In for the long haul?Irish head coach Brian Kelly joked last week that this is the time of year he usually has to begin a press conference with statements to the effect that he's "happy with his current position…not going anywhere."
He noted his ascension to one of the top jobs in college sports – plus a disappointing 7-5 record in his first season in charge – ensured no such statements were necessary in December 2010.
But what about the promising group of coaches on staff? Eventual upward mobility appears inevitable throughout the youthful ranks.
"I've worked with every one of the coaches. or had a personal relationship with everybody except Coach (Ed) Warinner," Kelly noted. "So they all know me and they know what to expect, and that is we didn't come to Notre Dame to use this as a launching point for other jobs. I think that's where we start."
Kelly won't stand in the way of head coaching opportunities for those on staff, but Irish fans shouldn't worry about a plethora of perceived lateral movement, either.
"You develop relationships over time so you're right (in stating that staff retention is key): consistency and continuity, more so for our players – is more of a (critical) issue than me dealing with (the loss of coaches).
"These players have had different coaches and different voices. The consistency and continuity of the staff is important for our players."
Kelly added that Year Two will differ from Year One in that he'll be more involved with development…of his trusted assistants.
"If there's one thing I'll spend more time on in Year 2, it's working with my staff more. I think in my first year I had a lot of balls in the air and it's so important to spend time with your coaches," he said. "It's something I probably did a better job of later in the year."
Speaking of commitments…We're speaking of the verbal, non-binding kind usually accompanied by grand, flowery statements of assurance.
In other words: the verbal pledge of a 17-year-old high school senior to a football coach.
"I chuckle about it sometimes," Kelly began when asked about the occasional wavering word of a teenager. "The last I (heard) you still have to sign a Letter of Intent for that to be a binding commitment. I've always told my coaches, whether I was at Grand Valley State or here at Notre Dame, ‘You keep recruiting' (the supposed verbally committed players).
"The one thing that's pretty clear: when they commit to you at Notre Dame, your opposition knows who they have to fight against. They don't have to fight against seven other schools; they have to fight one, to try to work at (overturn) that commitment."
Is that more of a challenge now that at his previous coaching gigs?
"Oh absolutely, without question, because of the kids that we're recruiting," he admitted. "We're not recruiting kids that have two or three MAC offers. We're recruiting kids that have national offers with great programs, and dynamic coaches, and a great support system when they come on campus.
"Once a young man makes a commitment to us, we as a staff go into the mode that, ‘Okay, here's where it's going to get tough now.' Because everybody out there (then) knows who their competition is. We have to be prepared to recruit harder during those times."
Yep…pretty sure I see a few differencesThe first season of Notre Dame's conversion to the spread offense offered a mixed bag. Brian Kelly's desired tempo was met on occasion; the execution (decision and accuracy of his quarterbacks included) scattered and streaky; and the end result: finishing drives with touchdowns – sub-optimal though no worse than the national average and better than a dozen bowl teams including BCS qualifier Oklahoma.
More than two-thirds through the season, it was a tweaked offensive approach – with an element of power football included therein – that helped Irish to grow into a solid, winning football team.
But the current attack is hardly ready for prime time.
"We are trying to find ways to win with our offense right now," Kelly said. "This is strictly about finding ways to win football games and using the personnel that we have on hand to get to that end. We have to morph ourselves to get to a level that allows us find a win against Miami."
The 2010 season was highlighted by the no-huddle, spread attack of Title Game qualifier Oregon. The Ducks fast-paced practices and game day product received ample, deserved praise as their march to Glendale for the title game laid waste to opposing defenses.
Is that the type of tempo and execution Kelly envisions for his offense?
"You would not mistake our offense right now for anything that Oregon does," Kelly answered with a knowing smirk. "Would we like to get to that level? Certainly, but you guys (media) are going to have to be patient with that one."
Oregon's offensive efficiency is one to which many coaches aspire, but Kelly noted earlier this season that another team – one traditional to the Irish regular season schedule – has the mark of true grit he'd like to impart to his team.
"I think the Stanford game and the way that they coached their kids, and the way that they transformed them into a real tough-minded group, is where we're getting to," he reiterated this week. "That last drive (by the Irish offense) against USC required a tough-mindedness to go out there and control the line of scrimmage, and we're making strides in that direction. But certainly that is (the goal) within the entire program – that mental and physical toughness."