SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Saturday it was his decision to hold practice outdoors on a windy day when a student videographer died after the lift he was in fell over.
Kelly said that he decided the Irish could have a productive and safe practice on their outdoor practice fields last Wednesday, despite the wind. The National Weather Service said the breeze was gusting up to 51 mph at the time the tower that 20-year Declan Sullivan was in toppled to the ground.
Notre Dame had systems in place that deal with safety issues at practice but those systems failed and are being evaluated, Kelly said. Conditions including the heat index, lightning in the area and -- obviously -- wind, play into the decision whether to hold practice outside, he said.
"You have to be able to look at the weather conditions and find out whether you believe it's going to be a productive day, first. We believed it to be productive, it was productive, obviously up until the tragedy," Kelly said, speaking to reporters after Notre Dame's 28-27 loss to Tulsa.
"Practice must be safe," he added.
A moment of silence was observed and a prayer offered before Saturday's game for Sullivan. Both teams wore shamrock decals with the letters DS on them.
Later Saturday, Declan's parents, Alison and Barry Sullivan, released a statement through Notre Dame saying they were grateful "for the consideration shown to us by the Notre Dame administration and everyone associated with the university" in the wake of their son's death. The school held a memorial Mass for Declan on Thursday night.
"Declan loved Notre Dame. He felt privileged to have a role with the football program videotaping games and practices. The grief we feel is tempered by the knowledge that Dec was doing what he loved in the place he most wanted to be," his parents' statement said.
"Declan's life was cut short after just 20 years, but he leaves this world a better place for having been here. We hope that all that knew him join us in celebrating our son's life and remembering the joy he brought to so many."
Kelly said when the tower went down, he told his assistants to take care of the team and he went to the area where it landed.
"I gathered the coaches quickly, two of them, and said, 'Keep practicing.' At that point we had players that were starting to migrate towards the accident scene. I thought it was important for me to keep our guys away from that accident scene," Kelly said.
"I got to the accident scene and saw that our training staff were with Declan, and I wanted to make certain that that area was in good hands. It looked like to me everything was moving in the right direction. We had Notre Dame responders, we had ambulance responders. And once I felt comfortable in that situation, where we had professionals on site dealing with it, I went back inside to the practice field and subsequently called our football team together at midfield. We prayed for Declan. I told and informed our football team of the injury, the seriousness of it, and I then dismissed our football team."
Kelly said he didn't have answers as to why someone didn't tell Sullivan to get off the tower, or who was responsible for monitoring the changing conditions.
"Those are all the things that we're examining right now. We could probably come up with a number of different things that we're all wondering. Those are the questions that are being asked exactly as you've asked them," he said.
He also was asked if there is a maximum wind speed prescribed for using the scissor lifts.
"Again, if I had the knowledge specifically of wind speed and heights of lifts, all of those, I certainly would provide those to you. I just don't have that information," he said.
Kelly said dealing with Sullivan's death was especially difficult because he had gotten to know the student personally as a result of spending so much time in the film and video offices. He said he met with the prospective filmmaker's family before Thursday's Mass.
"As a father of three I can only imagine the sorrow that accompanies the loss of your son," Kelly said.
The coach said that "in terms of the tragedy that occurred, there's never been a more difficult time in my life."