The Wager He Was Prepared To Lose

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly took a calculated gamble with quarterback Everett Golson this spring. He lost, but could afford to do so.

The old adage, “Never gamble more than you’re prepared to lose” seems an apt comparison.

Or as famed high-roller Charles Barkley once mused in response to the query that he might have a gambling problem after offering he was at least ten million dollars in the hole: “Yeah, I have a gambling problem. But it’s not a problem because I can afford to gamble.”

So too could Irish head coach Brian Kelly this spring.

Faced with intriguing possibilities under center, Kelly chose the obvious, the most compelling. The one that included both current Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire and the enigmatic Everett Golson.

May the best man win – or at least pull appreciably ahead. And the latter is what appeared to happen, at least from the purview of media, of those outside the program’s walls. Golson, the better passer (by a wide margin) was 1A and Zaire (the better runner by as wide a margin) was 1B. Or maybe Zaire was No. 2; we’ll not know soon.

Golson is skipping town, degree in hand, potential not yet realized. Zaire was never going anywhere, regardless of Kelly’s decision. That loyalty is refreshing, though it must be noted Zaire does not yet have Golson’s get-out-of-competition free card: a college degree with a season of on-field eligibility remaining – one that comes equipped with minimal requirements in the classroom.

Golson didn’t play Kelly and Kelly isn’t blindsided by Golson’s decision to defect. Notre Dame’s head coach is anything but gullible. He just couldn’t share the downside of Golson’s spring semester presence with the masses. 

“IT’S A MUST-LIE SITUATION”
Did you hear the one about the major college football coach who told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

If you did, it was in court, not at a press conference.

Golson’s presence between the lines this spring seemed a tad askew. It was clear returning as anything but QB1 in the fall would be detrimental to his imminent NFL prospects, and it was (and is annually) clear Kelly wasn’t going to name a starter by semester’s end – no coaching veteran would or should when faced with similar stakes.

So when Kelly offered of Golson, “There's no indication that anything he's done would mean he's just doing this as a way to go somewhere else,” I chose to take him at face value -- the face of the leader of a perpetually scrutinized program.

In other words, what did you expect him to tell us? What he really felt about the situation and its potential pitfalls?

What would Kelly have gained by stating the obvious? The obvious being that Golson was partly in the fold because he wasn’t sure he could complete his academic requirements in order to transfer?

You can’t blame Kelly for approaching the Golson Problem from a glass half-full standpoint. What I believe Kelly would have said if the aforementioned press conference conversation was among friends rather than between a coach and scribes ready to analyze his every word – and maybe use them against him down the road if necessary -- goes something like this:

“It’s clear Everett is our best passer. It is equally clear Malik is our best runner – and likely the better leader of men. But man, I think we could really make some defensive coordinators work through sleepless nights with both of them on the roster and part of the weekly game plan next fall. And I’d love to see what I could do with such disparate talents at my disposal.

“So if I can just placate Everett through mid-August…”

Keeping Golson in the fold was Kelly’s best – not only, but best – chance at fielding a championship roster, so while the downside of Kelly’s spring gamble is clear, it’s the upside that I can embrace. Truth be told, I’d have done the same.

Why not woo Golson? Why not woo his five-star arm, four star legs, and big game experience? If he fails, or hints early at a potential repeat of the myriad mistakes that waylaid last season, Kelly could bench him without major repercussions. With Golson enrolled for a fifth season, Kelly would have all the power.

Golson wasn’t “all-in” this spring as Kelly indicated. Rather, his situation in March and April was akin to Zack Mayo’s of An Officer and a Gentlemen fame: he simply had no place else to go.

Since, the soon-to-be Notre Dame graduate realized his last chance to control his own destiny was the present. Paper in hand, but with his football future in doubt, the choice became clear.

I believe Kelly wanted Golson back, and that Kelly took a calculated gambled and lost – but I think he was prepared for it all along.


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