Sept. 7, 2010
An interview with: Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: Great NFL career, and he finds himself in a mix of pressures, and try to really put you in a tough position relative to identification. Who is who. And we’ll have to do a good job of that against Michigan. So, get back to work today relative to practice. We’ll get out on the field, and we’ll start to, obviously put our game plan together. But also, as I said, try to take that next step towards identifying and that is the worse that it can be.
Q. Just wondering on (Denard) Robinson. You played against an athletic quarterback last week (Purdue’s Robert Marve). But Robinson might be a more dangerous runner. Does it help at all? Is there any carry over between the two or is it a different animal?
COACH KELLY: It’s a different team. They’re setting up the run obviously for him. You’re running quarterback iso. We didn’t have any of that with Marve. Obviously, the zone reads are a lot different, we gave up the big play for the zone read to one touchdown. So little bit different relative. He’s going to be the focal point of the running game.
Q. Who do you plan on using as the scout team for Robinson this week?
COACH KELLY: We’ve got a number of guys that we’ve looked at. I don’t know that you ever can prepare for Denard Robinson at the same speed that he plays. But we’ve got a couple of people that we think can help us out with that.
Q. You made a comment about some media outlets talking about your team speed or lack of team speed on the defensive side. You kept (Carlo) Calabrese and Kerry Neal in the game in third down situations. Is that kind of in line with what you’re talking about? That you don’t have to go, you don’t have to make mass substitutions in order to match up?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think there is a difference between being fast and playing fast. And I think my comments were, you know, I think we think about speed and we forget to really think about it from a defensive standpoint playing fast. Kerry Neal plays fast, that’s why he’s on the field. We want him to think fast, react fast. So we want guys that can do that on a consistent basis. So whether it’s Kerry Neal or any of the other ten players that are on the field, if you’re somebody that can’t react and can’t play fast, then you struggle playing on the field for us. So I think that’s not just Kerry Neal, I think it’s everybody on the defense.
Q. You run the offensive portion of your practices so fast and chaotic, do you want your offense to function more quickly than they did Saturday? Do you want the pace to be faster than it was?
COACH KELLY: Yes, and no. I think more than anything else, what we’re trying to develop is an ability to play the game fast if we need to do that. I just want to be able to dictate the tempo. If I want to go slow, I’m going to go slow. If I want to go fast, I want to be able to keep it fast the entire game, and you can’t do that unless you work on it. You can’t say I’m going to go fast but I don’t do that in a game. We can always slow it down. So I’ve always felt in the coaching aspect of practice is that you go fast, you always have that quality to go at any time.
Q. Looking at the tape, what did you do better than you thought, what did you do worse than you thought?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think you start with the first game. You start with all the things that go into that opener. Everything from making sure that they get out on the field to the right stretching line to defending the goal that you want. You know, you have to go over, all right, if they defer, here’s what you do. So all of those things are part of the first game. I’d say at the end of the day that if you look at what we did, I thought we were disciplined. Our football team played disciplined football. I thought that we played with enthusiasm, and I thought that there was clearly a great deal of effort. So if you take those three things, if you take discipline, if you take enthusiasm and effort, and you just say that you’re going to apply that to the way this team plays each and every week, I believe that that’s going to lead to a lot of success. We’re going to have to execute better. Clearly execution is something that we’re concerned about. We have to execute on a better level, and we have to be assignment correct. And I think those are the two areas that we’ll spend a lot of time on this week is just the execution of blocking and tackling, and catching, and running the right routes, and getting into the right protections. All of those things. Then assignments. Making sure we have assignments down. So those would be the pluses and minuses for me.
Q. The snap back to (Bobby) Burger that was then flipped back to (Ben) Turk, what is the intent there? What are you trying to accomplish with that?
COACH KELLY: We were trying to see if Burger was awake. We tried to do those things.
Q. He caught it, so I guess he was.
COACH KELLY: He did. He felt like it was a hot potato back there. I’d have liked to see a little bit more I know this isn’t for me, so you take it. No, it was just clearly a bad snap. I’d like to be able to tell you right now if that was a fake that we were working on, but it’s not. We reacted to it well. Those are the things that you go back and you go let’s spend a little more time on this and make sure that we’ve got it all covered. I did have a play like that at Grand Valley. We lost our long snapper. And we only had one, you don’t carry two in Division II because you can’t get them all on the single bus that you’re taking to the Upper Peninsula. So we had the quarterback go in, take a direct snap and pitch it back. So I’ve had some experience in it, but this was not a fake.
Q. Was there ever any discussion about how much face time you would get on NBC? Less, or…
COACH KELLY: I don’t even that is so far from what I think about, I get to work on the next week.
Q. This team kind of blitzed itself into oblivion against Michigan in some ways last year. Against this offense, can you dictate to them? Do you have to be a little more reactive to what they do? Are there ways to dictate when they run their read option.
COACH KELLY: In a lot of ways, you can call it whatever you want, but there is a lot of option football here, but I think we all know from the basic ten nets of fundamental football, you want to have assignments. So you have to be assignment correct when you play a team that has certainly some of the instruments of options within its package. They’re certainly not just a option, triple option team. So to we are your question, you wouldn’t think blitzing would be the first call of duty when you play a team like this.
Q. Generally, I think Rich Rodriguez said yesterday he kind of looked at the defense this year versus last year, and said you guys try to control things a little more. Would that be fair to say? I know you want to dictate some things, but is control and containment as important as anything else?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think we’ve decided when I took this job over that we needed to play a structure of defense that pulls together all of the basics of good defense. That is containing the football, gap integrity, great tackling. So those are really the things that we’ve spent a lot of time on. So that’s what you’re starting to see from a defensive standpoint.
Q. You talked about Sunday about maybe your players not being overly excited after the win. Can you just touch on that again and what that was like to see in the locker room when they weren’t jumping for joy or anything?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, and I don’t know that I wanted them to feel like they won the National Championship, but I certainly want them to enjoy all the work that they’ve put into winning and recognize how special it is to win football games. It’s not an easy proposition. So I think I always do that. I always remind every team that I’ve coached about enjoying the win. Really, I’ve always been like this. We think about it for 24 hours. We have a 24 hour rule. I want you for the next 24 hours to enjoy it, but when we get back to work, that’s behind us. We move on. So, again, I think it’s not unique to Notre Dame. It’s wherever I’ve been, I want our players to enjoy it.
Q. Was that something you faced before where you’d walk into the locker room and see something like that where you felt you had to address it?
COACH KELLY: In some certain circumstances. I know when we won a lot of games in a row, sometimes you don’t play as well but you win, you get that feeling. And we put so much into it here at Notre Dame. Those kids do, relative to the pep rally, the walk, they’re out in the public and there are a lot of things that we do that other programs don’t do that require a lot of your time. That’s why it’s important that we tell our players for all the effort that you put into a win, you need to enjoy it.
Q. And you talked about Denard Robinson versus Marve, that being a different scheme. How about when they switched the quarterbacks for that one drive and they were moving the ball up the middle? Was that something you could face, that type of scheme you think coming up on Saturday?
COACH KELLY: You mean when Devin Gardener’s in there?
Q. No, when Purdue switched things up?
COACH KELLY: Oh, when they ran the read option. Oh, very similar. Yeah, there are some similarities to that scheme. Obviously we didn’t handle that very well. So we’ll clearly spend a little more time on that. But there are some similarities to the read that Purdue went to when they brought the other quarterback in.
Q. Was that more of awe guys being surprised by it or just the adjustments need to be made this week?
COACH KELLY: No, some of the calls, you know, that we made that I know Coach Diaco would have preferred to be in other looks. You know, we did the next series and we were prepared for anything if they went into that as an offense.
Q. You talk about the personality of your team, how much is that you bringing it out and how much is it the players set it themselves? In your experience, when does that personality start to show itself during the season?
COACH KELLY: Well, I hope a little of that personality came out when we played the game on Saturday, because that comes from me and our coaching staff. So we hope that the dyes are cast from that standpoint and we continue to build on it. I think what I’m referring to in the personality of our players is accentuating what they’re good at. And getting a sense and feel for what they’re really good at and going to that strength and calling plays that way, and repping out particular plays that we have. It was really an installation fest, if you will, where you’re putting it in, and you’re thinking what are we good at. Purdue games gave us an indication of that, we’re going to need more time. But that’s what I’m at relative to the individuals themselves and going to what we think their strengths are.
Q. Was there something that happened over the weekend where it’s like, yeah, we’re maybe better at this than what I thought we were going to be?
COACH KELLY: I don’t think there was an epiphany as much as there was we’ve got to get the ball more, or we’ve got to get Tyler Eifert on the field a little more. I think there is more of that than there is I didn’t know he could do this. I think it was more about utilizing the players that we have and making sure that they’re involved in the game plan.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about since you got here the development of Darrin Walls not only physically but confidence wise to the point where he was your first captain out of the box?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he’s been as purposeful as any player that we’ve got in the program since I got here. He’s been so focused on everything he’s done. There’s no wasted motion with him. He comes to work every day, comes to meetings prepared. He’s been a student athlete and professional in everything that he’s done. We want to reward him for that, it’s a big measuring stick for our players and how they go to work every day.
Q. Unless I’m wrong, you only gave up one play of 20 yards or more on defense last week against Purdue.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it was a 23 yard touchdown.
Q. Was that a point of emphasis for this staff going into the season? Because last year this was a Notre Dame team that got scalded on big plays by defense?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know what they did or didn’t do last year. I didn’t spend much time analyzing. I didn’t know what we wanted to do. And certainly one of our goals defensively is to minimize big plays. So call structure, all of those things are talked about from day one back before we got here in December. That is clearly the message.
Q. You mention call structure, what else can you do to limit those things?
COACH KELLY: Good fundamentals. Take a couple of questions. Sometimes if you bring a lot of pressure, you put yourself in a position to make plays and give up big plays. The pressure is part of our scheme, it is what we call from our end a necessary call. We’ll know when we need to bring pressure. So pressure can help you a lot. I just think it’s just having the solid structure of defensive plays.
Q. Talk about TJ Jones and his first game in it an Irish uniform, and what he brings to the table?
COACH KELLY: Pretty good for a true freshman. He was assignment correct. He blocked on the on the perimeter. He had a game that you didn’t think a true freshman would have. I was worried about him being and he dropped on the perimeter. So all in all a very good day for the true freshman on the spread offense.
Q. The Irish fan is in at 3:30 and has no idea what you’ve been through the last 30 hours or so. Were you surprised about all the non football things that take up your time leading up to a home game? Does it seem a little like a wedding reception at times for you?
COACH KELLY: I wasn’t surprised, but it’s a lot. It certainly is a lot. I think that I’m going to get accustomed to it. I’ll get used to it. I have to plan my day a little bit differently. There is a lot. Believe me, it’s worth doing, all of it, because they’re all special events leading up to the game. I just have to get acclimated to it and really try to protect our football team as best I can so they’re not overwhelmed at times as well. I can take it because I’ve been through it, but not in the Notre Dame sense, but with all the distractions, whether it be an Orange Bowl game or, you know, any other Bowl game, it has a Bowl game feel to it, and it’s just your first home game. So I’ve had to change my way of thinking in terms of the preparation.
Q. What do you use outside of points themselves to measure or gauge how well you did offense? For example, obviously it’s not time of possession, so is it number of plays, yardage per play or do you even worry about that?
COACH KELLY: We use a 12% grade. We want to be 88% correct on assignments and execution and things of that nature. So if we can hit and get critical mistakes, critical mistakes are identified. Not that you didn’t step with the right foot or you were only ten yards on the run instead of 12. But putting the ball on the ground, foolish penalties or things that can get you beat. We were at 11%, so that’s been a big target. The other was the turnover takeaway. We won the turnover takeaway, but we did put the ball on the ground. I generally focus on those two things from an offensive standpoint. If we hit those two, we’re generally in a position to do some good things. To me it’s as important as anything offense.
Q. A follow up, you always hear so much about time of possession being so crucial. If you control the ball, you control the line of scrimmage. Is it overrated the time of possession factor? When did you maybe when you installed your spread offense realize that it’s not maybe as important?
COACH KELLY: We won 12 games last year and we were last in the country in time of possession, so. You know, I want to manage the game just like anybody else. I think Cincinnati was a little bit different where we kind of made a decision that we’re going to shoot more threes than we gave up. I don’t like to play that way, but it was the way we needed to play. I would certainly like to play the game and manage the game in a more textbook fashion, if you will. And that is relative to the time of possession and keeping your defense off the field, and making sure they operate in the long field. I think that the team is presenting itself that those are the kind of things that we’re obviously learning about our team, and we can play a style of football that brings time of possession into the thought process. Last year I couldn’t even think about time of possession, just score as quickly as you can. This year, certainly, time of possession is going to be part of those things that we look at as being indicators for success.
Q. A lot was talked about with Paul Longo having the effect in the off season, and he’s like your third coordinator there. What role does he have now once the season begins? What is the workout regimen now?
COACH KELLY: Very, very crucial. In particular those guys that don’t play a lot early in the season, but we did play, I believe, close to 50 players in total on Saturday, which is, obviously a good number of players on the 68 to 70 person travel squad, if you will. It’s up to him to keep those players that only played five or six or seven or eight that are going to be thrust into a starting position, maybe, at one time at a game ready shape. So he’s got a lot of work to do right now. Especially with those guys that are not getting, you know, 30, 40, and 50 reps:
Q. Do you still have guys going on during the season
COACH KELLY: We built a hill out back. Have you seen our hill? We have a hill out back and we really believe in that hill as a training element for those guys. It creates, you know, competitiveness in running on the hill. We think that we don’t put the kids in a position to pull muscles when they haven’t conditioned and played a lot of football. Just really believe in it, and it’s been very, very successful for us when we’ve had to count on that next guy to stand in. So that hill is an important training element for us.
Q. I was just wondering where the players coming off from the student section, how does that idea develop?
COACH KELLY: Well, you can’t run out of the tunnel. I’ve always felt like we wanted to come out of the tunnel, we thank our fans for being there. I just always felt that that’s a great way of coming out into the stadium. But if we run to the other end, there are knob students there, and there’s a big band usually in that left corner that’s not ours. So we don’t ago want to thank the opposing band. If you come out of the tunnel, we’re right there so you can’t charge and take the field. You’d have to walk out. That’s not going to work. So we needed to cull up with a way for us to thank our team or thank our students. And our team coming through the student section, we thought, was a nice touch of letting them know that we’re going through this area and we recognize your importance to this program.
Q. You’ll be doing that every game?
COACH KELLY: We’re going to do it every game. So get there early (laughing).
Q. Your philosophy on rivalry games, do you try to make it just another game or do you say hey, it’s Michigan, get the adrenalin going?
COACH KELLY: I’ve never prepared football teams in a manner that we focus on a particular rivalry. But this is all eggs in one basket. I try to keep a steady enthusiastic to approach to every game. You know, in Cincinnati we had this rivalry with Miami of Ohio that had been going on for a long time, and it was nice, but it was nice when Cincinnati and Miami were non BCS. So I didn’t think it was as much of a rivalry as people thought. I respect the history and tradition of it. But what I really used was our guys, letting them know that this team’s going to be ready for you. Same thing with Michigan, same thing with Purdue, and every team that we’re going to play with that rivalry so they have historical respect that and we’re going to focus on ourselves.
Q. David was a guy that was self taught early on and ended up playing inner hall ball. What was he like and what were you able to do to refine him?
COACH KELLY: He always had a strong leg. That was never in question at all. I think it was more about operation time. He was a bit slow. He really worked hard at it, Eric. He put in the time, he was the one that got better. Mike Elston did a tremendous job every day. Mike one of our graduate assistant his him on the clock every day. So this was coaching, but this was also the player understanding that if he wanted to get on the field with a great leg, he had to get better at it, and he did.
Q. Armando’s a guy that prefers a running back coach. He’s had or every head coach he’s had has raved about him in practice as well. You went to see Armando. And there were sometimes in the game where he hasn’t looked to us like the same player. On Saturday he kind of did, and I think it was after Cierre (Wood) had a couple of runs. What do you see in the evolution of Armando from when you got him to know to where he can go with this?
COACH KELLY: He’s a guy that can get it done. He clearly understands that. And I thought his work athletic changed in the spring. I went that fired up about his work in the spring. He came to work every day. And I think he developed himself in a lot of ways to prepare himself for the kind of game he’ll have. And he’ll play like that each week.
Q. Are you a green jersey guy at all?
COACH KELLY: A green jersey? Oh, relative to Notre Dame’s green jersey?
COACH KELLY: You know, we’re considering the green jerseys for our Army game. Because of the subway alums and what the green represents relative to our constituency, if you will, on the east coast. But as far as the green jersey here at Notre Dame for home games, I think I’m probably more with the traditionalness relative to the color of our jersey.
Q. After Saturday when you kind of left the podium and were getting back into the back there, you were asked about pressure. You said I wasn’t sure that I was happy with how any of this handled the pressure. Just early in the process this week, what are you seeing with regard to that?
COACH KELLY: Well, we’re going to get a lot of pressure. There is no question. Each and every week we feel pressure from the defensive schemes. We feel pressure for being successful. It’s just the way we manage it on a day to day basis. I think we’re all doing it together, players, coaches and everybody. I think we’ll be fine.
Q. Last you addressed (Jamoris) Slaughter, (Prince) Shembo Sunday any change in any status to that?
COACH KELLY: Shembo, (Darius) Fleming, fine. No issues there. Had some cramping. Slaughter, we were concerned after the game of the quote unquote high ankle sprain. Found out that wasn’t the case. He’s been in rehab the past 48 hours, we’ll take him out of the walking boot and get him moving today. Some precursors to really an evaluation would be very minimal swelling and emotion. Positive signs I’m not ready to say he’s going to be 100% for Saturday, but some of the signs point toward someone who is making good progress. That is it for injuries.
Q. Coach, asking about being patient on defenses. Has it turned out these 15 plays you get a field goal and you get a turnover. So 31 out of 74 plays they ran the for only three points. You mentioned earlier it’s easy to blitz in midfield and try to create something. But sometimes being patient is effective?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, that would answer the question relative to the different types of style that you can see. There are times when you have to operate with a sense of urgency when the ball was on the 8 yard line and it’s 4th and 1 and you have to make something happen. And we’ll bring pressure like we did in that situation. But there is a time and place. And Coach Diaco has a great feel for the game. I’ll offer some suggestions. But by and large he’s got to get a feel for the game, and I thought he had a great feel for it.
Q. What in the world can you do to cut down on these penalties?
COACH KELLY: Well, one of them was in particular we had a guy that we threw to the ground, which you can’t throw somebody to the ground. The other one is questionable as to whether he was moving. So if we didn’t have a penalty on all three phases, I’d be happy, but we’ve got to clean up those too.
Q. What is your definition of a lockdown corner, and how far are you from having one, two, or three of them?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think that term is when you’re playing a lot of man to man coverage. Quite frankly, our corners are in double zone quite a bit. They’re get ago stance over the top. I think it’s when that guy is put on an island. I can take my guy and he’s going to beat you virtually every time. We don’t get into those situations very much. But I can tell you the thing that’s we ask them to do and one of them is to be solid tacklers on the perimeter. Both of them showed to be very solid tacklers on the perimeter. If they can get that, I’ll take that over a lock down corner.
Q. How does what you ask of them against Purdue compare to what you’re asking of the corners this week? How does that change? How significant is the difference?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that there will be much of a difference in the back end of our defense from week to week relative to what we expect them to do. If their players stay above the cut, if they’re a cover two, get your hands on and reroute and be in a good position to tackle. So we’re not going to be that much different from what you saw against Purdue in our scheme. We’re not going to come out and be double eagle or bear and go cover zero and player zone blitz. We’re who we’re going to be. And that is get our guys to play fast and tackle well. If we can do those two things, you won’t see much of a difference schematically.
Q. Have you had much of a relationship with Rich Rodriguez? Because you have the common friend in Butch Jones and you coached against each other in the Big East?
COACH KELLY: We also have the same financial advisor, so that probably makes us really close friends. Rich and I know each other, and I have respect rich for the work that he’s done. We don’t get a chance to see each other in the off season. We’ve both got young families that we’re chasing around. But I know rich very well, and obviously we have some friends in Butch Jones as well.
Q. You see pieces of both you when you may maybe taught him and what rich taught him in the way he coaches?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think there’s a lot. Butch also worked for Terry Shea. I think Butch is a very smart guy. He’s really kind of put together his career based upon information and experiences that he. And he clearly does some things that Coach Rodriguez thinks are important. He’s felt like there are some things that are important that have carried with him, And he’s figured it out himself. So I agree with you, he’s done things that he feels are important to him.
Q. Looking at you and Rich, you guys both got started as head coaches in smaller divisions, and now you’ve made it all the way to the top. Did you think when you were at Grand Valley State that that was the best way to go to get to where you needed to as opposed to maybe being a coordinator at a BCS high school?
COACH KELLY: Well, my history is that I was 28 years old when I got the head job at Grand Valley State, and I was really trying to figure out how to be a better head coach. So I really wasn’t somebody that was networking and looking for other jobs. I was really trying to be a better head football coach. Then as I spent more and more time at Grand Valley and we had established ourself nationally and had some success, other schools started calling me. So I think that’s how the process evolved. More so than me networking and thinking about another job, I think our national success put me in a position to be talked about for other positions.
Q. You talked earlier about how many different things are going on home week and there have been a number of kids that are going to visit this weekend. I know you can’t talk about specifics. But how big of a weekend is this weekend in terms of the big picture and recruiting?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s important, there is no question. Winning helps it. There is no question about that. The experience at Notre Dame, getting a chance to be around a game day atmosphere is the most important thing for these young men that are going to be making arguably the biggest decision of their lives. So, yes, we are holding a recruiting weekend. We think that the experience of game day for them is really very important in the process.
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