The recent hire of Brian Kelly to succeed Charlie Weis as head football coach at Notre Dame raised more than a few eyebrows among devout Catholic alumni, many of whom have helped build the school's $6 billion endowment. Kelly has a history of association with left-leaning politicians, including working for Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart in 1984. Such ties have prompted some Fighting Irish faithful to wonder aloud if Kelly supports legalized abortion.
For his part, the former Cincinnati head man claims to be a "practicing Catholic," who embraces "the same values that are here at Notre Dame." But Kelly has ducked answering whether he is pro-life, saying that he is "pro-Notre Dame" and "pro-football."
Of course, Kelly was not hired for his political or religious convictions. He was hired to revamp a proud but languishing program. And most Notre Dame fans seem happy to let him try, no matter his views on the unborn. If abortion-supporting President Barack Obama can deliver the school's commencement address, as he did last year, then why can't a liberal coach the football team?
Such willingness on the part of higher learning institutions to set aside moral standards for the sake of athletic success may be a growing trend. Another high-profile Catholic coach, Louisville's Rick Pitino, has held onto his head basketball job despite violating his marriage vows with a woman in a restaurant while one of his assistants stood guard. When the woman, Karen Sypher, became pregnant and wanted an abortion, Pitino provided $3,000-this from a man who often invites a priest to join his team on the bench during games.
Never mind that Louisville is not a religious institution. In the past, other secular schools have fired coaches for less. Iowa State dropped basketball coach Larry Eustachy in 2003 for partying with college students. And that same year, Alabama punted their new head football man Mike Price after he spent a night with strippers.
So why hasn't similar unbecoming conduct landed Pitino on the unemployment rolls? Perhaps the need to fill a new 22,000-seat arena next season outweighs the value of strict scruples. Notre Dame might well relate: The Irish are 1-9 in their last 10 bowl games, impetus enough to overlook possible religious deviations in a coach with a 171-57-2 lifetime record.
When prolific passer Colt McCoy left with a shoulder injury in the first quarter of the BCS national title game, prospects for a Texas victory over top-ranked Alabama seemed grim. But it took hyper-conservative play calling from the Texas coaching staff to render the Longhorns a true long shot.
In its first 12 offensive plays following McCoy's departure, Texas ran the ball nine times. By the time Texas realized that playing not to lose would not yield victory, Alabama's lead had ballooned to 24-6. And backup Garrett Gilbert's pair of long-distance touchdown connections in the second half proved too little, too late.
For McCoy, watching his team fall behind and lose from the sidelines was not easy. But with the sting of the experience still fresh, the Texas quarterback found perspective: "I loved the way our team fought. Garrett Gilbert stepped in and played as good as he can play. He did a tremendous job. I always give God the glory. I never question why things happen the way they do. God is in control of my life, and I know that if nothing else I'm standing on the rock."