Leading into 2012, Kelly felt he'd been remiss in time spent among his players. Too much CEO, not enough time in the off-the-field trenches. He thereafter sought to find time with players, mostly seniors, at team functions, meals, and the like.
That extra time spent isn't why Notre Dame finished 12-1 in 2012 rather than their requisite 8-5/9-4 marks during Kelly's trio of other seasons at the helm, but it was a "weakness" identified by the team's head coach, and he put effort toward eradicating it.
It's an approach ex-Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz knew well during his 11 seasons in South Bend, and one he sees Kelly employing for an on-the-field issue entering 2014.
"As a football coach I understood I had two mandates: graduate and win," Holtz told a small media contingent last week at the Irish Legends Charity Golf Classic (Olympia Fields Country Club) outside of Chicago. "My job wasn't to get them to the pros, it wasn't to get to know the alumni, and it wasn't to build the facilities. It was to graduate the players and win. Any change I made had to help us with those mandates."
Kelly has embraced a similar change for 2014. Though he's hired his third offensive coordinator in five seasons at the helm, the head coach will make a return appearance -- some say after one year, some say after two -- as the offensive play-caller. Holtz believes Kelly is again playing to his chief strength as a result.
"I wanted to run the offense because I figured that we could control the game with the offense," Holtz said of his time on South Bend's sidelines. "I knew how many points it would take to win each game and I would call my plays accordingly. You don't worry about stats, you worry about wins and losses. You don't want the offensive coordinator to be talking about how your offensive ranking will look on his resume, you just want to control the game. You can control the game better from offensive coordinator than you can from any other coaching position."
Kelly offered a similar philosophy when he gained control of the Irish program after three seasons of racking up points in Cincinnati, noting that he had the offense to score points aplenty, but a defense that at times needed to be protected. Games were coached as such, largely because he could control the tenor of the contest as an offensive play-caller.
Holtz echoed pre-season thoughts of Irish fans that tweaks to the 2014 offense should be expected considering the change from a stationary passer in Tommy Rees to a pair of run-capable quarterbacks, Everett Golson and/or Malik Zaire, at the trigger.
"You need to look at your personnel to see if you need to make changes and then think about what changes you need to make if you want to win," said Holtz. "We ran a different offense with Steve Beuerlein (1986) than we did with Tony Rice (mid-1987, 1988-89) and Rice was a little different from Terry Andrysiak (early 1987).
"A lot of coaches change things the moment they don't work but you should have a reason why you change things," Holtz continued. "You look at your personnel and ask, 'What are the defenses doing to stop us?' If I was a coach today I would run a spread offense with an option. It (the option) stabilizes what the defense can do. The option takes away the zone blitz and then you can pick the defense apart.
"I tried to include (the option) in all my offenses, and somebody reminded me last night that Beuerlein ran for 70 yards against Air Force once because they ignored him."
Holtz sees Kelly's return to play-calling duties as a sign he'll be in greater control of his team as a whole.
"Some coaches are like a chairman of the board and they have other coaches look after the different parts of the game, but I wasn't like that," Holtz said. "Ara Parseghian wasn't like that, Bear Bryant wasn't like that and Nick Saban isn't like that. And this year I think Coach Kelly will be more involved with the offense than ever before because of the new coordinators on offense and defense."