Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly sat in the middle of a middle pew, literally twiddling his thumbs, his eyes wandering the nave, transept, and the gilded lancet arches. Every few seconds he would glance down at his watch. Outside, in the tumbling darkness, voices, freshman voices, like animal calls, broke the heavy silence inside Sacred Heart with their call and response of freedom from parents and sobriety.
He heard the door, heavy, heaving, and rose, moving to the sound. Inside, Kelly’s boss, Jack “The Brick” Swarbrick, stood in the shadows, his black trenchcoat giving him a bat-like appearance. His eyes darted quickly from the porch’s inky blackness, looking for others inside the illuminated space. Kelly joined him and fell back into the shadows, too, standing opposite. “Heckuva place for a meeting, Brick. Does the literal cloak come with a figurative dagger?” he asked as he pulled the lapel of Swarbirck’s trenchcoat.
Swarbrick’s voice was a whisper. “Brian, I’ve just finished speaking with Father Jenkins. He’s very concerned about Saturday. When he’s concerned, I’m concerned.” He noticed Kelly’s face and his chin move to speak. He raised his pointed index finger to his own lips, commanding silence.
“Brian, there’s a reason I asked you to meet me here. And it’s not because it’s far, far from Domer Fest.” His right hand followed the stones of the basillica to the fixture on the wall and he carfully turned the dimmer, the light from the helmet above and between them slowly increasing.
“Jack, I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but like I said the other day, we’re ready for Temple week, we’re…”
Again, Swarbrick silenced him. “Brian, endulge me, if you will. I didn’t run from Father’s office like an extra in a Harry Potter movie, darting from tree to tree, for no good reason. I am here to convey a message: win flawlessly and win big.”
Kelly cocked his head, puzzled. Brick continued, “I’ll get to the point, Brian. There’s a lot riding on the Temple game. A lot of plans are depending on a big, big win. The stadium renovation? You think we’re getting the video boards and the Field Turf if we don’t absolutely blow out Temple? Makes it harder, Brian. Lose to Temple and they’ll build more seats and a meeting spaces, sure, but are they going to give us video boards? I want those video boards, Brian. I want a stadium, as you do, that every five-star recruit wants to play in. That means FieldTurf and JumboTrons and Macklemore.”
“You and your boys did amazing things last season, Brian. Far, far beyond our expectations. But there were too many close-shaves. Purdue? Pitt? We had two guys with the same number on the field, for God’s sake, Brian! Wins like that don’t help us, Brian. There’s more to this than just wins and losses, and, honestly, with the plans that are in the works, we can’t have any losses. Not against the Skunkbears, not against the Tree, not against the Sooners.”
“Gosh, Jack,” Kelly interrupted, raising his voice slightly. “You wanna put a little bit more pressure on me? I promise you, our boys are going to be ready, absolutely ready, every Saturday.”
Swarbrick stepped to Kelly, standing under the inverted doughboy’s helmet, jabbing his finger into the coach’s chest. “This is all about USF, Brian. Neither you, nor your boys, were ready for that. I know you’ve got so much progress between the team and that game, but we’re not having something like that happen again, capisce? You don’t fill the stadium with all those boosters and board members and stupid fifty dollar pots of mums and lose to USF. And I know Temple isn’t even close to USF, Brian, but our plans depends on you blowing out Temple.”
Swarbirck relaxed and fell back into the shadows. “Brian, we’re going after the SEC and that starts with you destroying Temple. I want to see Big Lou under center by the third quarter, okay? I want Tommy’s arm in an ice wrap because he hooked up deep with TJ2Smoove and Toot Daddy Fresh a hundred times. Once we’re playing, and beating, an SEC team a season, it’s going to make it so much easier to deal with our next target: Mark May.”
“What’s Mark May got to do with this?”
Swarbrick smiled. “Mark May represents institutionalized anti-Irish bias, Brian. It’s ironic that we’ve moved almost one hundred and eighty degrees from the days of Fielding Yost, but that’s what it is. Every time he gets in front of a camera and bloviates about Notre Dame, he wears away at our brand. It’s why we put a man on the inside, right next to him, Brian.”
Kelly’s jaw dropped. “You mean?”
“Yes, Brian. ESPN thinks they were so clever to pair him with Holtz and it seemed that way for so, so long. But what they didn’t know is that the University let it happen. They saw what was happening to the program and they started planning for it. Honestly, they saw the bad years that were coming, the cancer that started under Davie. We just chose the wrong surgeons to cut it out, Brian. Charlie started to help, but it was so far gone at that point. You were able, finally, to contain the disease and start to kill it. We need you to keep going. That will let so many things happen.”
With that, Swarbrick eased open the black metal door handle, opening the Memorial Door to the warm air outside and the distant safari sounds of the still writhing campus. Kelly put his hand on Swarbrick’s shoulder. “You’re not saying…”
Swarbrick again held up his finger for silence. “I’m not saying anything, Brian, but big wins will let us, and Coach Holtz, do what must be done.”
With that, he stepped out into the shadows along the basillica and began quickly walking away. Kelly was left alone, between the Archangel Michael and Joan of Arc, to consider what this all meant.