In Step

Since Brian Kelly took the reigns in December 2009, Notre Dame football has featured one voice. Entering his third year, Kelly hopes the program's goal to achieve a singular shared vision, especially on the offensive side of scrimmage, has come to fruition as well.

There've been plenty of impressive moments on the offensive side of scrimmage for Brian Kelly and Notre Dame over the last two autumns:

A 21-point opening quarter at Boston College in 2010. A 27-point first half vs. Miami to end his first season and another 28-spot put up in the first 30 minutes at Purdue 10 months later. Then there were the 98 total points produced vs. two service academies to bookend last October.

But the program's 10 losses over the last two seasons have included some head-shaking clunkers on his focused -side of scrimmage as well. There was the Navy debacle in 2010. The teeth-pulling wins vs. Pittsburgh and Boston College last September. Defeats to Stanford and Florida State that featured just two meaningful offensive touchdowns to end 2011.

Entering Year 3, Kelly believes a crucial step has been achieved for the program's stated goal of a BCS berth. Following an uneven second season, staff changes on the offensive side of scrimmage became foremost in his long-term plan.

"From an offensive standpoint we did not meet the goals that I was looking for," Kelly noted Friday. "Anytime you step back (from a season) you have to evaluate all facets of your program. We think these are significant changes that will improve our football program and I believe they already have in terms of the relationships, communication, and the vision that we have on the offensive side of the ball."

Those changes include the addition of two coaches: longtime offensive line leader Harry Hiestand will coordinate the running game while first-year collegiate assistant Scott Booker will coach the team's tight ends and coordinate the special teams.

Additionally, each position group received a touch of new paint, with Chuck Martin moving from safeties coach to offensive coordinator; Tony Alford from wide receivers to running backs/slot receivers; and Mike Denbrock from tight ends to outside receivers and a new role as the passing game coordinator.

"I think we've made some significant improvements and it starts with having Chuck Martin move over from the defensive side of the ball and take over as the offensive coordinator," Kelly offered.

"Chuck and I have a shared vision as it relates to our offense. There's a great communication piece involved having worked with him as well as (Martin) knowing the offensive system that I want to run.

"I think he's an outstanding teacher and an outstanding coach," Kelly continued. "He's great on game day. His addition in that leadership position on offense is a significant improvement for us relative to where we are after the season."

Wealth of Experience Invaluable

Martin's promotion from safeties coach to offensive coordinator seemed curious to many outside the program. But it was a no-brainer for his longtime boss.

"We're going to continue to run the same system on offense," Kelly began. "No one had as much experience in that system as Chuck Martin. He's already been in a leadership position as a head coach. He's a proven head coach. He's a great communicator in front of the group.

"When you're talking about offensive coordinator, its not about what you put on the blackboard, it's about your ability to lead and communicate, to get your players to (perform) at the level necessary. Chuck's already demonstrated that and he brings with him the experience of knowing the offense that we're already running. It really made for a very easy decision."

It was an easy decision for the affable Martin as well.

"I have six years of experience of being on offense for a day-to-day basis, so for me it's getting back on the bike," noted Martin of his past experience directing a championship Grand Valley State offense. "When I came here I started coaching the secondary. That wasn't a big deal. I had coached the secondary a lot in my life so it wasn't like I had to reinvent the wheel."

Martin echoed his boss's press conference comments regarding Notre Dame's maddening offensive inconsistency last season.

"The biggest thing is the execution. We've done a ton of great things on offense. We can put together an offensive highlight tape of the last two years that we look like world-beaters. But (Kelly) hit a lot in his talk today about being inconsistent and trying to get us to play at the highest level all the time. And that's my job," Martin stated.

"When you have the CEO and he still has a major hand in what you're doing, but he's relying on not only me as the coordinator but all the other pieces he put into place on offense to teach his systems at the highest level, and the proof is what happens on Saturday.

"How well you play on Saturday is how well the kids understand what we're doing and being consistent for 13 weeks is difficult but it needs to get done if you want to have the successes we want to have here."

The "Other" Offensive Leader

Tommy Rees vs. Andrew Hendrix vs. Everett Golson vs. Gunner Kiel. Few Irish fans have been able to focus on anything but the team's forthcoming quarterback competition.

Said Martin of Notre Dame's quarterback derby this spring: "We believe we have four gifted quarterbacks. The starting point is, ‘What do we have in each kid but where are they at not only physically, but mentally in the system. How much do they understand where we're really trying to do? And from that point take it and run with it.

"There's a little bit of an evaluation process for us to see where they are day-to-day in the trenches for what they know of coach Kelly's offense, and from there just see who can be the consistent performer," he added.

Could the Irish find their 2012 triggerman by the time the final whistle blows in April's Blue Gold Game?

"I think you'd love to have one. Is it realistic? I don't know. It'll play out," Martin said. "Maybe someone takes it and runs with it and they just come into their own and play themselves ahead of the other group. If it's not that, you still have them working hard this summer and you still have a long evaluation period in the fall.

"It would be awesome if we did have a clear-cut starter but it won't be a big deal to me and I don't think it would be a big deal to Coach Kelly. You can name your starter the day before the first game and he can go out and win the Heisman Trophy," he added. "There's no magical answer as to when you have to go out and name a starting quarterback."

The off-season's most pressing question will likely endure through the spring. Job 1 for Martin is to ensure that question is answered in time to successfully navigate through each of the four challenging contests the Irish face next September, a feat not accomplished at the program in nearly 10 seasons.

The Martin File

A look at the 21-year coaching career of new Irish offensive coordinator, Chuck Martin:

1992-93: Graduate Assistant at Mankato State
1994-95: Linebackers Coach at Wittenberg (Ohio)
1996-97: Defensive Coordinator.DB Coach at Milikin (Ill.) – Martin's alma mater
1998-99: Linebackers Coach at Eastern Michigan
2000-02: Defensive Backs Coach at Grand Valley State (Under Brian Kelly)
2003: Defensive Coordinator/DB Coach at GVSU
2004-09: Head Coach at Grand Valley State
2010: Defensive Backs Coach/Recruiting Coordinator at Notre Dame
2011: Safeties Coach/Recruiting Coordinator at Notre Dame
2012: Named Offensive Coordinator for the Irish Top Stories