"We wanted the focus to be on themselves," said Kelly of his team's off-campus training camp in Marion, Ind. "I think they learned that you can in fact survive without social media and television. They did make it through four days without it, and that opportunity to work on themselves and the coaches to be part of that process was a great jump-start on 2013. Not talking about Manti Te'o and the Alabama game and what happened last year and all that other (stuff)."
Only he didn't say "stuff." And in doing, illustrated well the frustrations all folks Irish have experienced since -- and most important -- during, the team's BCS Championship defeat. Notre Dame was 12-1 and among the nation's best last season. It played on the game's biggest stage -- last season. It endured one of the most bizarre, head-shaking, oh-no-what-next? off-seasons in recorded history.
Some of it was self-inflicted. Some of it surreal. A healthy dose likely the result of the football gods getting even with everything that went right in South Bend last fall.
And it's all in the past.
Kelly put it there with his team's trip south for training camp. Because while his 2012 squad will be remembered among the best, most memorable, and pleasant surprise providers in program history, their run is irrelevant to everything that happens hereafter.
In the spring of 1989, ex-Irish head coach Lou Holtz offered the following his team's national championship run '88 and their challenge going forward. "We don't want to defend the national championship. We want to go out and win it again."
Kelly and the 2013 Irish feel the same, sans the all-important championship rings, of course, but well-aware of what it takes to attain them.
"They're all competing for three, four, five. It's very, very competitive. I would not give an edge to any of them right now. It's extremely competitive."
Kelly was speaking at a micro level regarding his (essential) backup defensive linemen and their push for playing time. But the operative word used was "competing" and it's one you'll hear throughout August and see in spades in September and the autumn months that follow. It's what the program is again about.
"What we have to do is we have to put the best players on the field…We've got to make sure that we're gonna put the best 22 on the field and get the schemes to fit them. Well, I'm not gonna change the schemes until I know who the best 22 are. We're still in that process. That's what this is all about.
"This camp is evaluating those guys and finding out what they can do."
And its about doing it one step better than they did in 2012. It's the expectation of a champion, one finally rooted in reality, for a program that hasn't been the best since the end of Reagan Administration.
Best illustrating the steps Notre Dame's football team has taken since Kelly's arrival on the heels of a 16-win, 21-loss (16 and 21!) mess left by the former regime is the otherwise innocuous schedule that adorns the west wall of their main meeting room, the Isban Auditorium.
Last August, that schedule concluded with the final game slot notation: "Bowl Game: TBA"
This year's edition?
January 7, 2014
BCS Championship Game.
The goal, now that the off-season of their discontent has been rendered meaningless, is compete to that end.