Brian Kelly Shouldn’t Have to Publicly Apologize for Pushing His Assistant

Saturday night’s game between Notre Dame and Temple was a memorable one that featured an underdog nearly pulling off an upset and a playoff contender that proved yet again it could come through in crunch time. But that was not what most viewers took away from it. Most people who watched the Irish defeat the Owls will remember the game for Brian Kelly’s pushing his assistant strength and conditioning coach David Grimes. Unfortunately for Kelly, the incident was caught on video by ESPN cameras and went viral seconds after it was broadcasted to the nation.

The push took place late in the third quarter after Notre Dame center Nick Martin was called for a personal foul when he tripped a Temple player. The call was questionable, and Grimes – a former Notre Dame receiver – was set on letting the referee know about it. As the referee lined up along the sideline in preparation for the next play, Grimes could be seen saying something to him. No one knows exactly what was said, but whatever it was did not go over well with Kelly, who reacted by grabbing Grimes and forcing him away from the official.

Kelly offered only a brief explanation of the push in his post game interview, saying, “David was gonna get us a 15-yard penalty, and so I had to control the sideline… I wasn’t going to let that happen. He got a little too close and I backed him up out of the way to make sure we didn’t get a 15-yard penalty.”

This is not the first time that Kelly has made headlines with questionable behavior, which no doubt contributed to the uproar on social media that followed the push. Notre Dame fans remember when the coach went ballistic on the sidelines during the South Florida game in 2011, making national headlines for what some considered verbal abuse of his players. College Gameday signs everywhere have immortalized his enraged, purple face from that day, but Kelly has cooled off since then – at least we thought he had. Saturday’s incident reminded the country of that day, and has caused many people to ask this question – should Brian Kelly have to issue a public apology for pushing his assistant?

Those who say Kelly should have to apologize for his actions argue that he is in charge of the team and is responsible for maintaining a positive environment on his sideline. As the coach, Kelly must set a positive example for the impressionable young men he is leading, and show them that violence and aggression are no way to take out anger. These points are certainly true, but there’s just one problem – Kelly coaches a sport in which these qualities are not only encouraged, they are necessary.

Football is a man’s game. Tempers often flare in the face of adversity, and aggression is often the answer to it in this sport. In this case, Kelly was forced to use aggression to prevent his team from getting a second straight fifteen-yard penalty. Had someone reminded Kelly that 70,000 people were watching in the stadium plus millions at home on television, he probably would have acted differently; but in the heat of the moment, we can all fall victim to forgetting circumstances. Kelly was indeed lost in the moment, and lost his cool as a result. Getting lost in the moment is certainly no excuse for the way Kelly acted, but merely an explanation for it. That being said, the game was close and adrenaline was high. Kelly needed to take control of his sideline and did just that.

There is a reason that football coaches at all levels have developed a system of signals used for play calling, and it is not because they want to challenge their quarterbacks. Crowds of close to seventy thousand like the one in Philadelphia on Saturday night can get quite loud. If Kelly had tried to get Grimes to stop chattering to the official by yelling at him from close to ten yards away, it likely would not have worked. Video of the push clearly shows that Grimes had been in the official’s ear for some time. If Kelly had tried to stop him by yelling, Grimes probably would not have heard him until it was too late. Ultimately, Kelly was forced to get in his coworker’s face because of the hostile environment they were both in. Still, though, the amount of force he used was a little excessive.

As assistant strength and conditioning coach, Grimes holds a rather minute position on the team, and does not have much to do with sideline functions on game day. For Grimes to think that putting the team at risk by mouthing off to the official is a good idea is unacceptable, especially in such a close game. He, like Kelly, seemingly got lost in the moment. Referees are mostly tolerant of head coaches and their arguments on the field. After all, the head coach is the guy in charge on the sideline. He is the team spokesperson when they feel they have been wronged – not the assistant strength and conditioning coach. Until Grimes is in the same position as Kelly, he shouldn’t be complaining to the officials. For Kelly to cause his team to take a penalty is one thing, but for the assistant strength and conditioning coach to take one is another. Kelly was in the right to step in and stop Grimes before he took a penalty, but admittedly, he could have used less force.

Only Notre Dame’s players and coaches truly know the state of their locker room. For all we know, Kelly may have already apologized to Grimes. Whether he has or not, one thing is clear – Kelly does not owe the public an apology for pushing his assistant. Kelly did nothing to the fans watching the game. He put his hands on Grimes, therefore it is their own problem to sort out, not ours. It seems as if both of them were lost in the heat of the moment, and as professionals should move past this incident rather quickly, as should the media questioning it. Would you have let the assistant strength and conditioning coach take a 15-yard penalty in the second half of a one-possession game? Me neither.

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