Home Stretch

Depth, Diaco, decreased waist lines, NBC, necessary substitutions and nary an altercation highlight Part I of our Brian Kelly press conference review.

Brian Kelly waited his entire professional life to become Notre Dame's 29th football coach. Prior to his first game, the 49-year old coach took a few precautionary steps to ensure an extended stay on the sidelines in South Bend.

"As you know I've taken off a few pounds since the last time I had a press conference in this room," Kelly said of his first spring press conference in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex late last March.

"I didn't want to work 20 years to get to Notre Dame to have a heart attack and die. So I lost some weight (by) working out virtually every day and really just trying to lower the chances – the stress and all those things that come with being a college football coach, especially at Notre Dame – from preventing me from doing this job. I want to do this for the rest of my life.

"I have a personal trainer; a lot of stretching. I've changed my diet which is very difficult for football coaches because we're non-traditional in terms of the hours. Just trying to be disciplined on that end and it's worked out so far. We'll see how it goes as we get into the thick of the seasons."

As for the specifics of his weight loss (the staff does enjoy talk of the tangible), Kelly noted, "I'd rather discuss pant size. I've dropped a couple of sizes there."

Kelly's trimmer profile was but the first of more than 20 topics of conversation Tuesday afternoon. A sampling:

Eyes in the Sky

Kelly is equally comfortable in front of a microphone or lens, and NBC (more on the network below) will likely focus its sideline cameras on the new Irish head man often throughout the season. The bulk of his trusted assistants will remain in their respective comfort zones as well.

"My direct communication from an offensive perspective will be with (offensive coordinator) Charley Molnar; he'll be in the box. And Bob Diaco will be in the box as the defensive coordinator. I'll be able to communicate with my coordinators on the headset," Kelly said.

"On the sideline we have a lot of great veteran coaches: (defensive backs coach and former Grand Valley State head man) Chuck Martin who's obviously very experienced; Ed Warinner, offensive line…I'm going to be around guys down on the sideline that can take the whole unit as well."

Kelly noted a key skill set for a sideline assistant was the ability to control an entire unit when the situation presents.

"Mike Elston, who runs our special teams operations as well; he'll be on the field from a management standpoint. Those are really the key players."

"I think you have to be able to control that group. If defensively we're struggling and we have some guys that are affected by what's going on, they have to have a coach that has a presence and can control that entire 11. Same thing on the offensive side of the ball.

And Now (Less?) Words from Our Sponsor…

It's less aggravating for viewers on television – especially in the age of TiVo and DVRs – but fans who've attended Notre Dame home games since 1991, especially on a regular basis, are familiar with the painfully deliberate pace that is unique to the NBC telecast.

For those of you that have secretly planned the sniping of the "TV guy" that stands on the field with his arms crossed while the network peddles its products: help is on the horizon.

"We've talked to NBC about the way we like to play the game vs. how it may have been played in the past," Kelly said. "There's a need for us to address it and I think we're working with NBC to make certain they're getting what they need from an advertising standpoint, but also as the network that carries Notre Dame, that we're able to do the things we do as well."

Though not interested in discussing specifics, Kelly did indicate that, as with any marriage, compromise would be key.

"The model out there has been ABC/ESPN because of the sheer volume of games that they carry…there's a model and we've tried to address the model in terms of what would work well for us," he added.

"And there's got to be a meeting somewhere halfway. I'm very confident that we're going to be able to do the things that we want to do in terms of pushing the tempo without having to go to a commercial break."

Strike Up the Band: A much more pleasant game weekend experience for Irish fans occurs each Friday night at the weekly home Pep Rally. Kelly plans to impart the event's historical importance and context to his first Irish roster.

"We're going to eat our pre-game meal here (at the Gug) and then go right to the Pep Rally as a team. I'm a big believer that the Pep Rally, from an institution standpoint, is something that is part of Notre Dame and I really want that to be an important part of our pre-game weekend," Kelly said.

"Then we'll travel to the hotel and do all the traditional things in terms of The Basilica and our walk (to the Stadium). But I think the Pep Rally in terms of really gaining our players' understanding about what that is and how important it is to our community and being part of that on Friday is going to be big."

It's Okay to be Great

Despite 19 August practices and 34 official on-field sessions with the team dating back to the spring, Kelly was hard-pressed to detail a major negative related to his pre-season work with the 2010 squad.

"We haven't had big ups and big downs relative to the way we've gone to work," Kelly noted as a positive August impression. "We've been purposeful, and I think I can use that word as a positive in its consistency, focus, and understanding of how important it is that we have to make up for lost time.

"I don't know if there's anything that's disappointing other than there are always question marks over the whole program in terms of where we're going because our players have to understand that there's a sense of urgency," Kelly offered.

"This isn't about ‘being okay' this year. We want to be great. We're still trying to build that. It (hasn't been) disappointing, but you know you have to continue to build that with your players – that we're not here for any other reason but to win championships."

While Kelly appears to leave no stone unturned in his preparations, the head man admitted that a final transition period awaits the program as a whole.

"I think we're still in the process of developing the players to our philosophy and getting them to understand what you expect every single day," he noted of the daily practice grind before turning his attention to the concept of the student-athlete. "(And) we're in a transition, in a sense, that school has started now. It's a new routine; not just football but the balance of in-season schedule as well as academics.

"There's some newness that we go through throughout the year; that's probably the only thing that's not as comfortable when you do it for the first time with a new group."

Necessary Man In

The unquestioned theme of Notre Dame's 2010 training camp has been Kelly's coaching mantra "Next Man In."

Kelly's coaching paradigm is both embraced and necessary throughout the staff and roster.

"You're still going to play your very best (players), Kelly noted of his approach that affords depth chart competitors an approximate 60/40 split of reps during the week. "You're not going to play (others) just because they got reps. We just feel, in terms of the way we run our offense and defense with our pace – they have an opportunity to get a lot of reps.

"In a 20-minute (scrimmage) period, we're going to get 60-65 plays in; that's a lot of rep work for 2s and 3s. Part of it is the tempo we run; the other part is we truly try to build that depth within our football team, not just focus on 42 to 48 guys. I know that 60-70 guys are going to (compete)."

(Note: IrishEyes feels the same.)

An Acceptable Reward for Yards Gained

Notre Dame's 2009 offense finished 8th nationally in Total Yards last season (Kelly's Cincinnati Bearcats finished 11th). The Irish, however, landed at No. 32 among 120 FBS teams in terms of Scoring Offense. Kelly's Bearcats? 4th.

Aside from benefitting from the nation's most efficient red zone quarterback last season, Tony Pike, how does Kelly explain his red zone success, especially considering the prevailing rap against the spread offense is its tendency to bog down inside the opponent's 20-yard line?

"We have a good way of planning the red zone. It's the first thing I do when I come in on Sunday; begin planning our red zone preparation," Kelly offered. "We go to work on it on Monday; we think we have a pretty good plan going in there – run or pass – depending on what you do, but again, I think our plan is solid and I think by-in-large, you can really focus in on what teams like to do in that area.

"When your back is against the wall, you have a tendency to show what you like to do down there and we think we have a pretty good plan for the red zone."

Which Way Do I Go?

A popular theory among Irish fans last season was that the team's defensive personnel was mismatched to its 4-3 blitzing scheme. That might be accurate, but Kelly believes the key to the 2010 defense lies in improved lines of communication.

"I think it's more that they clearly understand what is expected from them in this defense," Kelly said. "First and foremost, I think (defensive coordinator) Bob Diaco does an incredible job with the staff of communicating what their expectations are in the 3-4.

"I think we may overplay the fact that these guys were recruited for the 3-4 as much as I think they're just getting a consistent message of what's expected of them on a day-to-day basis."

The Competitive Yet Ultimately Understanding Irish

Late August is a trying time for most football teams. The heat, the humidity, the constant collisions and competition with teammates and no reward in sight.

With most new coaching staff comes a renewed level of intensity. Have Kelly's Irish experienced any excessive altercations within the ranks?

"We haven't had one fight since I've been here," Kelly said before admitting, "Maybe that's good, maybe that's bad. I look at it as a positive thing because we've competed hard, but we also recognize the fact that (fighting each other) is counter-productive to what we want to do."

Note: IrishEyes will document Kelly's observations on the team's depth chart competition in Part II of its press conference review Wednesday morning. Initial notes and quotes on each position battle discussed today can be found on our Members' Message Board: the Football Forum

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