So why is it that every week Brian Kelly is fielding questions about how close the coach may or may not have come to yanking Rees during the most recent game?
Look I get it. We are talking about the Head Football Coach at Notre Dame and his quarterback. And no one is probably more aware that all of Brian Kelly's decisions will be second guessed than Brian Kelly himself.
Is that the rub? The fact that since he made that decision Coach Kelly still seems so sure of it no matter how or when Rees struggles?
The below snippets from Coach Kelly's Sunday teleconference with the media. Full transcript available at ISD.
Q. In terms of quarterback play, Tommy has played all the downs pretty much since you made the quarterback switch. How important is it for to you get a look at some other people in game action?
COACH KELLY: At quarterback?
Q. Yeah, quarterback. If the circumstances dictated that.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, right now, Tommy is 6 1 as a starter. You know, he's led two very huge drives for us late in the game against Michigan and of course against Pittsburgh. He's obviously not a finished product; nobody is. He'll continue to get better and better and we'll continue to help him in terms of play calling and getting him in the right kind of situation so he can be successful.
But no, there's we're not in a situation right now where we need to think about what other quarterbacks are going to get in the game. Tommy is the starter.
This is a perfect example of what I mentioned above. Coach Kelly instantly points out the fact that Rees has only lost 1 game as a starter and that he put the team in position to win that game too.
Q. I meant more from a depth standpoint.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, when we get up by three or four scores, yeah, we think about getting somebody in there. But I don't think that we are in a situation where we need to worry about the depth at that position, because we have got Dayne who can go in there and do very well for us.
Q. And how has Dayne handled being the No. 2 quarterback? Obviously we have not seen him in a practice or a game. How would you say he's played in practice?
COACH KELLY: I think he's been very professional in the sense that he's gone to work every day, he's worked hard; he's staying prepared. He's not happy with his situation, but no one would be. But he's been a positive influence on our team, and he's prepared for when he gets his chance to be ready.
Here Coach Kelly makes it very clear that Crist is definitely the #2. There is no mention at all of Andrew Hendrix or Everett Golson directly. To say that Hendrix or Golson are implied in the "getting somebody in there" comment is probably also a stretch at this point. We simply don't know for sure.
So these comments really do nothing more than reaffirm the "who" and the "what" but continue to evade the "why" that everyone seems to be after. That's really what everyone wants to know isn't it? What exactly is it that Coach Kelly and the rest of the staff see that make them so sure that Rees is the guy?
From my perspective it really comes down to one thing. Mental toughness. I know, I know everyone is tired of all the little Rees catchphrases. You could build a house with all of them right? He's mentally tough, he's a competitor, he's a winner, he's unflappable, he's got guts, and the list goes on and on.
But at the end of the day I honestly believe that mental toughness is truly the centerpiece of this Crist vs. Rees discussion that just won't die.
I don't care if you are talking about competitive athletics, upper level academics, high pressure careers or performance in combat. Mental toughness is one of those "intangibles" that we can't quite grasp or measure but we know it when we see it. We also know it when we don't see it.
I am a coach's kid. Throughout my formative years my Dad used sports to teach me about life. And while all of those lessons included the particulars of football, and or baseball, the real focus of all those conversations came back to mental toughness more often than not. Throughout my childhood a walkoff base hit, clutch first down or any other "big play" warranted a "way to be mentally tough" from my father. He didn't say "nice play." The play itself was a byproduct of the mental toughness. He was acknowledging the most important aspect of what happened.
When I was in high school my Dad and I decided I needed to get another perspective. So I transferred to another school to play for a salty old cat that was known all over the state for two things. Being a hard ass and being unbeatable. Guess what his whole theme was? Mental toughness.
While the goal was always to win the real underlying goal of both men was to ensure that every player that they coached was prepared to win at life. They knew that if we could grasp and master that one concept our chances of success in any endeavor down the road would increase significantly. I bought in.
If I had to summarize everything that those two men taught me in one line it would look something like this.
Mental Toughness = Winning (not just in athletics but in everything)
Whether or not we are cognizant of it this is something that most likely comes into play in all of our lives all the time. If you are extremely successful at something, you are probably mentally tough. Your "heroes" are probably mentally tough. Marines are mentally tough. And the starting quarterback at Notre Dame must be mentally tough.
Dayne Crist looks the part. He's a great kid, he says all the right things, he has worked his butt off to come back from two knee injuries, and he has all the measurables. Crist is impossible to root against. We all wanted him to be the guy. I think Coach Kelly also wanted him to be the guy for all the same reasons. But it took exactly one half of football for Coach Kelly to come to the conclusion that most of us at home were probably coming to as well. I know I was.
It was best summarized that night by Keith Arnold at Inside the Irish.
* Dayne Crist's decision making. I try to limit my Top Gun references to every day life, but Dayne Crist is Cougar. He's just holding on too tight. Credit Kelly for making the tough call and sending Rees to Miramar.
Silly analogy? Perhaps, but you would be hard pressed to find one that more accurately summarized the situation. In my career I have seen this on more than one occasion. It is always awkward and always a defining moment for the individual. They have worked their entire lives towards a single goal and in one pressure packed moment they discover that they just aren't mentally built for it.
Conversely I have seen some unlikely prospects get thrown into the fire and turn into gamers. They may not be great in the beginning but their head is always in the right place. Their overall performance shortly follows suit.
I think this is where Coach Kelly is with Crist and Rees. The real future of Kelly's offense at Notre Dame might be wearing #12 or #5 but he obviously doesn't feel that either of those guys are quite ready to take the reigns. He wanted Crist to be the guy. But I think that Crist had that moment of self discovery in the USF game and Kelly saw it. At that point it was no longer really a choice. He went right back to what was likely his gut instinct all along. In a close race go with the kid that is the most mentally tough.
So re-enter Tommy Rees. His shortcomings have been well documented here at OFD and elsewhere. He doesn't have the measurables. He doesn't always appear to see the field well. He has been prone to turn the ball over at inopportune times. But no matter what is going on around him Rees always fights through it. He shakes off his mistakes.
When it really comes down to it Tommy has done one thing consistently. While far from perfect he has always done enough to win. And he has had his best moments when his back was to the wall, the pressure was dialed up and it mattered the most. He is mentally tough. Coach Kelly can not only work with that he's partial to it. Most great coaches are.