Kelly Q&A: Program Infrastructure

A review of all big picture items covered by head coach Brian Kelly at Notre Dame's opening press conference for the 2013 football season.

Kelly Opening Remarks

"We're like everybody else in college football: extremely excited about starting the season.  For us here at Notre Dame, we've worked hard to put ourselves in a position to be back in the national spotlight.  We have no intention of giving that up.  Our focus since our last game has been to get back to the top of the mountain.

"You don't get there easily.  It takes a lot of work.  There's a lot of excitement around here.  There's a lot of work to be done.  We're moving our team off campus for a few days.  I like the fact we can get into an environment where we can spend a lot of time with our players and really get an opportunity to teach and build some strong relationships with our players.

"Again, an exciting time for us, one where we've been anticipating this opportunity since the last game that we played last year.  But our focus is right now on our first practice.  So coaches are getting ready for practice, preparation, scripts, all those things.  Our players are finishing up at home.  They'll be here this weekend.  We'll kickoff the 2013 season.

"Again, a lot of excitement.  Everybody here is busy getting ready to move the football team off campus and get ready for an exciting football season."

Q.  How important is getting off campus for the beginning of practice, putting the past behind, getting ready for 2013?

BK: "It's a collection of new personalities.  You can't live in the past.  We want to talk about this year.  What we need to do is get prepared.

"The second part of that is no distractions, it's all football.  Don't have to worry about getting to math class.  We don't need to worry about guys off campus.  We're all together.  It's 100% being around each other and our football team.

"Both of those things in a combination I think come together with us going off-site."

Q.  Is it going to be one of those no TV, no cell phones places?

BK: "They do have wi-fi.  My anticipation is that will crash within the first 20 minutes (laughter). No TVs, unless they want to watch snow on the TVs.  There's no cable out there. Again, it's an opportunity for us to focus on football and each other.  That's what we'll get at Shiloh Park."

Q.  You went to Higher Ground in Cincinnati.  Is that similar?

BK: "A lot of similarities.  We're still in the process of building infrastructure there.  Shiloh Park has been great.  Dan Brazo here has been very influential in helping put together the field situation there.  We feel great about that.

"There's been some help, but there's still some work.  We feel like it's got all the things necessary for it to be a very successful camp."

Q.  Brian, what is that balance like in terms of almost like whitewashing what you achieved last year and starting anew, versus carrying some parts of that over, be it confidence or swagger?

BK: "There's a combination.  Certainly we've developed an environment, people call it culture, workplace mentality.  There's a lot of ways to spin it. But our kids believe in what we do and how we do it.  There's a way of doing things here.  So that never goes away.  That has permeated this football program, the way we do things on a day-to-day basis, the expectations of how we play defense, offense and special teams, how we prepare.  That will never go away.

"But the players that were here last year that are no longer here are not part of this team any more.  The plays that were made last year have no influence on this year.  So that's the balance.

"The preparation has to be as diligent and keen as it was last year.  You're maintaining the environment, you're maintaining what has been built in the program, with the recognition that we have more work to do, we're still building this thing.  A lot of those pieces are still coming together.

"That combination is staying in the present with our players.  I want our players to stay in the present, focus on what they need to do to be a better football player in 2013."

Q.  Back to Shiloh.  How was Shiloh Park decided upon?  Is there, in your mind, if it works well, a long-term situation for the next few years going forward?

BK: "Well, we've been looking for a couple years.  Shiloh Park was one of the camps we visited a couple years ago.  We didn't feel like the fields were in a position where I could take the team there and practice them without concern for safety.

"So this has been something that's been in the works.  We looked at a number of different sites.  I don't think we're committed to a long-term situation yet.  There's still some more things that need to be vetted.  But it's certainly a good start for us.

"Like I said, we're excited.  We think we have a great partner in Shiloh Park.  They've done everything we've asked them to do to accommodate us.  We're excited they've been able to work so closely with us.

"Quite frankly, it's going to be fun to get off campus and start football down in Marion, Indiana."

Q.  Coming off of last season, the loss to Alabama, you interviewing with the Eagles, what happened to Manti, then Everett, is there anything you have to do now or ongoing to get people past all that negativity that happened in that period?

BK: "It was in the rearview mirror the next day.  I mean, we don't even think about it, don't even talk about it.  It's history.  As I mentioned, our guys were focused the very next day on winter workouts, early-morning conditioning, building into our spring and into our summer.  It's not even something that's discussed."

Q.  Is there any confidence building needed to do after the loss to Alabama to convince this team you can get back there and put up a better challenge?

BK: "Yeah.  Everything we've worked on since that next day, and I mean the next day, is about getting back to the national championship game and winning it. There's not a man that sat in this seat, when we met as an entire team, that is not committed to that end.  That's why they're here.  That's why there's such great excitement and anticipation.  From our standpoint as coaches, we can feel that.

"So it's pretty clear that our players are committed to one goal, and that is to get back to a national championship, just as every other BCS school on Media Day is expecting the same thing. "

Q.  Can you talk about the importance of having a staff return intact and carry over from the previous year?

BK: "We've had great continuity, obviously.  Obviously starts with our coordinators in Chuck and Bob.  Having them back sets the leadership and the voice, that consistency of approach of what the expectations are.  So that never changes when you have your coordinators back.  That's obviously very important for our players.  When they hear that same voice, you just pick up where you left off.

"Then having the entire position coaching staff back as well just continues to build depth in consistency and approach.  You don't lose time through communication.  You lose time when you have poor communication.  We've got great communication.  We've got great continuity.  It lets you get into the season with a great deal of confidence."

Q.  How different is this for you?  Central Michigan you fixed the program, then moved on.  At Cincinnati, you fixed the program and moved on.  Now this is really the first time since Grand Valley that you're maintaining.  How different is the maintaining stage or working with a program that you've already fixed in terms of going into this year?

BK: "It is a fair question. I think that there's some work that still needs to be done internally as it relates to the football team and the players.  We still have some depth issues.  We still have some work to do in recruiting.  I think we're addressing those.  We're really close there.  So that's business as usual, if you will.

"I think the other things now have to do with the longevity of the program.  That has to do with great communication throughout the entire campus and community, making sure that we're doing all the things necessary to provide our student-athletes everything they need to be successful.

"What that means obviously is retention, graduation, making sure that they have all the things necessary to be the best players.  We're making small things that are really big.  We've added some food service opportunities here.  May not seem like much, but they're really big when it comes to the long season and keeping our players' weight up and things of that nature.

"Little things like that that aren't necessarily seen as big things, everybody wants to talk about the stadium as the big ticket, there are many things that are bigger that are going on on a day-to-day basis that are more important to me than the stadium because they're helping us continue to build the program."

Q.  Who (according to strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo) embraced or made the biggest gains in strength and conditioning?

Brian Kelly: "Well, I think every year there's a level of commitment that changes when that senior class graduates.  I think across the board you always see that. Specifically, I think what Coach Longo and my talks with him the last couple days, what he was most excited about was the single-minded purpose of the entire group, the ability to bring the freshman class in with this existing class at the same level.  In other words, he could mix them in.  They were a highly skilled, highly conditioned group that he could mix them in.

"So the two things were an incredible focus with the entire unit, a freshman class that will really add a dimension we have not seen, that he's never seen in his time as a strength coach. I think the final piece is that every player has made significant gains across the board from Zack Martin all the way down to a Chris Brown.  They all have made significant gains."

Q.  You mentioned some little things, training table, the regularity of that maybe expanding.  What are some of the other small things you feel like Notre Dame needs to do to make seasons like last season a regularity as opposed to an anomaly?

BK: "You know, I really think that any successful business or organization, there's a partnership that forms with all those that are involved, and that everybody becomes accountable on a day-to-day basis.

"If you have a great business, accounting is working hand-in-hand with marketing.  In an academic institution, we know our place in athletics, but it's important that everybody is communicating and working together.  Those are the things we're working on a day-to-day basis just like any other good business with and successful organization would.

"I think that communication, building relationships, building trust.  If we ask for something, it's needed.  So those are the relationships that are building on a day-to-day basis that allow your business to continue to grow, that synergy grows the program on a day-to-day basis."

Q.  Negotiation of your contract has gotten a lot of attention.  Is this all part of it, to see what trust is there?  Things you need for the program, if you can get those or not, is that part of the negotiation process?

BK: "No.  This has never been one that I've used a contract to leverage the university to do something.  If I had to do that, I would not be here.  Our university knows exactly what it takes.  We have no issues relative to contract.  I have no issues.  So that's not a story from my standpoint.

"Contractually we have a contract and an agreement.  We have people that are paid money to look at these contracts.  They look at them very closely.  They don't operate as quickly as I would like to.  But there are no issues contractually.  There is no leverage play here.

"I'm really excited about our leadership, my opportunities to speak after the season on a couple occasions with Father Jenkins, have given me the energy and excitement that we can continue to build and grow this football program for years to come."

Q.  Can I read that as you've agreed to something in principle but the details haven't been worked out?

BK: "Absolutely.  That is exactly what happened back in December.  We had an agreement.  There's just legal language.  Nothing that has put me in a position, or the university, that we don't have an agreement moving forward for a number of years."

Q.  You feel like it may not be resolved until after the season?

BK: "No, I think it's imminent.  It's up to (director of athletics) Jack (Swarbrick)  Jack will make that decision.  Whether he wants to make an announcement or not, I don't need an announcement.  I have a signed contract.  I'm getting paid every day.  I'm fortunate to be the head coach at Notre Dame.  I'm not really worried about that stuff."

Q.  One of your program goals was to get to that 85 scholarship limit.  There's always off-season transfers.  How at Notre Dame can you combat that?

BK: "Yeah, you know, look, if you're 83 to 85, you're fine.  I mean, you can't be at 75.  You can't be at 78.  Now you're into an area where great depth and concern of practicing the way you want to.

"We're in striking distance.  Program building, that's still one of the boxes that hasn't been checked off yet in terms of the depth in scholarship.  We're getting closer.  We put Joey Schmidt on scholarship this year.  Who knows.  Maybe we go through camp and there's a couple other guys that may be deserving of a scholarship opportunity.

"We're closer.  It's not a red flag for me anymore, but we still have some work to do there."

Q.  It's probably unique (to Schmidt) in you might have been able to see him earning that down the line when he came in as a freshman.  Is the preferred walk-on route one that can help you combat the annual shortage of scholarships?

BK: "I hope so.  We have a reputation that if you make a commitment to Notre Dame, and it's a huge commitment financially obviously, if you make that commitment, we're up front and honest with you.  If you do that, you'll have an opportunity here to earn a scholarship.

"Nothing is guaranteed, it will have to be earned.  But I hope to have that reputation.  Think we're slowly getting it with Chris Salvi the year before, Joey Schmidt this year.  Hopefully we can get a kid that comes in every year and works his way into a scholarship."

Q.  You ask your players to improve, make changes over the off-season and become better players for the next season.  What do you do as a coach to improve?  What improvement as a coach should we see from you on the sideline this season?  Secondly, were you a Bon Jovi fan before you started recruiting Jesse?

BK: "Well, the improvements I make have to do with how I direct the staff, how we direct the program, how we communicate, always looking to be better at doing what we do, being innovative, always looking for better ways to do it.  Getting out and seeing other programs, bringing coaches in.  That's part of being a great teacher, that you're always trying to learn.

"What I do on the sidelines is too late.  I better be doing it during the week and in the off-season.  I think all of our coaches are committed to being better teachers and educators.  I think we all take that very seriously.  You're right, you ask your players to improve; you want your coaches to grow, as well.  My unit and my group does that as well as any group around.

"I'm a huge fan of Bongiovi.  Didn't have to have his son to make that apparent.  He had a reputation here.  I think Charlie Weis, being from New Jersey, brought him into the Notre Dame family long before I came.  He's a great guy.  He's a grounded guy.  You think a rockstar, he's an unapproachable guy.

"We have a lot of famous people.  He could probably get in the stadium and put a hat and glasses on and make it through the game.  A guy that can't is David Robinson.  He comes in the stadium, he's a guy that everybody knows who he is.

"We have a lot of those guys in our program that are high-profile, but they handle themselves, and have in the past, with great class."


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