players were informed Friday about the investigation and Kelly said he hasn’t talked with them since.
The Irish, who open the season against Rice on Aug. 30, have faced other academic problems. Starting quarterback Everett Golson missed last season because of academic impropriety and Daniels sat out the spring semester. Kelly described them as “good kids who made bad decisions.”
If the players aren’t allowed to return this season as a result of the investigation, it will be difficult to overcome, Kelly said.
“As players, you don’t replace KeiVarae Russell. He’s one of the best corners we’ve had here in some time. But we’ll find a way,” he said. “You don’t replace a guy like that.”
Replacing Daniels also will be a challenge, but Kelly said the Irish have depth at receiver.
“We’re going to have to count on other players to step up and do the job for us,” he said.
Kelly said he’s not worried about Notre Dame possibly having to vacate some past victories, including possibly from the 2012 season when the Irish went 12-1 and their lone loss was to Alabama in the national title game. He said it wouldn’t change his view of that season.
“I’ve never really counted my victories,” he said. “It’s not something I really spend much time thinking about.”
It’s been a tumultuous time at Notre Dame since Kelly arrived following the 2009 season, with a student manager killed when the scissor lift he was on toppled in high winds in 2010, several high-profile players being arrested and the academic troubles. Kelly was asked whether those issues reflected on his leadership.
“This isn’t the time to have a debate on what my leadership or lack thereof is. My focus is on my football team and getting this team ready. There’s a time and place for that. People have their opinions and certainly they’re entitled to them. I’m going to focus on this football team and getting it ready for two weeks for Rice.”