Out, Out Damn Spot!Last Saturday's matchup vs. USC, the watershed contest of Brian Kelly's 20-game tenure to date, proved unfulfilling, both for Notre Dame's weary fan base and the team's head coach. He's learned first-hand that winning in South Bend, for whatever reason, is far more challenging than most care to admit.
In the wake of Saturday's humbling step backward, Kelly promised he would not be a pleasant man to be around this week in practice. Did that approach come to fruition?
"It's more about how I want things done; how I want this team to play," Kelly began Thursday night following practice. "I haven't been able to get it the way I want them to play. So for me, if they're going to do all the things the right way, and we're just getting beat because the other teams are better, I'll be OK with that. But that's not the case right now.
"I'm not very happy about the way we handle the little things. I don't want to get into too much detail."
While details never followed, philosophical truths might have been revealed. Kelly was pressed on the issue, including the logical question: "Is ‘it' a harder sell at Notre Dame?"
"It's not a buy-in, they're all bought in; they're all bought in," Kelly noted. "Every single one of them is bought in. I coach a style of football that I want played. We're not getting that style. A lot of the guys that are here, we're re-training."
(Editor's Note: Well, hello, Charlie...)
If it's not a matter of the team buying in or responding to Kelly, what then has caused a 12-8 mark with five losses in his first 11 home games?
"That's in their DNA. That's who they are," Kelly said, adding, "Let me just break it down to this and we can move on to other things, here's the best way to put it: Some of them can't do it. That's our job to get them to do it. Some of them won't do it. That's our job to take care of that."
In 2007, Kelly took over a Cincinnati program built by current Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. Kelly brought the Bearcats from respectable (8-5 with a bowl win engineered by Kelly in short preparation) to elite, with wins in 34 of their next 40 contests; losing two straight just once in a three-year span.
But Kelly admitted not every team has taken so quickly to his principles as did the Bearcats.
"I had a hard sell in my first year at Central Michigan. I had a couple hard sells along a 21-year career," he offered. "Some teams are harder than others. This one, we're working at it. I don't think that it's endemic that it's Notre Dame," he added, asked specifically if the Irish program was at the root of the problem. "I think we're just going to get this team to play the way we want them to play."
Kelly's first year with the Chippewas ended with a 4-7 mark. The following season, CMU finished 6-5 and by his third season at the helm, Kelly directed his squad to a MAC championship and 10-4 final mark.
Can he get the current crop of Irish players to reach the level he expects?
"You can see the players that I recruited here; you know who they are," Kelly said of the 2011 freshmen. "We've had one class of recruiting kids that I've had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along, but it's a process, it can't happen overnight. They're getting there, they're making good progress.
"We're 4-3, very easily could be a lot better than that. If we take care of the ball when it's 17-10 on the one-yard line, who knows what happens. I don't want to paint a picture that we're so far away that we can't get to them, but it's a process, we keep banging them every day.
"It's the old cliché: ‘keep banging the sledgehammer against the wall and you (see) the cracks, and then one day it cracks down.'
"We're still banging at it."
(Or in the words of Travis Bickle (google it), "Someday a real rain will come…")
Thankfully, a little perspective…At 4-3, Irish fans have fallen en masse off the new regime's bandwagon…for the third time. They'll be back on, of course, four straight wins heading into Palo Alto would do the trick. But first, the players have to find a way to overcome another dose of adversity – a theory posited by more than a few players including senior center Braxston Cave this week.
Or do they?
"I don't see this team … adversity means a lot of things to a lot of people, and we can throw it around, the term," Kelly began before adding a welcomed comparison: "I think last year's team overcame adversity. This year's team needs to overcome itself. They've got to play better, consistent. Adversity to me is a bigger picture. We had adversity last year. This year our guys just need to play better football."