Been down this road before

Neither Brian Kelly nor Mike Brey has publicly complained about the lack of communication between academicians and the athletic department. But when you keep answers and timetables a mystery, you constrict the ability of a coach to succeed.

This is beginning to sound familiar.

Too familiar.

Oh-my-God-not-again familiar.

While it can be wildly inaccurate to make comparisons between things we really know very little about – such as the suspension of five Notre Dame football players last fall for academic transgressions, and now basketball player Zach Auguste’s removal from the equation as he “tends to an academic issue” – there is one very similar pattern.

In both instances, the head coach claimed he had no idea when the situation would be resolved and was not in communication with anyone at the University as to the timetable of making a determination about the player’s future.

“When it comes to academics, it’s always out of my hands,” said Brey Thursday, less than 24 hours after his Auguste-less team managed to wrestle a victory away from Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

“The coach is not involved. It’s not like I’m coaching at DeMatha (High School) and I can walk down the hall and say, ‘Hey, what’s up with my guy?’ Those days are over…even though some communication wouldn’t be bad.”

Yeah, some communication not only wouldn’t be bad, but it would be the professional, adult thing to do.

This is not about Brian Kelly, Mike Brey, Muffet McGraw et al having a seat at the big table. That’s not going to happen and that’s fine. That’s the Notre Dame academic administrators’ business.

But how about a text or an email or a phone call or a face-to-face chat as to when the meeting at the proverbial table will be held would be nice since your actions as academicians directly impact how the man in the seat does his job.

The head coach of an athletics team at Notre Dame is not the enemy. He/she straddles the line between athletics and athletics by the very nature of the job. Every coach went through a rigorous vetting process conducted by the University, was chosen over other candidates, and signed on with Notre Dame because, in large part, he agrees with the academic mission.

“The guys in that locker room and me, we all know what we’ve signed up for here,” Brey said. “One of the reasons the degree is so valuable here is because it’s a hard school. Our eyes are very wide open.”

But no matter how wide a head coach at Notre Dame opens his eyes, there’s someone standing right behind him with blindfold in hand when an academic situation arises with one of the student-athletes.

Make no mistake, at the end of the day, the main responsibility falls on the student-athlete. He/she is responsible for taking care of business in the classroom. The student-athlete relies upon the Director of Academic Services for support. The head coach has a right -- even a responsibility -- to be in the loop as it pertains to the player he recruited and the parents who entrusted him with the well being of their child.

This isn’t about lowering the academic standards at Notre Dame or changing anything as it pertains to holding Notre Dame student-athletes to a high standard. Rather, it’s about conducting a line of communication commensurate with a University that prides itself on doing things the right way, the fair way, the most mature way.

Some will counter that by keeping the coach out of the specifics of an academic affair, it helps avoid a conflict of interest between academics and athletics. That, on the surface, is a commendable theory that should be practiced, but only up to a point and with limits/flexible guidelines as it pertains to the dissemination of pertinent information.

When you hire a coach, you not only guarantee the salary he signs for, but all the help within the organization’s control to provide the best chance for success. Shutting down the line of communication directly impacts the game plan, which directly impacts the odds of success, which directly impacts the livelihood of the coach.

As it is, the University is in a position to yank that job away from a coach any time the product on the field of battle is not on a national or conference-championship-contending level. Are the coaches at Notre Dame on the same team as the academic administrators at Notre Dame, or are they puppets on a string to be left dangling when an academic situation arises?

We heard similar statements of uncertainty from Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly a few months back when awaiting word on the academic misdeeds of five football players, four of which did not return to the field during the 2014 season.

Day after day, week after week, the media bombarded Kelly with questions about a timetable on the return to action of the players. Each time, Kelly diplomatically danced around the topic, unable to answer questions without the necessary information to do so.

Meanwhile, athletic administrators whose very jobs are to deal with the mesh of athletics and academics as they pertain to NCAA code sat quietly behind locked doors while the football coach spun in the wind. They were first in line for hot dogs in the press box on game day, but nowhere to be found when Kelly had to answer questions about the suspended players after the game and during the week.

According to Brey, Auguste’s issue is not an honor code violation. (At least they told Brey that much.) Thus, the issue with the football players was of a more serious nature. With Auguste, it sounds as if he left some loose ends untied as the fall semester ended that needed mending.

It is commendable that the University holds the student or student-athlete accountable for his actions, communicating with them as to what needs to be done to achieve academic success. As soon as you allow a parent to helicopter his/her way into the equation, the burden on the student is lessened, and thus, so is the lesson learned.

But if you’re going to choose to play with the big boys in intercollegiate athletics, communication with the coach as to the standing of a student-athlete is imperative to a healthy athletics-academics relationship, not to mention a better product.

By closing down the lines of communication with the coach, you’re in essence saying, “You don’t have a right to know,” and that creates a precarious if not unhealthy relationship, certainly one that tightens the list of candidates to coach at Notre Dame to a select few.

That’s a good thing, too because just as Notre Dame isn’t right for every student or student-athlete, it’s also not right for every coach. By the same token, Notre Dame should be a place where communication between employer and employee is open and healthy. We Are ND has to stand for more than just a catchy phrase to be chanted on game day.

That’s not the situation that exists between Notre Dame football and academics, and now, as we come to find out, Notre Dame men’s basketball and academics.

Before you can earn the trust of your employees, you have to earn their respect. Bottlenecks in the lines of communication prevent that from happening.

Once again, Notre Dame finds itself administrating in an archaic, arcane manner. Head coaches and the teams they represent are not the enemy. They are one of you, a big part of Notre Dame. They should be treated accordingly. Top Stories