Story of Te'o girlfriend hoax may never come to definitive end

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Story of Te'o girlfriend hoax may never come to definitive end

Updated: Jan. 20, 10:40 a.m.

It's been three days since Deadspin first reported Manti Te'o's girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was nothing more than the product of an elaborate hoax. Since then, we've heard from Notre Dame, those close to Te'o, those close to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo -- the man behind Kekua's persona -- and, late Friday night, Te'o himself.

There's much more information on the table than there was Wednesday. But there's still a large gray area inside this story, and it likely won't go away.

Te'o's interview with Jeremy Schapp Friday answered a few questions. It brought to light more aspects of the saga that require an explanation -- for example, why did the direct messages that purportedly show Tuiasosopo confessing to Te'o about the hoax initially show a message that's 217 characters long (Twitter's limit is 140 characters)? ESPN has since updated the image file to show messages that fit Twitter's limit.

Furthermore, why didn't the private firm Notre Dame hired extensively interview Te'o as part of its investigation? Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio provides reasoning why the investigation wouldn't talk to the perpetrators of the Kekua hoax, but that doesn't explain why Te'o wasn't directly part of the inquiry.

But enough with the questions, since chances are, they won't be answered. Schapp said Friday it appeared as if Te'o had unburdened himself with the interview, and there's probably a decent chance he won't speak on the matter again.

Related: Te'o breaks silence, but only raises more questions

Te'o may be bombarded by questions about it at the NFL combine, or after he's hitched with a pro team in late April. But he could easily say he doesn't want to discuss the topic, and no amount of prying could get anymore information out of him if he's personally moved on from the Kekua hoax.

But he'll have to field plenty of questions in private as NFL teams vet him as a potential draft pick. Te'o hardly is done with the questioning, but he may be done with it in the public eye.

Notre Dame, too, won't speak on the matter anymore. Brian Kelly may be asked about it at his next press conference -- which, right now, looks like Feb. 6 for national signing day -- and perhaps defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will field a question or two down the road as well.

It doesn't sound as if Tuiasosopo will discuss it anytime soon, either. Perhaps hearing from the person who pretended to be Kekua would advance the story, but that person hasn't come forward yet.

Most of those secondhand accounts, save the friend of Tuiasosopo's cited by Deadspin as being "80 percent" sure Te'o was in on the hoax, have come out in support of the Notre Dame linebacker. Plenty of friends and teammates have told various media outlets Te'o was duped and had no hand in the hoax, and a friend of Tuiasosopo's told ESPN.com Te'o wasn't involved as well.

In fact, right as this article was published, ESPN.com ran a story showing a Facebook correspondence Te'o had with a friend showing the linebacker thought Kekua may be a "prank" in 2010.

Related: Samardzija, Te'o: The spotlight comes with the territory

When the Deadspin story broke Wednesday, the biggest question regarded how much Te'o knew. There's now enough evidence in Te'o's favor that would indicate he indeed was duped, although it's impossible to say that with 100 percent certainty. It's logical to believe Te'o wasn't involved, but it's also not completely illogical to continue searching for evidence that he was in on it.

A definitive ending to this story would certainly be satisfying. Cliffhangers, inevitably, keep us coming back for more, and gray areas foster speculation.

Alabama left no doubt they were the best team in college football on Jan. 7. This story won't have an ending as convincing as a 42-14 final score.

For such a bizarre, fascinating tale that managed to wrestle away the national spotlight for a few days, that's not the endgame we're looking for. But it's the one we'll likely get.

After firing Brian VanGorder, Brian Kelly puts onus on coaches to fix Irish defense

After firing Brian VanGorder, Brian Kelly puts onus on coaches to fix Irish defense

Brian Kelly, before Sunday, hadn’t fired an assistant coach since coming to Notre Dame nearly seven years ago. But faced with a 1-3 record and an uncertain defensive future, Kelly came to the conclusion that a change at defensive coordinator was necessary to Notre Dame’s chances of turning around a season headed in the wrong direction. 

And with that, Brian VanGorder is out. Greg Hudson, who previously was a defensive analyst and Purdue’s defensive coordinator from 2013-2015, is in. But what does Kelly want to see out of a defense that ranks at or near the bottom of the FBS level in so many defensive statistics and has been the main culprit in losses to Texas, Michigan State and Duke?

The first step, Kelly said on his teleconference Sunday, is injecting something enjoyable into an Irish defense that VanGorder defended in August as “likable and learnable.” 

“Guys played hard, but we lacked some of the energy and enthusiasm and fun, quite frankly, that you need to have when you're playing on defense,” Kelly said. 

Maybe better energy will result in better tackling, a fundamental area that’s been a glaring problem for this defense in 2016. Kelly said last week his defensive players were “anxious,” which contributed to the the team’s tackling problem. Better coaching, of course, would help there as well. 

But adding energy is sort of a nebulous, impossible-to-quantify concept. More concrete will be the tweaks to the defensive scheme and moving a few players into different positions to maximize their ability. 

Kelly said the terminology of the defense will remain the same, which makes sense given the installation process for VanGorder’s scheme began back during spring practice. Changing the terminology, Kelly said, would “pull the rug underneath the kids at this point in the season.”

What there will be, Kelly said, is a different focus trained on parts of the defense that have been installed but maybe not utilized frequently. 

“There's a lot,” Kelly said. “There's a very vast library that is easily tapped into from a different perspective, different terminology in terms of what has not been leaned on heavily in terms of fronts and coverages, but it's already installed.

“So there's a vast library. There's a lot there. I'm going to send around some of the things I believe our guys will feel comfortable with, and we'll go from there.”

Kelly dismissed the notion that VanGorder installed too much into his defensive scheme, but said he, Hudson and Irish coaches will “streamline” things to allow players to be fundamentally sound and play with that kind of speed and energy necessary. 

Kelly said, too, that he and his coaching staff will meet Sunday to discuss personnel changes — both from getting certain guys on the field (like defensive end Jay Hayes, who Kelly specifically addressed) and getting others into better positions to make plays. 

“We think that there might be some validity to moving around a couple of players,” Kelly said. “So that will be a conversation that I begin a little bit later this afternoon.”

It’s too early to tell what Notre Dame’s defense will look like on Saturday against Syracuse at MetLife Stadium, but what’s clear is that a turnaround is necessary — and it’s needed immediately. At 1-3, with three games left against teams ranked in the top 15 of S&P+ (home games against Stanford, Miami and Virginia Tech), Notre Dame doesn’t have much margin for error if it wants to reach a bowl game in 2016. 

The defense has made plenty of errors so far, to the point where Kelly took a step he never had in South Bend. Streamlining things, getting that energy back, tweaking the scheme — whatever it is, Notre Dame needs solutions on defense. 

Those solutions weren’t coming with VanGorder and now have to come with Hudson, as well as Kelly taking a more involved supervisor role in the defense. 

“It starts with the coaches,” Kelly said. “I think it's got to be coach-led and they have got to start the fire. And then those players that have that intrinsic motivation, that fire within, they will come along with us. Those that don't, we're going to leave them along the side. But this is going to start with the coaches.”

Brian Kelly explains going from defending to firing Brian VanGorder

Brian Kelly explains going from defending to firing Brian VanGorder

After Notre Dame gave up 50 points in its season-opening loss at Texas, coach Brian Kelly said criticisms of Brian VanGorder’s defense were “jumping the gun,” adding that “I think y’all should relax a little bit. I think our defense is going to be fine.”

Following that 36-28 loss to Michigan State two weeks later, Kelly said “without question” VanGorder was the right man for the job and that firing him was “not even part of the conversation.” 

And after Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Duke, Kelly said he was pleased with Notre Dame’s defensive coaching. Then, on Sunday, he fired VanGorder. 

“That's not the appropriate time to get into talking about your coaches and where you feel they fit on that continuum of how well they are doing,” Kelly said of his media sessions. “I’m going to defend them, I'm going to defend my coaches in those kind of public settings. As I got a chance to further evaluate our football team and our current situation, I felt that it was in our best interests to make the move that I did.”

While Kelly said he never considered firing VanGorder after the 2015 season, he did mention that he felt a pattern emerged after that loss in Austin. Going back to last year, Notre Dame had lost three consecutive games to Stanford, Ohio State and Texas, with defensive issues marring each game. 

Notre Dame’s defense allowed Stanford to connect on a walk-off field goal that effectively eliminated any chance of the Irish reaching the College Football Playoff. Ohio State’s offense kept Notre Dame at arm’s length in the Fiesta Bowl, a game which ended 44-28 in favor of the Buckeyes. And the 50 points Texas racked up — 37 of which came in regulation — were too much for DeShone Kizer (who scored six touchdowns) and the offense to overcome. 

“To me, that was three in a row,” Kelly said. “So that's got my attention. You're evaluating everything at that point. So yes, I mean, I'm evaluating those from even what it happened the previous season.”

Kelly spent more time with Notre Dame’s defense last week, which allowed him to take the pulse of the group. And after watching his team self-destruct in an embarrassing loss to Duke, Kelly said he needs to see more energy, fire, passion — whatever you want to pick from the buffet of synonyms — from his team. 

The move to fire VanGorder, in part, is an effort to generate that kind of enthusiasm from this defense going forward. Because if this defense doesn’t get fixed, or at least improves to being somewhat reliable, Notre Dame could very well struggle to reach six wins. 

“I need to see our guys play fast and free and loose, and I need to see excitement on the field,” Kelly said. “I need to see guys playing the game like kids, and not so mechanical and robotic. They have to let it go and let it happen and that means we have to tweak some things.

“They had some fourth down stops. They played hard. But playing hard is not enough. There has to be other intangibles as it relates to your defense, and we were missing some important ingredients, and that's why I made the change. And so what I'll be looking for in particular relative to these tweaks is these guys come at it with a clean slate, and I expect to see them play with a lot more passion and enthusiasm.”