Brian Kelly

An interview with: COACH BRIAN KELLY

Aug. 5, 2011

COACH KELLY: Thanks for being here today. We get an opportunity to talk about our football team, which we haven’t been able to do since we finished up with a bowl victory against Miami. It gives me an opportunity to update you on where we are.

Certainly if you look at our football team and the way we came together at the end of the year, a lot of people would say, ‘That’s the momentum that you want to carry.’ I think what’s happened more than anything else is when we come into this camp now, we know our football team so much better. I think year two is a year where you’re not as concerned about what your personnel are going to do. You know your players. You know what to expect. They know what to expect. It allows you to get to football. It allows you to get to the fundamentals of the game. It allows you to start to look at your scheme particularly situationally. Those are things I couldn’t talk about at this time last year. I was talking about learning the names of our players, knowing their strengths and weaknesses.

What’s the difference between this press conference and last year? I think more than anything else, our football team knows what’s expected of them on a day to day basis. What’s the strength of this team? They know what to expect from us and we know what to expect from them.

I like our football team relative to our depth a lot more than at any time since we’ve been here. We’ve addressed that over the last two years in recruiting. I think we’ve got experience on both sides of the ball, and now we’ve got some depth.

Now, with that depth, those guys just need opportunities. But overall this is really about in year two for us having some experience, our players know what to expect, and certainly from our standpoint they know what to expect from us.

So with that I’ll open it up to questions.

Q. Coach, you seem to have four quarterbacks who each have different skill sets. Could you foresee a situation where you would use more than one in a competitive game?
COACH KELLY: Well, I don’t want to use more than one if there’s an injury involved. But certainly I think when you look at the skill sets, as you mentioned; we have to be able to maximize the 85 guys on our roster. If we find out that there’s a quarterback that can add something to the game, then we need to look at that. The best way for me to answer that question is I think we go into camp and clearly believe all four of those guys can compete and help our football team win. We just got to find out how that plays out.

Q. Coach, as far as the health of the team going into training camp where does that sit right now? Do you have everybody or are you missing some people?
COACH KELLY: We’re not missing anybody relative to the health of our football team, relative to academics, all those things. We report everybody that was expected to be here. There are no changes. I would use Rob Hunt’s assessment of our football team, who is our head athletic trainer. He feels like our football team is in great physical condition with very, very small tweaks that would need to happen to a couple of players.

Q. Along that line, Cam Roberson was somebody you didn’t expect at the start of August. I assume he’s not back yet. What’s the update with cam?
COACH KELLY: Cam is still making progress, coming back from a severe knee injury, as you know. We won’t have him back on our football team in a competitive fashion this year. Cam and Lane Clelland, who suffered a knee injury, was operated on this summer, will not be available for us, as well.

Q. In terms of determining the number one quarterback, I know you said they all have great skill sets; did you pay attention to which the players gravitated toward this summer? Is that part of your formula in determining number one?
COACH KELLY: I don’t ignore those things. I don’t know that it really has a box that I check off that says, ‘Okay, that’s going to lead me towards,’ you know, making you the starting quarterback. I try to listen to all things that are going on out there. No, it’s really going to come down to the ability to run our offense at the pace and the tempo that we want to run it. And so, Dayne and Tommy get the first shot at that because they’ve got a little more experience. We all know Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson have got great skill sets. Look, I can tell you, I’m going through this just like you guys are. I’m going, is it Dayne, is it Tommy? You can make the case for any one of them. We have to in camp really do a great job of giving them the appropriate reps necessary for us to make these kinds of decisions.

Q. At what point do you think the team needs to know who is number one?
COACH KELLY: I think they have a great deal of confidence in whomever we choose. Our team will not be talking in the locker room about who the quarterback is. They’re going to get behind whoever that guy is. Maybe that could have happened last year when we didn’t know everybody. They know what we’re about. They know we’re here to win, put the best team on the field. So I’m not really concerned about that.

Q. You mentioned Paul Longo felt this was the best-conditioned group of freshmen. Who in that group jumped out from the summer as people you want to get a good look at in the first couple weeks of August that could help you?
COACH KELLY: Well, we’ve got to look at all the defensive linemen. Obviously that’s an important piece to what we believe to be the strength and the depth of our defensive line. So that’s pretty clear. I think on the offensive side of the ball, you all know where some of our areas of concern are: depth at the running back position, depth at the wide receiver position. Those young kids at that position are going to have to be really evaluated closely as to whether they can help us this year. I guess the easiest way to answer your question is all of those guys got a thumbs up from Coach Longo that they’re ready from a conditioning element to compete as freshmen. Now we have to find out about the football element. We have to get them in the mix and see what they can do.

Q. When do you need to have clarity on who the starting quarterback is going to be?
COACH KELLY: I mean, if it’s an ideal situation, I’ve already said this, I’d like to know who the starter is before camp because you can build on other things certainly. I don’t know it’s going to be a certain date other than we’re only going to use the first 19 practices for the evaluation process. We’re going to spend two weeks on South Florida. We’re going to make a decision a lot earlier than I would have last year at this time because I think we went right up to the very end. We’re going to know going into the last 10 days who the starting quarterback is because we’re going to rep that out for South Florida.

Q. You have a top 25 team based on pre season polls. I don’t think your players are going to be deaf and blind to seeing the nice things said about them, top 25. What do you say to them to sort of rein in whatever hype or good feelings they’re hearing?
COACH KELLY: I want them to have good feelings about who they are and where they’ve come. But I think I’ve said this pretty clearly, and our players are in it for the same reason. I want to be in Bob Stoops’ position today where he’s talking about being No. 1. That’s why we’re here. We want to get to the point where we’re part of the conversation as a championship caliber football team. We’re not there yet. We’re thrown in the mix there. 18 to 25, pick a number out of the hat. Right now we’re being recognized for maybe a little bit of what we did at the end of the year and because we’re Notre Dame. That’s not where we want to be. So at this time next year if we’re talking about 1, 2 or 3 in the country, we’ll go back and talk about the things that Bob is talking about. It’s through hard work, commitment; it’s how you prepare.

Q. Is that at all a real thing? Players see their names in the top 25, they get a little overconfident in the pre season. Do you guard against that at all? Is that a real thing to worry about?
COACH KELLY: I think I concern myself with every little aspect of it: the way we go to work, the way they practice for me. I don’t walk around with my ‘Top 25’ T shirt on. That kind of gets to the point right away.

Q. Coach, you were able to use contact on both Everett and Andrew during the spring. Will that continue through the August camp? Also with Dayne and Tommy, as well?
COACH KELLY: No, Dayne and Tommy won’t be in a contact situation. Everett will definitely be in a contact position because he put the ball on the ground too many times. We’ve got to bang him around a little bit more and get him to secure the football. Andrew, probably going to have to let him get tackled, too, because he’s a threat running the football. At what level we’ll do that, he’ll probably get one shot at it where he’s live, and that’s about it. But the first two guys that I mentioned, Crist and Rees, we’ll have a cylinder around those guys.

Q. Dayne’s first hit will be against South Florida?
COACH KELLY: I hope not. I hope he’ll be clean against South Florida, too. I know he doesn’t want his first hit to be because he got a paper cut on the sideline not playing, so… He’s just going to have to prepare himself. He did a great job of preparing himself last year without contact.

Q. The captain situation, you have Harrison all the way through. Will you elect game day captains?

Q. Special teams and offense?
COACH KELLY: We’re going to open it up to our entire football team that’s eligible set by the criteria set up. We’re going to open that up and have that available to everybody on the roster.

Q. What are the criteria?
COACH KELLY: There are some grade point requirements, there’s some conduct requirements for our football players.

Q. Did you get any feedback over the summer from the players or Coach Longo or anybody about, ‘This is an individual who has really emerged or has taken it to a different level of leadership?’ Harrison Smith last year emerged from just another ball player to a true leader.
COACH KELLY: I did this with an interview with I was asked about the emerging leaders on our football team. We characterize them by a ‘one’ who is not ready, ‘two’ who can play winning football, ‘three’ play championship football and start to bring that to the other players as well. We’ve got a lot of threes this year. We didn’t know how many threes we had last year. It’s not just Harrison Smith. We’ve got a lot of leaders. I mentioned Ethan Johnson on the defensive line. Manti Te’o. Gary Gray, Robert Blanton just to name a couple of our guys. On offense, Dayne and Tommy have been outstanding. Jonas Gray had a great summer. I could go on. My point being, it’s more than just one captain. What we’ve seen emerge from Coach Longo’s conversation with us today is that more people are taking that leadership role. I think that comes with, as I mentioned, what our strength is. Our strength is our players know what to expect from us and we know what to expect from them. So you’re going to get those leadership skills to develop.

Q. In terms of position rankings, some debate that wide receiver is your strongest area with Michael’s return. What do you see as the strongest position?
COACH KELLY: From an offensive standpoint we believe our offensive line gives us experience and depth. We really like our offensive line. Think it starts there. We have four established play makers with Michael Floyd, Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. To have an experienced offensive line, four play makers that makes you feel pretty good about where you are. Obviously we have to get our quarterback to play at a consistent level. On the defensive side of the ball, we really like the experience. We have guys who have had 600, 700 snaps now in our system on the defensive line. Now they’ve got some depth. For example, Ethan Johnson was one of our best pass rushers last year, but he had to play so much on first and second down, sometimes we had to sub him out on third down. Now a guy like Ethan Johnson with the depth we recruited, he led our team in sacks, he could be our guy on third down. The depth and experience on the defensive line, as well as having really established safeties, two veteran corners, along with Manti Te’o and some depth there, we feel like we’ve got some real strengths.

Q. Brian, is the university making a concerted effort to make the program more competitive? By that I mean in terms of allowing you to look at high school players and to bring in players who academically maybe in the past a coach might not have been able to look at and bring in?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know what they’ve done for other coaches. You’d have to ask Bob Davie what the GPA and ACT scores of all the players he brought in. He would know better than I did. You would have to ask Lou Holtz or Ty Willingham. I’m recruiting to the philosophy of Notre Dame. The philosophy at Notre Dame relative to our academics is one that we are extremely competitive in the classroom. I think our average SAT score, ACT score, was in the 32, 33 range. You can’t put a young man in that classroom that can’t swim in that classroom. In other words, he’s got to go in there and compete. So we’re going to recruit guys, and I’ve never had a policy conversation where the president, myself, admissions, we all sat down and said, Coach, we’re going to open up the vault for you. Whatever you need, you got. What they’ve said is, Here is who we are at Notre Dame, here is our expectations of you, Coach Kelly, relative to the young men you bring into this university. One, they better graduate. Two, they better represent us in a positive way. And other than that conversation, that’s how we’ve gone about recruiting to the University of Notre Dame. Q. Same with facilities? Any change there?
COACH KELLY: They painted the doors out in front of my office (laughter). Look, I was at Cincinnati. I didn’t have a practice field. We did okay there. I think facilities are overrated when it comes to that. Obviously you’ve got to be on a level playing field. If you’re recruiting against other schools, they come here, facilities should be a wash. It doesn’t give you an advantage anymore over somebody else. At Cincinnati we had a hard time, we didn’t have an indoor facility. We didn’t have a practice field. That’s a disadvantage. But today, you know, the facilities are really about it’s a wash. You’ve got enough that kids don’t have to make a decision anymore because I like their conference room better or I like their locker room better. I really don’t think that’s an issue anymore in recruiting.

Q. Coach, the question I get all summer, I think you probably get it, too, everybody wants to know are they going to be any good this year, which is really vague. A way to go about it is, can you talk about how you feel about the potential of your team this season.
COACH KELLY: Well, you ever been at one of those Media Days? I am so happy that I have one chance to talk to you. If you go to the Media Days, I don’t want to play anybody because that’s the best team they ever had. I used to leave the Big East going, I don’t think we can win a game this year. Everybody is so confident and feels so good about their football team. My point is that confidence is always going to be there. That’s in our DNA; that’s what we believe. I’ll go back to my opening comments. I know this football team; they know us. I think that’s the strength of this football team. We’ve got a tough schedule we have to navigate through. We’re playing three Big Ten teams, three teams from the ACC, two teams from the Pac-12, Mountain West. We have a tough schedule. We have to navigate through that. Very difficult schedule. We don’t get any warm-up games. We have to play a very good South Florida team. Many people are picking them to be the qualifier in the BCS from the Big East. Then we got to play Michigan at Michigan, Michigan State. My point is, we’re very confident, we believe in our strengths, but we got a tough schedule. We’re going to have to stay focused on one week at a time. That’s going to be the challenge.

Q. Being that it is your second year and all the familiarity that you talked about now exists, how does that change what you are able to do on a daily basis?
COACH KELLY: Well, again, I’ll repeat what I said earlier: first and foremost, we can get to work immediately on strengthening their skills, their football skills. We had to work on so many things relative to message and expectations and day to day routine. Now we can get to work on their football skills. We can get to work on our scheme. We can get to work on third down, getting off the field, or short yardage. That to me is the big difference as you become more familiar with your football team.

Q. You’ve been down that road a few times before. How much of an advantage is that? That seems like an obvious answer. How much more does that allow you to do in the course of a practice week or a training camp?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think we talked about Purdue in the opening press conference last year. I think we talked more about getting to know our players. So I think the natural progression there is that you can start to look at we have to start better than we did last year clearly. So our focus is now that we know our football team, we have a better sense of those things, we can get to work on the things that are going to help us against South Florida.

Q. You talked about a lot of the position groups, players you have a lot of confidence in right now. Is there any position other than some uncertainty at starting quarterback where you’re a little concerned?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, the third running back. We have two freshmen that are going to be vying for that position. George Atkinson and Cam McDaniel. Both of those guys are going to have to play a role. One of those guys is going to be on the field for Notre Dame as a true freshman. Nobody likes to play 17 , 18 year olds. You would like to develop them. I think the real the key to that is Jonas Gray. I think we know that Cierre is going to be able to do the things that he’s shown. Now it’s Jonas Gray. He’s going to be the deciding factor for us. If he can give us the type of play that we think he can, it’s going to lighten the load on those two freshmen because they’ve got to come in and compete.

Q. You’ve been with a lot of teams, won championships. When do you know with a team that, Okay, this is a championship potential caliber team, I got something special here?
COACH KELLY: I know when we have the ingredients. I know that the portions are right. But you gain that last piece of knowing when you play a couple of games. You got to play a couple because you’ve got to know the personalities of how they react when the game actually unfolds. So I like the ingredients. I think they’re all portioned correctly. I think they’re all positioned the right way. Obviously there are so many factors: injuries, change of status that make a difference. Then you have to play a couple of games. I’ve generally felt after a few games I got a better sense of, Okay, got the right ingredients, now let’s see how they handle themselves in the game format.

Q. You mentioned the freshmen class, this is one of the best classes that Coach Longo worked with. Are there guys that exceeded expectations, really impressed Paul?
COACH KELLY: Maybe it’s not necessarily that they impressed Paul more, but other guys had more hype coming in. They did extremely well. Stephon Tuitt, just by virtue of his status in recruiting, had a lot of attention. But a guy like Tony Springman really impressed. A guy like Chase Hounshell really impressed. A guy like Matthias Farley really impressed. You know what I mean? I don’t know that it was somebody was better. But the guys that didn’t get as much hype really, really impressed.

Q. Louis Nix was the ‘Biggest Loser’ from your spring roster. Can you talk about the job he did to get himself in a position to do more?
COACH KELLY: You’re lucky that I’m so cool that I know what that means. I think if you threw that at Nick Saban, he wouldn’t know what you’re talking about right now. So I got that on Nick (laughter). Louis Nix did a very good job of maturing and understanding that if he wants to play more snaps, he’s got to be able to stay physically fit to do that. So this was really Louis’ opportunity to mature as a person and say, ‘Listen, you want to be 350, fine, you can waddle around at 350. You’re going to get about 15 reps, maybe 12, how does that sound? You can’t go longer than that.’ He said, No, I want to play more than that, wants to get on the field. He’s hovering around the 330 mark. If he stays at that range, he can play significant reps for us.

Q. The summer gave your staff time to watch video. What did you learn about the team, if anything, going back watching spring, last year, that made you think, Okay, maybe we can push this in a little different direction or improve here a little bit?
COACH KELLY: That’s all we do. I could go on for a long time. Give you the cliff notes version of it is that, you know, whether we have odd spacing or even spacing in our defense, we can teach the fundamentals pretty good, you know, because we were even about 48% of the time. We learned that about us, that we can be odd or even from a defensive standpoint. I think from an offensive standpoint, we can, and I mentioned this earlier about our offensive line, we can control the clock and run on the football. We don’t have to be perceived as a spread offense that chucks it all over the field. I think we learned that about ourselves, that we can be those things if need be.

Q. I think last year at this time you said you had about 10 offensive linemen you could win with, but you were searching for five you could win a championship with. How much closer are you to this point than you were at the end of last year?
COACH KELLY: Guys that have made great progress, obviously Mike Golic is a guy now that we really trust. He wasn’t physically at a position where we thought we could put him in there. He can play for us right now. We feel really good about him. I look at Chris Watt as a guy now that we believe he can be a starter for us. Andrew Nuss. Who knew about Taylor Dever last year. Nobody never really knew. He’s a solid, solid offensive linemen for us. It allowed us to get a young player that we think has a huge upside in Christian Lombard. So Lombard gets that year, which was so important. We develop Lombard to where we know he can go in and play. Tate got another year obviously because of Zack Martin being the player he was. We took two young guys that didn’t need to get pressed into action. That was a huge concern for us last year because we didn’t want to have a play a true freshman out there. Now with a year, that’s where that depth started to develop even more.

Q. This probably goes to your assistants. When you took over defensive line was pretty much accepted the worst unit on the team in December of 2009. Now it’s anything but that. What do you attribute that to?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think you take over any business organization and you look at, just like you guys, the strengths and weaknesses, your perceived notions of those. We do the same things. One of my clear directives to our staff was that we have to build this on both sides of the ball with linemen, offensive and defensive linemen, and take our shots with the skill guys. This is still about developing. We’ve done a nice job. As we move forward, we can now pay our attentions to some other areas. But, no, I would say definitively the charge was we needed to develop depth especially on the defensive line.

Q. You talked in your opening comments about the momentum you were able to build at the end of the year. Any way to carry that over or do you lose that after eight months?
COACH KELLY: No, you don’t ever lose the feeling of winning football games consecutively. You never lose that feeling of knowing that you prepared and were successful. That’s called confidence. So when people talk about you got a lot of momentum, what’s momentum? Our players are gaining confidence that if they prepare the right way, if they put in the time, if they pay attention to detail, they can win. Because if you just do that all the time and you don’t win, there’s no momentum, but there’s lacking of confidence. So, no, they’ve carried that confidence into the summer. It’s built upon winning. But it also allows other things to emerge. I think if you listen to my comments, one of the things that emerged was leadership because now guys are confident in their abilities. They can start to lead. When they start to lead, they show others how to do that. You know what I mean? It’s that snowball effect, but it starts with winning.

Q. When you look at what some other coaches were able to do in year two, does that have any impression on you or affect you in any way going into year two?
COACH KELLY: No, no. I can see why a lot of people would have more success in year two because of all the things I just talked about. I don’t look at those facts and figures that are out there. I just focus on what we’re doing.

Q. You’ve shown always through your career you’re not afraid to use a lot of different quarterbacks. With as close as it appears these two frontrunners are, does the first guy have a quicker hook knowing the next guy is right in there with him?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that it means you got a quicker hook. Look, last year we were very hesitant to go to the bench. It’s like when you’re bullpen stinks, you leave the starter in longer. You got a guy now that, whoever it is, has got playing experience. So if your offense is not moving, you can go to that guy. We didn’t have that luxury, if you will, last year. So I think that’s definitely a difference.

Q. You mentioned you want to have your quarterback in place going into the two weeks of South Florida practice. Do you plan on telling everyone that?
COACH KELLY: Just you.

Q. Thank you.
COACH KELLY: I’m going to have a personal conversation. Just call me on my cell. Oh, you don’t have my cell number. We’ll work something out (laughter).

Q. Do you plan on making it a public thing or plan on keeping that a secret till game time?
COACH KELLY: No, I think it will be pretty common knowledge. If things go the way we expect them to go, we should have a decision by then. We don’t have to be stealth like and not get that information out from a tactical advantage.

Q. Brian, you’ve had experience at this before. You have four quarterbacks who all want to play. How do you keep all of them happy if a guy isn’t playing but thinks he should be playing?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, those are always the concerns that you have when you have four guys that are very competitive and they believe they can play. I believe they all can play, as well. I think those are the challenges as coaches. Do you know that it’s 1A and 1B as the question was posed? If things are moving, I know I can get in there. Or do you have a change up quarterback who can go in there and maybe change the pace of the game? I think you have to look at all those things. I don’t have a great answer for your question other than you got four guys vying for one position, and it’s very difficult. But you got to try to utilize the strengths that all those guys have in some fashion.

Q. You talked about having more ‘threes’ this year. Obviously a lot of the guys are the same guys from last year. Is that just they developed more over the course of the year?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, everything, playing the game in the position they are now. They’ve gained confidence. They’ve made plays in that position. They’ve developed physically. They’ve developed confidence. All those things have happened over this past year, from last year to this year, for us to stand in front of you and say, I like our guys, I like our football team. Now, whether they’re physically the most talented team in the country, I’m not here to say that. But I’m saying I like our football team. I like what they’ve done from last year to this year. All those experiences have led me to that feeling.

Q. Talk about the other inside linebacker position next to Manti.
COACH KELLY: Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox, both those guys, I really like them a lot. They got a chance to play a lot of football, Carlo in particular. Manti, Kendall Moore, Anthony McDonald. We have a good group of inside backers. That’s going to be a competitive battle, you know, for that Will linebacker position.

Q. The Dayne Crist who takes the field tomorrow, how mobile do you expect him to be in the wake of the knee injuries? How integral is that to what you’d like to do offensively?
COACH KELLY: I think it starts with Dayne having to have escape ability. He still has to extend plays. He doesn’t have to reverse fields, doesn’t have to run the ball for us to be successful. You know, when I had Tony Pike at Cincinnati, he could not run the football either. Escape ability, though, is absolutely crucial. He’s got to be able to extend some plays. I’m not worried about his injuries ’cause he can’t be worried about them.’ We’re going to throw him in there and have him go compete.

Q. I like the joke you made about not wearing the ‘Top 25’ T shirt. In all seriousness, what is a realistic goal, with no conference championship to play for? What is the realistic goal for this season?
COACH KELLY: You know, and I’ve said this before, I don’t know at Notre Dame that you can pick out a bowl. We don’t have a lot of options for bowls. It’s BCS for us. If it’s a conference championship at Cincinnati or a MAC championship at Central Michigan, it was a national championship at Grand Valley, here at the University of Notre Dame it’s a BCS bowl game. We can’t set the goal board any other way. What do you throw out there? Sun Bowl, Champs Bowl? We don’t have any way other than set the bar at a BCS. But I knew that coming in.

Q. A lot of talk about year two. There’s been an offensive jump in your previous stops from year one to year two. What are some specific reasons that the offensive production seemingly always improved?
COACH KELLY: Well, we would have seen steady improvement if Dayne stayed healthy. Clearly we had to play our true freshmen and scale things back. So it’s the quarterback. It falls strictly on him that his knowledge base, his comfort level with our offensive system is really what drives the train.

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