Coach Kelly touched on a variety of topics with our quartet, but as indicated below, recruiting chatter dominated our first full interview with Notre Dame's new man in charge.
Regarding the future role of his assistants as recruiters
Kelly was asked about his philosophy of "coaching his coaches," and offered a two-part answer:
"I've always felt like staff development is crucial because its the trickle-down effect.
"As it relates to coaching my staff, we will eliminate confusion on a day-to-day basis by making sure that there's a clear directive from me as to how I want to operate…but even more so in recruiting."
"I think where we get off track (college programs) is that recruiting becomes a resume-builder (for some assistant coaches). We're not here to build resumes. We're here to recruit the right kind of guys.
So when I talk about coaching the coaches (it's) making sure that the message is clear – offense, defense, special teams – and secondly in the recruiting process in that we're all recruiting for the same reasons. It's not about who's in your area geographically and what you (personally) recruited out of your area.
I'll give you an example: right now (retained running backs coach Tony Alford) is recruiting all of those areas. And he's doing a heck of a job, because he doesn't have to worry about (his area and the results of players in ‘his area').
That's how you want to recruit. Two of the areas I have to spend a lot of my time on is making sure there's a clear ‘all-in' relative to recruiting (the other being the aforementioned clear directive from Kelly through the staff). You can't buy into that unless you're allowed to weigh into that. So I make sure our coaches weigh in on decisions that impact the program, not just their geographical area or their position.
If the recruiting is dysfunctional and you're looking to have (individual) success and ‘look at the recruits I pulled,' and that's all you do, and that's your agenda, that doesn't serve the good of the overall program.
On the "beauty pageant" allure of recruiting (rankings)
Kelly was asked about a radio interview in which he alluded to finding the right fit (among recruits) rather than the consensus highly rated player.
"I was referring to all national programs that have slipped or slid. Sometimes they get caught up in what other people think…I really don't care what other people think. As a matter of fact, if you listen to what other people think, they would tell you that Notre Dame is not relevant anymore and I don't believe that for one second. That's what I was referring to in the recruiting process.
"There are a lot of very, very good analysts out there relative to high school evaluations. Very accomplished people, and I think you need to use that as a resource. But at the end of the day, it's on me to make those decisions, and sometimes they might not be in accord with how they're evaluated by other analysts.
"At the end of the day it's on me. I'll make that decision whether that kid fits and there's more to it that what he does on the field. It's (off the field) too.
"We're at Notre Dame (speaking of the unique situation) and I have two hands. That means I can hold two hands. I can't hold anybody else's. So there's not going to be any hand-holding here, so there will be some guys that are 4-5 star guys that I'm not going to hold their hands."
On the retention of running backs coach Tony Alford
Though not asked specifically about Alford's recruiting skills, Kelly did offer that Alford stood out in that aspect.
"Exactly what I was talking about. He's a team guy. He sees the big picture…its not just about ‘getting my guys: recruiting running backs," Kelly began.
"I got a chance to see him on the road recruiting and how he interacted with kids. And he didn't know I was evaluating him as a potential holdover from a staff, but all that goes into my memory bank.
"I wanted to see how he interacted with kids and coaches and how (Alford) went about doing his work. I think he has integrity and character and all the things I'm looking for in my coaches.
"And he's a hard worker. Recruiting's about hard work. At the end of the day, you have to work your butt off. He's a hard worker and experienced, too. He's done it like I have from the (various) experience levels where he worked his way up."
Regarding the challenges of recruiting the right kind of guys (RKGs) nationally
Kelly was asked if the criteria of RKGs has changed now that he's the head man at the nation's most prestigious football program.
"Well it changes in that the pool expands for us because this is not a regional (recruiting situation). Cincinnati was regional – we were recruiting within a 300-mile range of our campus. Now we can expand that from coast to coast.
"But the RKG is me. It's who fits me. I want tough gentlemen. I want guys that are tough football players that love to play the game but they better be gentlemen. And within that gentlemen quotient they better be good students and recognize the value of a Notre Dame education. So those RKGs now are across the country."
"You can't recruit everybody. You have to look at some areas that allow you to evaluate early and often. And I think we know that those are ‘spring ball states.' I think you also want to look at demographics where there are more potential Division I (FBS) players."
Regarding his level of concern with filling out his coaching staff and the timing of the BCS bowl games
"In the big picture, I'm not concerned about it as I look at where we want to be as a football program.
"Protecting the assets in this (recruiting) class…it's a concern of mine. So we're working hard to assemble coaches that may have no connection with Cincinnati. And that's going to be something we can get wrapped up here very soon.
"The first names you'll see popping won't be Cincinnati names."
(Though asked, Coach Kelly understandably could not answer if a specific coach, rumored to be connected as the next staff hire, was indeed a candidate.
Regarding the short-handed coaching staff and its recruiting ability as of December 22
"Remember the Alamo?" Kelly offered with a smile. "They put a lot of guns up where they thought there'd be some people, but there weren't? We have a lot of guns up there but I think you guys can figure out the math."
(For those not following closely, simply add the total number of coaches mentioned by name in this column and you have your answer regarding the program's current recruiting team).
On the modern classification of assistant coaches that are pigeon-holed as "recruiting guys"
"There's no way we can short the young man that goes to Notre Dame because he's getting coached by a ‘recruiter' … not happening with me. If it's my son and he's being coached by less of a teacher; less of a developer of young men; but he's ‘one heck of a recruiter' … I wouldn't want that for my son so its not going to happen on this staff.
"You have to be able to stand on your two feet as a coach, mentor, teacher, and a recruiter."
Note: For Part II of our Kelly interview and more recruiting-related subjects, click here.