No matter what the Twitterverse thought of Brian Kelly’s failed attempt at postgame humor last Sunday night in Tallahassee, his Notre Dame football players didn’t give it much thought.
“We just laughed it off,” star pass rusher Isaiah Foskey said this week as the eighth-ranked Irish prepared for Saturday’s home opener against Toledo. “We didn’t really understand it, but we all knew he wasn’t serious about it.”
So, there was no fear of mass execution in the Irish football facility this week after a narrow escape in overtime against unranked Florida State in the season opener?
“No, no, no,” Foskey said with a laugh. “That’s not the plan. He did not mean that.”
As you may have heard, Kelly, now in his 12th season at the helm, stumbled through an on-air homage to John McKay, the late USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach who wielded humor as effectively as any football coach ever.
Lacking a proper setup, Kelly started off his encounter with ESPN’s sideline reporter Katie George by saying he was “in favor of execution” and then clunkily followed that up with a suggestion that “maybe our entire team needs to be executed after tonight.”
McKay’s classic line, as ESPN play-by-play man Joe Tessitore quickly reminded his TV audience, came in response to a question regarding what he thought about the execution of his offense. Depending on the retelling, McKay either deadpanned he was “in favor of it” or thought it was a “good idea.”
Decades later, the 59-year-old running things in South Bend, Ind., got blasted nationally for A) His apparent disregard for his players’ feelings and/or civil rights B) Insensitivity toward all those who have been executed throughout history and C) Stepping all over the punch line of a joke better saved for those offseason fundraisers with back-slapping boosters.
Double entendre much, coach?
“I know some people probably thought he was serious about it, but he came back with the team and explained himself,” Foskey said. “He knew everyone saw it.”
The better McKay line for Kelly to appropriate, as it turned out, would have been the old saw about how his team didn’t block very well but made up for it by not tackling. Had Kelly used that line instead, perhaps he wouldn’t have spent a big chunk of his postgame news conference defending his clunky dad joke.
“It wasn’t funny? It was taken serious? Are you people crazy?” Kelly said. “Nobody likes to be funny anymore.”
Kelly’s players vouched for his acerbic sense of humor in the strange aftermath.
“I think he’s hilarious, personally,” said fifth-year senior placekicker Jonathan Doerer, who delivered the game-winning field goal from 41 yards. “I know his job makes it difficult to relax, but when he can, I think he’s really funny.”
So, no carryover?
“None of us took it that seriously,” Doerer said. “I can understand if people don’t know him that well and don’t know the team’s relationship with him, but I thought it was funny.”
Sophomore tight end Michael Mayer noted Kelly didn’t do much joshing during the recruiting process — “Recruiting is more of a serious thing” — but the future pro from Northern Kentucky gave high marks to his coach’s comedic timing.
“Coach Kelly’s got a very good sense of humor,” Mayer said. “Personally, he says jokes to me all the time that I find pretty funny and he says jokes to the whole team that everybody finds pretty funny. I don’t think he ever means any harm. He’s a funny guy.”
As for Foskey, the product of the Bay Area had somehow never heard of McKay, the college football Hall of Famer, before Kelly’s odd ode. When Foskey thinks of football coaches and humor, he goes right to Justin Alumbaugh, his old high school coach at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle.
“He’s one of those serious/funny-type of people,” Foskey said. “I don’t know how to describe it. You know he’s serious but at the same time he knows how to joke.”
“He’s funny sometimes, but yeah, he’s got some dry humor,” Foskey said. “He makes me laugh sometimes.”
You might say it’s all in the execution.