They Want to Win

Brian Kelly has embraced the challenge and opportunity to lead the Irish football program.

"We followed our criteria and we stuck to it. And at every step along the way it kept taking me back to the same place. It kept taking me back to the conclusion that Brian Kelly was the right person to lead this program. He was the first person I talked to. He was the only person I offered this opportunity to."

With those words, Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick introduced Brian Kelly to Notre Dame's rabid fan base. The 48-year old, 19-year veteran of collegiate head-coaching wars took approximately 15 seconds to ingratiate himself with the masses.

"Growing up as an Irish-Catholic in Boston, Massachusetts, I'd come home from church after driving my parents crazy, and listen to the replays of Notre Dame football," Kelly opened. "And indelibly etched in my mind; in my vision, was the great Lindsey Nelson talking about ‘as we move forward into the 3rd Quarter…' and Notre Dame playing that day. That was all that was on the TV in the Kelly house."

The position represents Kelly's self-proclaimed "dream." He understands what it means to stand at the podium as the leader of the nation's most famous football team.

"There's a football coach, and then there's a football coach at Notre Dame," Kelly observed. "Because nobody does it like Notre Dame."

Could somebody please tackle that kid with three stars?

It's the college football fan-equivalent to the chicken or the egg: "What's more important in a coach, the ability to recruit or the ability to coach and develop a roster, regardless of the talent level?"

The answer (obviously) is that the two go hand-in-hand. Show me a team of slow overachievers that love football and I'll show you a team of defenders hustling after a fast kid as he waltzes into the end zone.

Likewise, show me a talent-laden roster under the guidance of an average leader and I'll show you a .500 football team.

As ex-Houston Oilers coach once mused of the legendary Don Shula: "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n."

Only two (or plausibly three…even I tend to forget Dan Devine) Notre Dame head coaches over the last 45 years can claim that skill set. The trio won an aggregate four national titles and 248 games vs. 63 defeats. Hope springs eternal that Kelly will form a championship quartet.

"We'll continue to look at player development as being the key and the cornerstone of our success," Kelly offered. "We're going to develop our players intellectually, socially, spiritually, and we're going to develop their skill. We're going to make sure they understand that they physically need to continue to grow. I'll guarantee our players' player development. That has been my background."

Kelly impressed the gathering, and though he may deliver coach-speak as early as spring practice, rest assured, the topic of player development does not elicit a static answer from the new Irish leader.

It is his point of emphasis. His version of a catchy opening slogan.

"It's not just about getting bigger, stronger, faster," Kelly said. "It's getting your players to trust, to be accountable on a daily basis. It's about developing them as young men.

"To get (players) to do things that they would not normally do on their own."

The new head coach bristled when asked what kind of hand he's been dealt.

"Does it matter? I mean, it really doesn't matter," he stated. "These young men want to win, and that's why I'm here at Notre Dame. I want to be around men that are committed, and we can't trade anybody. There's no waiver wire. We're going to develop our players, and they're going to play their very best for us. That to me has always been the most important principle.

Kelly saw a gleam in his players' eyes in his first meeting, just hours prior to his introductory press conference.

"They want to win. They want to win," Kelly emphatically stated when asked of his initial impression of his new student-athletes. "They're like any other football program that I've been around: they want to win football games and they want to be led. They want to be developed; I could tell that immediately."

Keeping one Weis machine rolling

Though the loss ledger doesn't reflect the fact, former head coach Charlie Weis significantly rebuilt the program's talent base in his five seasons at the helm. The pieces are in place for his successor, and it's up to Kelly to keep the recruiting machine on track into the next decade.

"Jack (Swarbrick) has promised me that we have a train here at Notre Dame that I can use to travel the country, and we're going to put some miles on that train, because we need to get out there and build those relationships."

Kelly's good-natured and sarcastic observation of his newfound advantages on the recruiting trail belies an air of confidence from the program's new leader that suggests Notre Dame is still the place to be for high school stars.

"First of all, when we talk about history and tradition, you just need to visit this campus and you're reminded of it immediately," Kelly began. "When you come on this campus, when you visit Notre Dame, you'll know about the history; you'll know about Touchdown Jesus; you'll know about the Golden Dome.

"It's also important that they (recruits) are able to see the facilities, to see the first class facilities that Notre Dame has to be successful; all the things that the student athletes have at their disposal in our academic environment here. You've got to get them here, and if you get them on campus here at Notre Dame, they can't help but see the history of Notre Dame."

Kelly acknowledged the inherent challenges and restriction of talent-pool at the University, and made it known he has a plan, not to overcome, but to embrace them. It's merely a continuation of the plan he's followed throughout his coaching career.

"We'll continue to recruit what I call the ‘RKGs…the Right Kind of Guys.' Those that match the mission of this University."

Anything but unaware, Kelly knows recruiting in today's game requires more than the act of rolling out a gold helmet and expecting today's young athletes to come running to northern Indiana.

"I want guys (coaches) that can build relationships. I think it's still about people. Whether you're in Texas or California or you're in West Virginia, recruiting is relationship-driven. It's hard work; it's being persistent; it's selling your program and what you have.

"In the recruiting process as we go from coast-to-coast in finding that right profile I want to find players that love to play this game. I love being around it. If you're not passionate about what you do and how you do it you probably won't connect with me.

"I'm looking for that passion and it has to resonate with me in the recruiting process. Yeah, we'll look at the (recruits') profiles, but I've never been caught up in profiles as much as making sure that passion is there."

But have they seen every option known to mankind?

Kelly was asked about his relationship with current Grand Valley State head coach Chuck Martin, who previously served under him as the defensive coordinator of the 2003 national championship team at GVS.

"Chuck is preparing for the National Championship game (Saturday vs. Northwest Missouri State). I think we're going to let him focus on that, on his football team," Kelly offered. "Chuck and I are good friends; we're going to talk no matter what because I'm going to call him Saturday night and congratulate him on winning another National Championship.

"But Chuck is a man that should be on anybody's list because he's just a great football coach."

Kelly expanded on the subject when prodded about his plan for hiring a coaching staff.

"I've got a plan in place… Jack and I spoke at great length about that in the (interview) process. I know what that plan looks like. I want to make certain that I get a chance to talk to everybody involved in the process, my staff; the staff here at Notre Dame…that's a process that won't take very much time.

"I will definitely interview everybody on the staff. There are some very, very fine football coaches. All of them are here at Notre Dame because Charlie Weis put together a very good staff, and I'm going to get the opportunity to talk to all of them."

Kelly is expected to bring at least half of his staff with him to South Bend, though I'm relying on second-hand knowledge for that estimate. Offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jeff Quinn (who will coach the Bearcats in Kelly's stead against Florida in the Sugar Bowl); Strength and Conditioning coach Paul Longo; LB Coach/defensive coordinator Bob Diaco; QB coach Greg Forest, and assistant head coach Mike Elston are reportedly the staff's top candidates to join Kelly with the Irish.


Did Weis fiddle while Notre Dame's defense was continually burned? The former head coach admitted to limited (or more accurately, "Sunday and Monday") involvement with the defensive coaching staff this season. A robust 1,050 rushing yards and 128 November points later and the team's second-class citizens from scrimmage proved to be the death knell for college football's best passing game coordinator in South Bend.

Kelly, like Holtz in the 80s and early 90s before him, will apparently be heavily involved in every aspect of his football team.

"Offense, defense and special teams has been what I'm an expert at," Kelly mused when the question turned to his defensive prowess or perceived lack thereof. "And when I talk about expert at it, I mean I don't just rely on one side of the ball. As a head football coach you're responsible for all those areas.

"I will be intimately involved with what we do defensively as the head football coach."

Its Rightful Place

"You do not come to the University of Notre Dame because you want to be average," Kelly correctly mused. "You want to be the best of the best. And that's why I'm here."

That's also why hundreds of reporters, photographers, University officials, current and former players, family members, and various hangers-on gathered at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex today to catch a glimpse of Brian Kelly.

The nation's preeminent college sports team is on the brink of the wrong kind of relevancy. Its new coach is charged with restoring program pride and returning Notre Dame to its acceptable annual expectation level.

"We go to work right away," Kelly stated. "We don't get a five year plan; this is a five minute plan. I mean, we're working on it immediately, and we expect our football players to play at a high level immediately.

"Time tables, we never really want to get into those, because those are a setup. But we have expectations that Notre Dame plays at the highest level."

"It's about winning championships and being in the BCS and being nationally prominent. And that's a challenge. We've got to get to work on that."

The long road back begins Monday. Welcome to South Bend. Top Stories