It was fitting that the most bizarre off-season month in Notre Dame Football history would end in disarray.
Irish Coach Brian Kelly hopped on a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning in an effort to put some closure on a number of topics since Notre Dame's National Championship loss to Alabama on January 7th.
Among the topics Kelly was addressing with reporters for the first time was his interviewing with the Eagles and the Manti Te'o fake girlfriend hoax.
In the end, it felt like Kelly and reporters were the ones that were victims of a phone call prank--as the 30 minute conference call featured annoying background noise from 98.7FM, the ESPN affiliate in New York. Someone apparently called in and left the call on hold.
At one point, Kelly was interrupted by a commercial that declared, "I'm picking up a ham and cheese sandwich from Dunkin Donuts."
That was not to be mistaken for what Kelly was doing at the time--he was taking a half hour out of his recruiting schedule while on the road in Texas and that's why he was unable to meet with reporters in person in South Bend.
Kelly opened up the call by declaring how proud he was of his football team for overcoming went many felt was an impossible pre-season schedule and reaching the national championship game.
"On that day, Alabama was the winner by 28 points," Kelly explained. "It's our job to begin work on how to close that gap. We have some work to do, we know where want to go. We know we are capable of getting back to the national championship game."
Kelly interviewed with the Eagles the day after the national title game and declared he was returning to Notre Dame four days later. Of course, that felt like an eternity at the time. Kelly says if there was anything he could do differently, it would have been to close the gap between the interview and when he released a statement to announce he was returning to Notre Dame.
Kelly, a college coach his entire career, said the process was more so about the intrigue of what the NFL is all about. He didn't know the process and kind of wanted to see it first hand so that in the future--he could have a better understanding and be able to turn down other NFL offers easier.
"My heart is with college football and Notre Dame," Kelly declared. "The recruits--I tell them flat out I'm committed to Notre Dame. The NFL is flattering but its not what I want to do. I want to be a college coach."
The Eagles contacted Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick right after Andy Reid was fired to ask permission to speak with Kelly. Swarbrick and Kelly talked and agreed that no conversations would occur until after the national title game. In the meantime, Kelly's agent set up a meeting between Kelly and the Eagles.
"I wasn't even certain i would interview--it wasn't an option in my head," Kelly said about the lead up to the national title game. "I wasn't thinking about it--not a distraction."
"I'm flattered that the NFL would look at me to be one of their coaches but it's just not what I wanna do."
Kelly said he and Swarbrick have had open communications about a new long-term deal since early December and both sides want to solidify "long term consistency of the program." Kelly seemed to indicate that a new deal has yet to be reached.
Kelly said he got a phone call from Manti Te'o on December 26th about what was going on and Kelly immediately began the process of helping his star linebacker.
"It sounded so crazy, I wanted to make sure we had the right people on top of it," Kelly explained of what initially went through his head when he heard from Te'o. "First thing was, what is going on here? You don't know what to think."
Kelly conceded that Te'o did not play his best game against Alabama in the national title game but wasn't sure if it was a distraction for Manti or not. Kelly says only Manti would really know the answer to that.
"i didn't sense it really," Kelly said of Manti being distracted. "Manti is a young man that continues to lead. Obviously he went through tough times during year. We didn't see anything that would set off an alarm. I didn't see it as we practiced leading up to the game."
Kelly feels in the long run, Manti's legacy will be intact.
"Manti will be remembered as a great leader on an undefeated football team at Notre Dame," Kelly explained. "He showed how to be a great teammate. For me, he'll be in my eyes one of the very great [players] I've had in my 22 years as a head coach."
Kelly said the Irish are still in talks with the NCAA about the status of safety Jamoris Slaughter, who is seeking a 6th year of eligibility after a season ending injury. They are currently appealing a ruling from the NCAA that denied Slaughter's request. Kelly says ND is hopefully a final answer will come before National Signing Day.