Coach Brian Kelly

An Interview With: COACH BRIAN KELLY

Oct. 23, 2011

Q. You kind of went through some of what was going on with Tommy Rees’s knee last night, and I know he came back in the game but sometimes those things kind of blow up overnight. Where is he with the knee today?

COACH KELLY: We’ll get our medical report here in about 30 minutes. The initial was that he’ll have some soreness there, but it shouldn’t prevent him from practicing on Tuesday.

Q. And just the long term with him, I know that you’ve been really happy with the way he’s come through in some big moments for you this year, yet the team passing efficiency is still down in the 60s. What can you do as a coach and what can Tommy do to get that efficiency ranking up higher where I think you’d like it?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think a lot of it is looking at our red zone efficiency. Tommy (Rees), Dayne (Crist), the quarterbacks that have played for us, I think it’s all of them, we haven’t had very good red zone efficiency in throwing the football and making those plays.

Those are some of our areas of need to get better at. Clearly the throws that we make down there have a little bit of a different angle to them in what we do. So we’ve got to get better in the red zone. That’s really, if there’s anything on the offensive side of the ball after last night, it’s, again, in the red zone.

Q. At this point being 4 and 3 and the BCS not being a realistic possibility, do you at all cast your eye toward 2012 as you’re making personnel decisions, or is it all about 2011 the rest of the way?

COACH KELLY: Oh, it never gets to I think I said this last night. I think you guys have more of a global view of everything. We just don’t operate that way. We’re dealing with a day to day process. We’re looking at how we can improve, how we can stop Navy. We really don’t get into that. That’s good talk for the radio shows and the pundits; they can talk about that stuff. We just don’t get into those kinds of conversations. We keep it really focused on the day to day.

Q. I know last night you mentioned you weren’t going to fall on the sword, and I know people interpret that in a lot of different ways. How do you hope your players interpret that? What do you hope that that does to them?

COACH KELLY: Well, we always have the conversations first before I talk to you guys. You get it second. My conversation with our football team is what we talk about in the locker room, and then it’s left for you guys to interpret any way you want. My players know exactly how I feel. There is one thing we don’t have a problem with is communication. It’s really clear with our guys as to what my feelings are after a game, what my expectations are of our football team, and we never put the loss squarely on one or the other. It’s a team loss; I lost; our players lost. The specifics of that stay within the locker room.

Q. You had mentioned about using Michael (Floyd) on punt returns; it ended up being John Goodman. Was it just because of where the punts were happening on the field that you didn’t go ahead with Michael?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, that’s correct. They didn’t punt for a long time as you know, and then when they did, they were short field punts.

Q. George Atkinson kind of provided a spark when you needed it most. There’s been a handful of pretty fast action receivers here the last seven or eight years, but he’s really the first to emerge as a threat. Can you talk about what makes him so effective on returns at such a young age, and obviously top end speed is obviously part of it?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, there’s no question that top end speed changes the play from a nice return to a touchdown, so clearly that’s a gift that he has. We’ve done a nice job. We’ve done, I think, as well as you can on kickoff returns given the circumstances of kickers today where they can kick that thing out of the back of the end zone. We’ve blocked well, and we’ve got a guy that can separate when he catches that seam.

Q. And this isn’t related to a punt returning question, but just kind of comparing it, I know Coach Elston talked a lot last year about how it’s just not an innate skill to kind of back up with a guy running full speed and be able to block. How is it so much different on kickoff return? They’ve been pretty successful all year.

COACH KELLY: Oh, much more of a static alignment, where you’re grounded and moving forward. Again, you know the game. When you’re in a kickoff return, you have the ability to pattern block. In other words, you can scheme it up like a running play. So from a schematic standpoint, it’s a lot more of a static event where guys can measure up their blocks, where on punt return, you know, it’s speed and open field, and that’s a tough combination.

Q. A couple USC players mentioned post game, the first part probably isn’t important to you, but the second part, they said Notre Dame kind of quit and didn’t want to be out there at the end. I’m sure you have a different view on that, but did you kind of wear down defensively having to be on the field so long and without Ethan up there?

COACH KELLY: I don’t know if that’s the case. To the victors go the spoils. I think we probably would have said the same thing last year. You know, again, how we evaluate our players, we didn’t play the kind of football we wanted to play.

Q. Any other injury issues that came out of last night? You mentioned Zeke (Motta) with the concussion. I don’t know if anybody else was banged up. How did you come out health wise?

COACH KELLY: I think Zeke Mike had a gamekeeper’s thumb, which is more of a sprain, Mike Floyd, that is; Tommy (Rees) had the knee; Kap (Lewis-Moore) had an ankle. I’ll get more specific information right after we finish this. Our doctors will be up here around 2:30 and I’ll have a little bit of a more specific. But that was what I could remember from last night after the game.

Q. More broadly, whether it be wins or more abstract things, what goes into making this season a success for you guys over the last five weeks?

COACH KELLY: Well, it’s program building. It’s all the things that go along with being a successful football program: Winning games, that’s one of them; preparation; recruiting; game day atmosphere.

When we took this job on, we had some work to do, and we’re making great progress. I’d like to make more on the field. 4 and 3 is not where we want to be. But clearly we’re right in the midst of building the program. Again, from our standpoint, what we try to do is bring everything along. I like some of the things I see. I don’t like some others. But our sleeves are rolled up. We’re so entrenched in building our football program that it’s hard sometimes for us to have that big picture view that I know you guys have.

Q. When you mentioned that we’re in the playoffs thing, you flat out said to us last week, we want to be in a BCS game. I know that’s been at the top of the list all year. What carrot can you dangle out there now, or do you have to stop dangling a carrot at this point for your guys?

COACH KELLY: Quite honestly, and I’m just telling you the truth here, the dangling of the carrot is more about a soundbyte. It’s not what we do on a day to day basis. We don’t come to practice dangling that carrot; we come to practice saying we’ve got to be more disciplined with our eyes; we’ve got to do a better job on route adjustments.

We’re just so focused more on the detail that I think we look too much into those soundbytes as to each and every week, each and every day is for us the most important thing. We’ve got plenty to play for. We’ve got plenty to play for because when you’re building your football program you’re building pride in what you do. And I think that’s the overriding factor is that our guys have an immense amount of pride in what they do, and they want to get better at it.

Q. I was curious about a couple penalties, if you had a chance to look at the replay with (Jamoris) Slaughter’s helmet to helmet and then the false start on Chris Watt. Did you get much interpretation of that from the officials on the field during the game?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, they said he led with his helmet, which we disagree with. We’ll send that clip in. We’ve looked at it a number of times. We think actually he was pulling off. But that’s an interpretation call, so sometimes you’re left up to the interpretation of one individual.

We thought that the USC lineman was in the neutral zone and forced a reaction on Chris Watt.

The ones that I’m most concerned with are the ones that led to points, and the unsportsmanlike penalty on 4th down situation that we’re off the field and we put them back on the field that consequently leads to points, those are the ones that I focus more on than maybe an interpretive call. And the same one would be on the lateral. That’s a play that everybody runs in college football, and it’s pretty clear that the call could go either way on that. But that’s the other one that bothers me because obviously that turned into points, as well. I look at the penalties that turn into catastrophic plays.

Q. Cierre (Wood) has been pretty consistent for you this year. Last night was not one of those times. When did you say to him after the game? This was a big moment for him, USC, game day captain, all that?

COACH KELLY: He didn’t live up to the expectations that we have for our players at Notre Dame. He’s got to find himself and put himself in a position where he can be his best when his best is needed.

Q. I asked you about this on Thursday, about recruiting and the game day atmosphere versus the wins and losses of the games, but when you were talking to recruits today, what was the vibe you got from them about what they saw and how much did the game result factor into what they felt about the experience?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think the reaction that they had more than anything else is the game day atmosphere, the game itself, how exciting the stadium was, the crowd noise. All of those things are areas within our program that we want to continue to grow, and that is creating a home field advantage. And I think maybe for the first time since I’ve been here we clearly had that.

Q. I just want to be clear on the injury front. It sounds like your answer is you don’t know quite yet, but Kapron Lewis Moore, there’s nothing that would make you think he has a long term injury or anything like that?

COACH KELLY: At the moment, no. They looked at him last night. Like most of our injuries, soft tissue, ankle, knee, all of them get MRIs, so we’ll have MRI results back from Kap, Tommy (Rees) and obviously we don’t need an MRI on the thumb or the head injury, but we’ll get those MRIs back. They’re usually read sometime around noon or 1:00, and then I’ll have more information and I’ll be able to let you know.

Q. Obviously putting Dayne (Crist) back in there and seeing him fumble like that, do you have to worry at all about maybe his mental makeup going back in there knowing he just got that one opportunity and it kind of went the other way on him?

COACH KELLY: No, I don’t have to worry about it, he does.

Q. Is he still your No. 2 quarterback, and do you expect anything different out of him going into practice and whatnot this week?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, we haven’t made any changes as of today.

Q. And also, obviously this was touched on a bit earlier. USC’s players had quite a bit to say afterwards. How do you keep your players from maybe saying something stupid in retaliation and maybe not stooping down to that level, for lack of a better term?

COACH KELLY: Well, if they do, they don’t know me very well.