The Observer Ads: Six Months Later

We are approaching the half-year anniversary of a group of fans and alumni publishing two memorable advertisements in The Observer, Notre Dame’s student-run newspaper.

When they were released we laughed, we cried, and we laughed some more. Today, we are going to look back at the wild times that provided the world with one of the most hilarious sports “protests” campaigns of this century.

Notre Dame’s season ended on Saturday, November 26th in the L.A. Coliseum and almost immediately the rumors of Brian Kelly’s imminent departure from South Bend ratcheted up in the media. Although these rumors were pretty weak as far as these things go (Notre Dame and Brian Kelly working together to find a soft landing among the most fantastical of them) the anticipation of major change rose quickly under the dome.

One could argue the anticipation was purposely heightened in order to manufacture more outrage for the future, a common tactic for disgruntled groups.

In the middle of the season Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick gave Kelly a vote of confidence but did not speak publicly about the disastrous season as the campaign winded down. On Friday, December 2nd the athletic director finally broke his silence during his radio show and it was the spark that ignited dreams of a revolution.

Among the many comments that drew ire were that Kelly would return as head coach, that Swarbrick didn’t evaluate based on one year, that Kelly wasn’t held responsible for the NCAA probation placed on the program, and for having the gall to pronounce that the 2015 season was one of the best coaching jobs he’d ever seen.

If it hadn’t happened already, Swarbrick’s mug was now atop the angry fan dart board. A mere 5 days later on December 7th a full page advertisement was placed in The Observer. The ad showed an unflattering picture of Brian Kelly but mentioned Jack Swarbrick’s name 3 times to just once for Kelly.

Denial of accountability, truly the last straw.

The ad makers wanted to send a stern message and instead had people rolling on the floor in tears as memes instantly sprung up organically. Yes, the revolution began with a whimper. They might as well have paid for an ad that said, “DON’T TAKE US SERIOUSLY, PLEASE.” To try and take advantage of the momentum (or was it establish some momentum?) another new ad was taken out in the same newspaper just 4 days later.

Now that 6 months have passed we’re here to review the 3 main reasons these ads failed miserably.

Medium and Origin

If you didn’t know where this ad came from or weren’t blessed to see its hurried formation happen in real time the source wouldn’t have been too difficult to guess. In the waning days of the year 2016 the preferred choice of protest was a pair of ads in a newspaper with the circulation the size of a small town. The selection of this specific medium in and of itself meant the revolution would sputter and be ridiculed from the start.

Choosing a newspaper ad would be like Notre Dame trying to improve the strength & conditioning program by setting up a rusty Nordictrack outside of the Gug.

Newspaper ads & Nordictracks = making ND better

The ads came from an insular community drenched in years of being an echo chamber that such tone deafness and childishness became the story instead of their purported cause. And I use cause extremely lightly.


Initially, this first round of advertisements were supposed to be just that, the beginning of a movement. Thousands of dollars were raised–tens of thousands of dollars even! Were billboards on the horizon? Perhaps airplane signs? There was room in the budget for protests during National Signing Day, the Blue-Gold Game, and beyond.

Then, everything fizzled.

They did try to branch outside of their comfort zone for further reach, bless their hearts. The day before the second advertisement was published a Twitter account was created to broaden the message. As if you couldn’t write the script more spectacularly the very first tweet features a plea for more info at a Frankenstein half website, half email address.

How long do you think they looked up on how to delete a tweet? Did they know it was possible?

Fight for Excellence has tweeted a total of 23 times and has not had an original tweet since December 13, 2016 with zero activity during 2017. Who knew the fight for excellence would only need 3 days?

If that wasn’t good enough a Fire Swarbrick Twitter account was created with accompanied informative website. Created on New Year’s Eve this one lasted 12 whole days before giving up.

People don’t respect things that are hastily put together, embarrassingly credulous, and most importantly lacking in passion. They want you to believe all of these amateurish things about the football program and yet operate in an even more incompetent manner.

You Can’t Argue the Facts!

Some people were bothered by the anonymity of the ads but they weren’t really anonymous. The first ad was completely anonymous in print while the second went under the name of a single poor schlub with an email address for “media inquiries.”

The ads were a message board temper tantrum vomited up onto a student newspaper with no path for future attention, except for more of the same uncontrolled, raging outbursts.

Some have tried to step in and say, “Well, set aside the way the info was disseminated you can’t argue with the facts presented.”

Of course, the facts were never the point. The ads were never meant to truly inform people. Anyone who is reading these words right now learned absolutely nothing from the ads. No one who works at Notre Dame woke up and finally learned Brian Kelly hadn’t won a major bowl game because of the ads.

One ad was not enough.

Did the ad makers believe the students would be called to action and just needed a nudge? Aren’t the students today smarter than ever, though? In this vein, the ads were the very definition of too clever by half.

The ads were meant to embarrass Notre Dame and be a lovely bit of chest pounding for some fans. These goals failed as the embarrassment turned toward the ad makers. It’s not about the facts because literally anyone with critical thinking skills could see this belly flop coming from miles away.

If it was really about facts there’d only be 2 sets of people:

1) Those who wanted mass firings and supported the ads

2) Those who didn’t want firings and didn’t support the ads.

When you’re coming from an echo chamber that is the worldview and when that worldview is exposed to something outside your bubble you end up with these out of touch and myopic ads. Right now if someone from the ad makers is reading this all they see is support for Kelly & Swarbrick.

Dealing in absolutes is the only move to make at this point and it’s another common tactic for the ad makers to keep their sanctimonious echo chamber impenetrable from reality.

The fundamental flaw in all of this is that you can’t stand on a high horse shaking your finger at something that you think is awful and turn around and promote something so ridiculous and amateurish, plus top it off with terrible follow up and a lack of passion.

It was bad enough Notre Dame went 4-8 but these ads took the hardest L this off-season.

By | 2018-05-09T22:26:11+00:00 June 7th, 2017|Football|39 Comments

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Clay Cossé fka MouthCoyote1985Ryan DiCiccohooks orpikjuicebox Recent comment authors
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Concrete Charlie
Concrete Charlie

Shots Fired!

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Michael Bryan

Interesting to look back on – a few thoughts:

1) A few people have commented on this before, but the inconsistency and clear cherry picking of stats (record vs top 12 over past four seasons?!?) undermines credibility where frankly it isn’t needed.

2) The sudden turn on Swarbrick when he made clear he was keeping BK (which wasn’t really surprising) was crazy to watch. Very quickly he went from a seemingly good approval rating to a sworn enemy of greatness who picked a fight with them with his comments (which he later did by mocking the Observer ad, but initially that never seemed to be his intention although it was construed that way by the “BK must go and anything else is indefensible” crew.

3) and to me, the most disheartening is that an ND group would turn on their own over this. The “unremarkable” reference to Declan Sullivan is in incredibly poor taste, but who cares if it scores cheap points against “enemies” like JS and BK. Likewise the BK comments about the academic scandal weren’t the right answer, but choosing to use that issue for evidence feels like a back stab when all public facts suggest neither had knowledge of the academic issues (and we should be confused/directing anger at the NCAA’s insane inconsistency instead).

To Eric’s last point, the “if you’re not with us you’re the enemy” stance turned pretty ugly. From what I heard guys like Jack Nolan, Pete Sampson, or anyone who offers any counter argument is subject to ad hominem attacks and mockery. For a group that supposedly stands for Notre Dame’s values and reputation that’s really the depressing piece – there’s a loss of conscience that some (not all) have shown in a desire to push their agenda.


Old people, man.


And to Eric’s point: I thought they should get rid of Kelly, and I thought then and probably think now that they made a mistake in keeping him (though offseason developments and the general tenor around the program at the moment have made me less certain of my position). However, I view those ads as a complete joke, for basically self-evident reasons.

Guess that makes me a Kellylover.

Brendan R

Thank you. I’ve said since the ad came out that possibly the worst part of it was that their frustration is completely justifiable at a macro level, and that there’s a fair conversation to be had about most of – definitely not all, but most of – the points that ad made in its ham-fisted way. The execution was so, so awful though, from the 1995 PowerPoint design to the factual inaccuracies (there are some, but I won’t bother with them here), to the blatantly obviously cherry-picked stats, to the lack of attribution and call to action, to the six-year-old (and not repeated since) purple-faced Kelly picture, to the co-opting of Declan Sullivan’s years-earlier death for football purposes, that the ad effectively killed any chance of anyone taking their legitimate arguments seriously.

A thoroughly regrettable effort.

Concrete Charlie
Concrete Charlie

You guys mentioned Declan a couple of times. Do not see him in the ad, or is there some TOS code word that references him?

Brendan R

As E said… I don’t remember now if it was a presser or in a deposition, but at the time Swarbrick said he thought the wind that day was “unremarkable.” It was a sloppy and painfully obvious CYA attempt, as the wind was off the charts bad and it was all over TV and social media. One of the guys on NDN who is an actual attorney said back then that Swarbrick should’ve been fired for that remark, which is not an indefensible position. I’ve seen other attorney alums opine the same in other venues.

Sitting on that opinion for six years, though, and dredging it up when the football team has a bad season in an attempt to get him fired – that’s an utterly indefensible position.


Brendan, this has always been a subject that has bothered me, but for a different reason than you might expect. I disagree with your characterization of the winds that day and Jack’s comments about it. Yes. It was windy, but not “off the charts,'” especially not for most of the day. The average wind speed that day was about 22 mph, what the national weather service calls “breezy.” (Above 25 is called “windy.”) Thats where they had been for most of the day. Then, there was a sudden increase to 33, with a gust of 53 mph. That is likely the gust that knocked over the lift and is the number that is always reported in the media from that day. But it is misleading because it had not been like that all day. Was it breezy, or even windy? Sure, but until that gust is was not something that you would necessarily notice. If I recall, Jack was not outside when the lift blew over. If so, he might not have been there when the wind picked up, and his statement may have simply reflected his personal observations,from earlier when he was outside, as opposed to an “obvious” CYA. Moreover to say that he should be fired over such a comment is absurd.

i also thought the grief they got for the accident was unwarranted. I believe I read that the winds were faster than what the lifts were rated for. However, I would not put the blame on JS or BK for not knowing what the wind ratings were for the lifts or for not checking them. Sure they are in charge of the program, but that is not their area of expertise. Someone at ND should have been aware of the ratings, but not them.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Yeah, you’re a Kellylover in their eyes, but there’s still hope for you with that stance. 10 Hail Marys and promise to openly campaign for the next HC to bring back the fullback and salvation can be yours!

Brendan R

And another thing… I’m not sure who they meant with “Ridicule in the national media.” Kelly was never ridiculed in the national media at any point in his Notre Dame tenure, unless you want to count guys like Paul Finebaum and sports radio jocks. In fact, the tenor in the national media has generally been “this guy isn’t great but he’s pretty good, and if he can’t get it done there maybe nobody can.” I’m left to conclude that they’re referring to Finebaum’s “miserable person” comment and others like it.

So in one fell swoop, the ad-makers sided with the NCAA and Paul Finebaum. Against Notre Dame. In print. Umm…


Not sure what you’re talking about. The ad has done its job, Bob Stoops just announced he’s leaving Oklahoma after this season. I didn’t read past the headline, but I’m just going to assume it’s to fill the soon to be vacant head coaching position at Notre Dame.


If I were BK, I would jump at that spot so fast (reports are Lincoln Riley will take it, but he is 33 and I am sure more of an interim role since no real candidates are available). I love ND, but if I supported a family as a FB coach, HC at ND is not a position I would want.

I thought, and still think, Kelly was far and away the best possible hire at the time. I think he is pretty easily a top 10 CFB coach right now (only definitely behind Saban/Meyer/Dabo/Shaw). That said, I am pretty indifferent on whether we retain him, mostly I am fine with it because I doubt many/if any outside that list could do better.

BUT (to counter, my counter). The outpouring of totally irrational hate for BK since the moment he was hired, has always made me root for him personally way more than any other coach. Often times I would like to see him leave and win a NC, at say OU, just to shut up those dumb pos’s.


Lincoln Riley is probably a hotter coaching commodity than Brian Kelly – i.e., Oklahoma almost assuredly would rather have Riley as their HC, as would most schools right now. Brian Kelly is nowhere near considered a top-10 coach at the moment –


Guys, Paul Finebaum is seriously reporting that Stoops is positioning himself for the ND job after Kelly gets fired. And he didn’t even reference me as his source! Rude.


As a student last year, I did not even know these observer ads were a thing. Granted, I do not read the observer on the daily, but I do not remember any discussion from any of my residents in Carroll Hall or any of my friends on campus about the ads.

From looking at the ads, I’m surprised there was not a bigger discussion on campus. We joke all the time about 4-8 football, and basketball was in full swing by that time period. I just find it interesting that I had no clue about these advertisements.

Brendan R

So if a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around to hear it…

Clay Cossé fka Mouth
Clay Cossé fka Mouth

Whatever “Carroll Hall” is, I don’t think it counts as “on campus” or part of “Notre Dame.” Sounds made up.

Brendan R

I was going to refrain, but since this thing annoys me so much, I have to once again point out the numerous factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

– “0-10 against top 12 teams the last four years”: Not true, as we beat end-of-year #3 Michigan State in 2013. 1-9 obviously isn’t a whole lot better than 0-10, but it’s an easily checkable number and it looks stupid to get it wrong. So (a) it’s wrong, and (b) it’s pretty clearly massaged. The time fence was obviously set at 4 years specifically to exclude the 2012 season. If you extend it to top 15 teams over Kelly’s tenure, we also beat end-of-year #11 MSU in 2011 and #7 Stanford and #15 Oklahoma in 2012. If you go the other way and trim it to top 10 teams, you would have to take out losses to #12 Michigan in 2011 (would that we could), #11 Stanford in 2013, and #12 Stanford in 2016. The thing that kills me is that “2-10 against Top 10 teams in Kelly’s tenure” stands well enough on its own – why massage it?!?

– “But Jack says ‘It’s harder to win now than in 1988′”: Again, a factual error wrapped up in a misrepresentation – that shouldn’t be in quotes because that’s not what he said! And on top of that it badly misrepresents what he said, to the extent that it seems extremely deliberate. Jack Nolan asked him if he felt it was harder to win now than it was in 1988, and he said this: “I think undoubtedly it is harder… But it doesn’t make any difference. It’s harder to win basketball games than it was back then. It’s harder to do a number of things. We don’t treat any of that as an excuse or a reason to have different goals… We have to do a better job with it, that’s all.” I’ll let that stand well enough on its own.

– “Record over last three seasons”: A deliberate misrepresentation. Kelly was extended in January 2016, when over the four previous seasons (see, I can play this game too), he had a .745 win percentage, or, you know, slightly above the historic win percentage quoted in the article. He wasn’t extended after posting a three-year win percentage on par with Willingham’s, which is what the ad leads you to believe.

Again, I’m not saying there wasn’t plenty of legitimate reason to be upset last year, because obviously there was. I’m obviously on record here as being onboard with giving Kelly one year to turn things around, but I wouldn’t have been upset if he was canned last year. But when you put out something that’s so obviously a ham-fisted propaganda piece, you kill any chance of anyone taking you seriously.

Clay Cossé fka Mouth
Clay Cossé fka Mouth

I think a new thread should be started wherein everyone will post photos of what they think Mike Murphy, “89 looks like.

Also someone mentioned “old people.” This is not an age thing. This is an echo chamber thing and a people-who-are-curmudgeonly-far-out-of-proportion-to-their-age thing.