Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

O’Malley’s Monday Musings

The head coach speaks, an interview with two new (kind of) assistants, and the acquisition of talent highlights this week’s edition.

1– Turn the Page: Irish fans awaiting their pound of flesh from Brian Kelly for his role in the 2016 debacle weren’t likely satiated today – the first public appearance for Notre Dame’s head coach since concluding his 4-8 campaign.

Kelly chose (wisely) to focus his attention on improving his assets rather than reflecting on the mess that was made. He did, however, offer the following response to the oft-referenced Train Wreck of ’16:

“I know I'm going to be reminded about the past,” he said. “I've focused so much of my time on the present, but if I answer this question one last time, which I will, I think that there are, in my mind, as I reflect at it, *there are no bad football teams. There are just poorly led football teams.

“And I think I led this team poorly. And I think that's probably what I learned more than anything else.”

(Of note: *In the crux of his comments above, Kelly paraphrased what Mr. Miyagi said about John Kreese and the Cobra Kai circa 1984. I assume that was unintentional. But if not, I applaud him…)

https://youtu.be/AzNGioD431Q

Kelly has no choice but to look forward, and not only because his fellow mistake-makers of 2016 have been fired. Rather: it was proven last season that there’s enough material on the roster to compete with any team outside (approximately) the nation’s Top 10.

They took 10-3 Stanford and 10-4 Virginia Tech to the brink. A lack of success again in 2017 would fall squarely on the lone set of shoulders that remain.

2 – Player-to-Coach: Tommy Rees, the lone Irish quarterback during the Kelly Era not to redshirt, met with reporters today. A full story on Rees and the Irish quarterbacks will follow this week but from my 15 minutes spent with the former Irish starter, two topics stood out:

  • The 2016 season spent as an offensive assistant with the San Diego Chargers will prove invaluable, and…
  • There’s a reason Rees started 31 games for Notre Dame, and it has less to do with poor recruiting of the position than it does with Rees’ innate approach to sports and life in general:

“I want to have a competitive room,” said Rees of his quarterbacks. “I can’t stand people that aren’t competitive. And that goes hand-in-hand with developing a young quarterback.”

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3 – Coach-to-Coach: Presenting as the polar opposite to Rees’ dearth of coaching experience is the resume of Brian Polian, the former head coach of Nevada and ex-special teams coordinator for Charlie Weis in South Bend.

In his return to South Bend, Polian will focus exclusively on special teams for 2017.

There is no more important tidbit regarding his position than the sentence above…

As with fired special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Scott Booker before him, Polian has done double duty before. He assisted Bill Lewis’ defensive backs during the veteran’s stint with Notre Dame more than 10 years ago and later aided Corwin Brown’s Irish defense by helping with linebackers on a daily basis in 2007.

It was not an economical use of his time and talents.

“It was hard, quite frankly,” said Polian of his disparate job requirements. “It was hard, just physically, the hours of the day. And ultimately, there’s an aspect of a short-change going on somewhere.

“(Now) There’s no doubt we’ll have the time to devote to the kicking game. The thought that I can do that and be a sounding board for Coach (Kelly) is going to be good for our football program.”

-- There were just nine dedicated Special Teams Coordinators among Power 5 conference teams last season. According to Kelly today, Polian would have been cast in that role even if he and collegiate coaches didn’t expect a rule to pass (in April) that a 10th official assistant would be added to staffs nationwide beginning this season.

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4 – The Need For Speed: Fans pining for an offensive pace of play commensurate with what defined Kelly’s offenses at his previous coaching stops – and, to be sure, that pace helped Kelly land his current gig back in 2009 – might finally get their wish.

Kelly brought in offensive coordinator Chip Long, in part, because the Irish plan to play much faster – between the whistles.

“It’s part of what we want to do,” said Kelly of an up-tempo attack. “Within our offensive system, we want to run more plays. We can't do it right now because of over a period of time; we've layered just too much verbiage in the system to go as fast as we want across the board. We can with a little bit of our offense, but not with enough of it.

“So there needs to be some retooling within the offensive nomenclature to be able to go to the level we want to.

“You know, when you're in a little bit more of an exact offensive structure in terms of progressions, there's a lot more for the quarterback (to discern pre-snap). When you're going fast, there's singular reads, the ball comes out faster, and consequently, it takes a little bit off the quarterback.”

5 – (Lack of) Attention to Detail: Not only have I watched every Super Bowl since (and including) Joe Montana’s first of four victories in the Big Game, I can remember where I viewed each and who else was in the room. (The same is true for the NCAA Basketball Championship Game.)

So imagine my dismay when I realized that not only did I sign off on a family trip to Disney World this Sunday, but that I actually CHOSE the week for a vacation from three options presented between football season’s end (I had assumed January 2, not late-November) and the beginning of Notre Dame spring ball.

Instead of watching Super Bowl LI with friends, family, or both, I’ll be on a shuttle bus with my family and six-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to and from the Bippity Boppity Boutique. I might catch the fourth quarter back at the hotel.

You can’t make this stuff up.

6 – Closing Strong: Notre Dame landed three pledges since we last spoke, two possessing a trait of both imminent and future need:

Athleticism.

Notre Dame served itself well in that regard over the weekend, landing safety Jordan Genmark-Heath – formerly California-bound to play for the Bears – and wide receiver Jafar Armstrong who had pledged previously to the University of Missouri.

The most intriguing aspect of the additions is that both have multiple positions at which they can aid the Irish. Genmark-Heath at strong safety or the oft-referenced “Rover” position in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s defense, and Armstrong as a receiver capable of playing three positions: “X” according to the Irish coaching staff; “W” (to the boundary) where his one-on-one ball skills could shine, or even into the slot (“Z”) where he could serve as a chain mover in the seams of zone coverage and as a powerful athlete to potentially augment the Irish running game.

Charlotte-area kicker Jonathan Doerer also joined the fray as Notre Dame’s 18th pledge with two days remaining in the cycle. Doerer is purportedly pegged to challenge for kickoff duties next season allowing junior Justin Yoon to focus on field goals.

Notre Dame’s kickoff return defense ranked 95th last fall.

7 – Keep ‘Em Coming: Technically, Notre Dame has two spots remaining to reach its 85-player scholarship limit.

But it’s a number to be ignored, and Brian Kelly and his staff have learned that the hard way over the last seven seasons. As a result of late graduate transfers, suspensions, medical retirements, and second-guess transfers during the spring practice sessions, Kelly & Co. know well the best place to be is over the NCAA’s scholarship allotment on National Signing Day.
 
Rest assured, the 85-player limit will never be an issue for the Notre Dame program by the time an August camp commences.

Post-Signing Day 2015, Notre Dame had 89 scholarship athletes in the fold – they opened the season with just 83 including former walk-on Josh Anderson who earned a scholarship in the off-season.

8 – No Such Thing as a “Must Win,” but… On the heels of back-to-back losses against Virginia and Georgia Tech last week, and awaiting a trip to conference leader North Carolina on Saturday, suddenly scuffling Notre Dame entertains Duke tonight at a sold-out Purcell Pavilion.

Notre Dame is one of of four 6-win ACC squads (Virginia 6-2; ND, FSU, Louisville 6-3) with the Tar Heels leading the way at 7-2.  Five more foes, past, present, and future each are saddled with four losses including Duke, comeback winners at Wake Forest Saturday.

Tonight’s point spread opened, fittingly, as a “Pick ‘Em.”

Both teams need to win. Both are capable of making a run to the ACC finals, the Sweet 16, and maybe beyond. But so are another six, perhaps seven league programs.

There are approximately 70 more ACC contests between now and the conference tournament. At least 50 of those qualify as a relative “Pick ‘Em” once the ball is tipped.

9 – A Defining Stretch: Home against Duke, at North Carolina, home vs. Wake Forest, and a home rematch against Florida State.

If Notre Dame wins three among that four-game set over the next 13 days – a quartet that precedes the season’s only mild downturn in the schedule (at Boston College, at North Carolina State, home rematches vs. Georgia Tech and BC) – a finish among the conference’s top four, and thus, a double bye in the ACC Tournament, is likely.

The Irish will be underdogs against the Tar Heels, solid favorites over Wake Forest, and mild favorites over Florida State.

Would you wager 2-2, 3-1, or “other” over their next four matchups?

Note: Monday Musings will return on Monday, February 13 after a one-week hiatus for our family trip to Disney World. Have a Magical Day…


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