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Brian Kelly Previews Stanford Week

Oct. 11, 2016

THE MODERATOR: We will get started with Coach.

Brian Kelly: Back at it. Not really much to talk about in the past. We’ll stay in the present. The present obviously getting ready for Stanford, going to be a great challenge. They’ve got some great wins already this year with USC, Kansas State, UCLA.

I think we all know about the games that we played with them last year, very difficult loss for us down at the end of the game and last time we played here it was right down to the very end. So they’ve been great games, great rivalry between the two institutions.

We’re excited about the prospects this week. Christian McCaffrey is the name that stands out for Stanford, great football player, can do it all and somebody that you have to account for in all facets, special teams, offense, coming out of the backfield, running the football.

And on defense, Solomon Thomas, one of the best defensive linemen in the country. I think that goes underrated. Plays a lot of football for them, just a warrior. He’s in there every snap. So obviously we know a lot about Stanford’s tradition in excellence and in winning.

Again, I know our guys are excited about the challenge of playing Stanford and obviously getting a win. Winning is important to us and I like the way our guys played with a lot of action and energy this past weekend. But the fact of the matter is, we’ve got to close out games.

This year we’ve had four losses where we’ve been with a possession, whether we were on offense or defense with a chance to win the game. Over my time here at Notre Dame we’ve won 21 games by 7 points or less, and it’s the nature of the games that we play here at Notre Dame. They’re going to be close games. We’ve won those games historically and for this year we have not won those games.

We had an opportunity to discuss the things that we have to do to win those close games, and we’re working hard on that and we expect to win some of the close games that we’re going to be playing in over the next six weeks. With that, we will open it up for questions.

Q. Following up on that idea, last year DeShone Kizer against Virginia hit that game-winning pass and it snowballed from there. You had some other wins at the end. This year at Texas you lose it late. How much does the snowball affect start happening?

Brian Kelly: Well, I think it’s easy to go in that direction. But for me, especially with the success that I’ve had in coaching, I’ve won those games. It’s not just by luck. So it’s important to drill down deeper and to find out why we win those games. I think I have a pretty good understanding of why we won those games, and I think it goes to our preparation and what we have to do and how we prepare our football team. And self-disclosure, too, to realize that when you get to the fourth quarter you’re going to have to find a way to win. Sometimes it’s just that! Finding a way to win and know that go you’re going to play in a lot of close games. Last year we were 2-2. We lost two close games we won two close games.

The year before we won four close games. In 2012 we won five close games. So that has to be built from within. There has to be, in practice, the players have to be tuned into. All right, it’s late in the game. I need your best in these moments. So that’s coaching. That’s making your team aware of that, because we’re going to play in a lot of close games and we’re going to play in more of them.

Look, it would be easier if we were getting beat by 40 points, you know? We could resign ourselves to the fact that it is what it is. But we’re in a position to win these games, and we have to find a way to win. I think we can coach ’em to the point where they understand it now we can go do it.

Q. What is missing this year that you had in previous years?

Brian Kelly: Well, there is some inexperience. Not a lot of these guys have experienced some of the things that we’re talking about, the late-game wins and understanding that, and the history of playing close games. So there is a little bit of that inexperience.

On the offensive line, three of those guys are effectively new starters, six games under their belt. Wide receivers are all new players within the offense. So there is a little bit of inexperience there quite frankly. I’m not making any excuses for it. But, you know, on my behalf I probably should have done a better job of preparing them for the eventuality of close games.

But on the level of what we were trying to do, I think that kind of fell lower on the list of priorities. I think priority one was getting them lined up and getting them to play at a high level against Texas right out of the gates. And then, you know, we had some issues on defense. So I think we’re at a point where I really like the way we’re preparing. I like the attitude of the team. I like the action that they’re taking on Saturday. Now it’s more awareness of the game situation and how games are going to be close and now you gotta find a way to win.

Q. I saw on the TV program they showed you in the locker room telling the team that basically they need to dig down hard and find a way to get a win for you guys. You’ve done a lot of things already, taken on a new defensive coordinator, taken blame for some losses, blamed the players for losses —

Brian Kelly: I don’t blame players for losses.

Q. With Michigan State you said there was no enthusiasm and it was like pulling teeth?

Brian Kelly: I blamed all of us for that loss. We’re all in it together. Let’s be clear.

Q. You have tried —

Brian Kelly: I’ve hit every note.

Q. What buttons do you have to hit now?

Brian Kelly: Well, I think we made progress from that point. I think we’re making the progress necessary in all the areas that go to winning. Like I said, I think there are some key foundational points. One, first of all, it starts with attitude. What kind of attitude do you have? I like the attitude of our football team.

Secondly, how are you preparing? I like our preparation. They clearly understand how to preparing now. Third, you can’t have any success without action. You have to go out and do it. Within that action, without — in terms of doing it, you have to understand that you’re going to be playing in some close games, and that action is not good enough. You have to have a focused action in some really close games, and that’s where the next level is for our football team.

So I think there has been that gradual building within the group that quite frankly we have some more work to do. We’re going to find more solutions. I think I found some more this week to getting it accomplished for our group.

Q. What percentage of your time are you spending on the defense?

Brian Kelly: I mean, we put in 80 hours last week. I mean, I’m spending — our tower has two platforms. So I’ve never been a tower guy. I’ve always been on the ground, but I’m up in the tower so I can try to see both sides. But I couldn’t tell you what the hours are. I know that I have to have my hand still on the defense. I think we’re making progress there. I think there are some things that I want to get addressed on the offensive side of the ball, too.

So, look, at the end of the day it still falls on my shoulders, and I feel like we’re making the progress that we need to.

Q. Players talked last week about how spending more time in defensive unit meetings helps. Do you go to those meetings or are you in the quarterback meetings when those happen?

Brian Kelly: Man, we’re getting really down into deep stuff! I’ve been spending my time with the defensive backs.

Q. Not to belabor a point, I think you may have tried to touch on this with Tom, but when you say some of these late games comes down to coaching and that you’ve identified some things, can you tell us what you think you have found that you can do differently from a coaching aspect that might change things, ultimately?

Brian Kelly: I can confidently tell you that we can do a better job without getting into specifics that will put our football team in a better position to finish off some drives. I just don’t want to get into too much in detail other than we can do more. I can do more. We can add more to what we’re doing from an awareness, recognition and ultimately finding a way to win those games.

I don’t believe it’s just the players. I think it’s making them aware, as I said, of how they’re going to be involved in close games; and then, quite frankly, you’ve gotta go practice those. You can’t just go out there and run plays and just keep running plays. You gotta say, all right, 4 minutes to go in the game. Let’s move the chains. Let us go up and down the field with that same kind of process so everybody is alert, locked in and understands, you know? Let’s go win the game. That’s my point in terms of how we can do more.

Q. Is that something that you guys haven’t been doing?

Brian Kelly: Not to the level that I think we need to. This doesn’t — these guys don’t have a ton of those games under their belt, you know, they just don’t! Like I said, we were 2-2 last year in these games and it’s not like they’ve won five of them. We only have one guy that took any reps at all and he’s on defense coming into the season. It’s not like there’s a bunch of guys on offense that all experience, you know, late-game comebacks! Including DeShone.

Q. Last year in some of those come backs, Coach, and even earlier this year, Texas, Michigan State game, team got down big, you liked the fight, you believe they would come back and win and they fall short. At what point do you become concerned that mentally they might stop believing that they can get the win and that they’re going to get the fruit?

Brian Kelly: As long as their head coach believes and I believe in them and they know that, then they’ll never stop believing.

Q. When you play Stanford, you’ve got fairly like-minded institutions, similar academic standards. I’m curious, even though geographically you’re spread far apart, how often do you come in contact with them in terms of competing for the same kids and how important is it for you to be able to pull kids they want in terms of being successful since you guys are pulling the same kind of student-athlete regularly?

Brian Kelly: We’re competitive with Stanford in recruiting. There is no question that somebody fits the similar profile that would go to Stanford that would look at Notre Dame as well. I wouldn’t say it’s a slam dunk that we’re recruiting exactly the same player across the board, but there’s definitely a similar character kid that fits the profile of Notre Dame and Stanford. And, you know, they’re going to win some and we’ll win some on those. I would say more times than not the fit there is good student, good character kid.

Q. When you look at Notre Dame and Stanford, one of the things you think about is offensive line and really good offensive lines and it seems like there’s great coaching there, great culture on that offensive line and yet both when you look at them statistically are not where you would expect them to be. What can account for that? I realize you have new people, but isn’t there some thought that because of the teaching and because of the culture being so strong that eventually helps pull that offensive line to a better performance from where they are?

Brian Kelly: You know, I think you have to look at competition and who you’re going against and then compare it to your own group. It’s not just in a vacuum relative to, well, that kid was a really good high school player so he can step in now and really perform. It’s who you’re going up against, and I think it has a lot to do with maturity and development. I don’t know that you’re always going to have the kind of offensive line that is experienced and veteran every year. There’s going to be some curve to it relative to the best offensive lines of all-time.

This one is going to get better and better each week. Again, it’s got three new starters on it. I like the fact that there’s five guys there that have a great chance of all playing together for a couple more years. So I think that’s the real test. Where do you see them down the line, more so than right now.

Yeah, we all want them to be the best they can be right now, but there has to be an eye towards — as coaches, patience is never a word that anybody every wants to hear, but we have to be a little bit patient with them as well.

Q. Your offensive stats were skewed last week by the weather, but third downs, pretty far down there nationally, 111th in third-down conversions. Is it because third downs are more difficult? Are you getting into more third and longs, third and uncomfortables that that number is down to that point?

Brian Kelly: Our self-scout shows that we need to be better on first down. There is a trickle down affect into our third down manage ability, if you will. So what we have looked at since Monday is why we were in the numbers that we were in and our self-scout shows some negative plays that we’ve gotta get out of our offense. It’s really the negative plays, and that’s got to be cleaned up for us to have a better third down efficiency.

Q. With special teams you mentioned on Sunday you felt like some of this stuff has been freakish, the bad stuff. There’s been a lot of dynamic plays on special teams and there has been a lot of crazy stuff, too. As far as scheme, philosophy, personnel, are you comfortable with where you are with the special teams?

Brian Kelly: Yeah. I think I said after the game maybe we should have been in a three-man wall. That wouldn’t have changed anything. We were still at 7 and a half yards. Maybe we were a little tight on the snap in terms of distance. But, you know, we needed a little bit better in terms of distance. We tried to drive the ball into the wind, and, you know, we kicked it right on over the top of a wall and maybe we needed to angle a little bit.

All things that go to better coaching in that situation. There was nothing schematic in the sense as much as those are points of emphasis that we have to do a better job with in our special teams. Points of emphasis like it’s not just enough to yell and scream when the ball hits the ground on a punt. You gotta be running up there and pointing. We had a guy trying to run out-of-bounds. It doesn’t do any good if it hits you and you run out-of-bounds. That doesn’t mean they wave it off. It’s point of emphasis like that.

Our guys are aware that the ball is on the ground. Same thing with our two-man wall. Our guys did a pretty good job. They didn’t get dented. We may have been a half yard too tight, but if you gt a 6′ 7″ guy up, you should probably kick it right over his head. But that’s a point of emphasis that we have to make that we didn’t make to our kicker. That’s where I’m a little frustrated with our special teams that plays are happening that we have to do a better job with points of emphasis.

Q. I realize you haven’t been in this position too often but you’re 2-4. As you play these last six regular season games, are you looking at all at 2017, doing anything with an eye toward 2017, or is this still all about this season?

Brian Kelly: I’m doing everything to build the winning identity for this football team for right now and for ’17, ’18 and ’19, because as I talk to the group there is a row of upperclassmen, not many, and then there is a bunch of young guys. So everything that I direct at them is being absorbed for right now and in the future.

So I’m in the present and we’re coaching the win right now, but everything we do is to return us back to the top, and we want to stop the slide. That means start winning again. So everything we are doing right now is to stop right now losing games and winning games and keep building on that for the future.

Q. Obviously, we get a lot of feedback on what people think the coaching situation is or should be, and one recurring theme that keeps coming up in my email box is sideline demeanor. I just wondered, do you feel like your sideline demeanor is an issue? Do you think it’s different than it was in 2012?

Brian Kelly: I’m just coaching. I’ve got a great relationship with my players. I’m just coaching. I’m being Brian Kelly. If people have a problem with that, then they’re not going to be friends orphans of Notre Dame football. I can’t help that. I don’t feel like I’m crossing a line. I think I’m being who I am. I’m being direct. I’m handling the situation as it hits me. I guess that’s the best I can say. I’m just going to be who I am. If I feel like there is a matter that needs to be attended to, I need to handle it right away.

Q. A procedural thing: It was hard to tell with the rain and the hoods up, but that was Mike Elston on the sideline?

Brian Kelly: Yeah, we had issues with the headphones, so I wanted him to come down, because we had to make some adjustments with linebackers. He’s been instrumental in making a lot of our adjustments, so I wanted him on the sideline.

Q. I wanted to ask you about special teams. You guys were good last year by and large in most aspects and you have a good punt and kick returner, been good in the kick return this year except for the one against Duke. As you look at it, what’s your big picture future down the road, forward look at special teams?

Brian Kelly: Well, I want to eradicate the big plays that we’re giving up, because I think we’ve had dynamic plays from a special teams standpoint. Our coverage teams have been really good other than the mistakes that we seem to make, and they’re catastrophic. They’re big!

So moving forward is to still have the athletes on that team, still get the quality players that are on that team and continue to do the things that we’re doing other than some of the crazy, big plays we’ve given up. We have to eradicate the big plays that we’ve given up in special teams.

Q. Is there every enough practice time for special teams in season?

Brian Kelly: No, there really isn’t. We’ve add to do our special teams. I’ve changed up when we run our special teams. We take more teaching time now and prepractice. We put all our offensive players in tackling circuit now. So we’re doing a lot of things that I’ve never done to better teach and coach that group. We’re on it every single day in terms of looking at how to be better in it.

Q. Coach Booker is listed as the Special Teams Coordinator, but does every coach have an aspect of special teams they’re involved in?

Brian Kelly: Yeah, he also has an analyst. Marty Biagi helps him out a great deal from a schematic standpoint and off the field in terms of field study and setting up a lot of thing and each assistant coach has a collateral responsibility in each one of those units.

Q. I believe you were talking to Marty after the game after the blocked punt. I’m not sure we have asked you about him. Why is he here from your perspective and what does he bring to the equation?

Brian Kelly: Marty is a special teams coach skilled in the area of the specifics in the specialists, kickers, punters, long snappers and has a great sense of the special teams game. I wanted somebody off the field that could really study that realm. Scott also is the tight ends coach and recruits where Marty could focus his time on quality control within special teams, looking at our schemes, checking them, making sure that there are no flaws within what we’re doing and also keeping an eye on how we can better advance ourselves. That was the support I was looking for from him.

Q. Was the rugby style, the incorporation of that, was that his brain child?

Brian Kelly: Well, we’ve had it in, and it’s been something that we’ve used as a weather-related kind of kicking tool, more so than it’s part of what we do. So that was more of a weather-related adjustment and something that we always keep in terms of wind and such.

Q. For the first time in six years neither Notre Dame or Stanford are ranked heading into this game. I was wondering if you thought this weekend lacks the usual luster and excitement that it usually has from a national perspective?

Brian Kelly: We really don’t think about it in those terms. I know we’re focused on just winning, and I’m sure all those that are Notre Dame fans, they’ll be there, and they will be cheering us on. We’re appreciative of that fact. But we’re really focused on winning a football game and what goes into that and the preparation and what we have to do. We’re not really kind of thinking from the outside in about all the fanfare that may not be attached to this particular game.

Q. And DeShone is usually — despite whether you guys win or lose after a game he’s calm and mature in measure when he comes into the postgame news conferences, where he could refuse to talk to the media or be emotional. I was wondering in the recruiting process —

Brian Kelly: You want me to be more like him?

Q. No, that’s not what I’m getting at all! (Chuckles.) I was wondering what off-field qualities attracted you to him during the recruiting process?

Brian Kelly: He was measured and calm, all of the things that I’m not.

Q. Is there anything —

Brian Kelly: Opposites attract.

Q. Is that really what you noticed in recruiting him?

Brian Kelly: Sure, absolutely.

Q. Was there something specific you noticed —

Brian Kelly: He threw a lot of touchdown passes, too. Yeah, he had a calmness about him. I thought the things that stood out for me was late games. He was really good in late game comebacks, taking his team, being measured, calm, composed and winning games late. I really liked that about him.

Q. Was there anything leadershipwise maybe that wasn’t necessarily football related that kind of —

Brian Kelly: He’s a very mature kid as you know and you talk to him. I thought he was a great fit for Notre Dame in terms of who he was, the character of him, and he would fit here. I just felt like he checked all the boxes in terms of a quarterback with the intellect and the leadership capabilities and his demeanor. I thought all those things definitely fit.

Q. You said at the beginning of the year that both quarterbacks were among the five best playmakers on the team. I’m curious, how do you try to find or not find a role for Malik Zaire as playmaker?

Brian Kelly: It’s very difficult, or I would have put him into the role. We tried to insert him into a role — he’s a quarterback. We’re not going to change that. Make him a wide receiver or running back. That’s not why he came here. I’m not going to insult him into moving his position. He’s a quarterback and a darn good one.

So once I decided that it was going to be difficult to manage both of them, I had to make the decision not to get the five best guys on the field.

Q. (No microphone.) You said you didn’t want to insult him and move positions. Did you guys have a conversation afterwards about (No microphone.)

Brian Kelly: Yeah, we were trying to figure out how we could get both of ’em on the field and you saw we tried to throw it. But, you know, we were trying to fit something that just wasn’t there.

Q. Preparationwise, do you assume that McCaffrey is going to play?

Brian Kelly: Absolutely.

Q. What do you think you guys were able to do last year to limit him as much as pretty much anyone did in a single game last year?

Brian Kelly: Well, it’s like anything else. It’s not that, you know, we had an hex on him and he fell down! We controlled the line of scrimmage. You have to control the line of scrimmage to have a chance to tackle him. Now, he got in space and they threw the ball to him, and we got some poor match-ups. We will have to control the line of scrimmage again, and if you can control the line of scrimmage or win the match-ups up front you can definitely slow him down. Teams have shown that, but that’s the first goal.

Then, what are your match-ups and controlling those match-ups with him coming out of the backfield, because he can be a nightmare coming out of the backfield if you get the wrong match-ups.

Q. You guys had two extra point blocks this year —

Brian Kelly: Yay for us. We had a block for a touchdown, too, on that’s not good, a punt block.

Q. That does seem to be much more frequently happening this year. Is there any added emphasis on that this year? Is that coincidence?

Brian Kelly: We work on it. We work on scooping, scoring. We don’t fall on the ball. You know, we’re trying to pick that thing up, so we have one that’s assigned to scooping and the other assigned to blocking and that’s how it’s worked out in both cases. We’ve gotten key block from Julian Love and the return from Cole Luke in the last game. Gotta work on it and you gotta have a big guy in Jarron Jones, and you have to have a kicker that can kick it low.

Q. What will Greg Hudson’s recruiting assignments be next week?

Brian Kelly: We’re putting that together right now.

Q. I was wondering if you were an opposing coach how much time would you spend looking at the game against North Carolina State? Is that a throwaway given the conditions, or at this point in the season —

Brian Kelly: I think you would look at it for structure, you know. You want to see what they did relative to structure. There’s merit. I’m sure they’re looking at it for structure.

Q. In the NFL, you hear about the rookie wall, six games into it for Stepherson and Studstill that been involved since day one. Do you see anything like that? And if you see it, what do you try to do to counteract it? If you don’t see it do you do anything to prevent that along the way?

Brian Kelly: It happens at different times. We have a health monitor that we all have in my office, a wellness questionnaire that our kids fill out daily that pops up on my TV that I can see every kid’s sleep, what their wellness is each day, what their stress level is and we try to monitor all of that day-in and day-out.

So it’s a constant evaluation of all those players, but a special eye towards the young players, because we’re in mid-winter break at the end of this week, so there’s a lot of papers due. There’s exams. So we have to be cognizant of all those things.

Q. During the teleconference on Sunday I think you hinted that maybe there’s things offensively that you need to pare back as you did, like streamlining with defense. Do you still believe that?

Brian Kelly: From an offensive perspective going into this game we were doing some pretty good things. I don’t know after you watch that game, it’s really difficult to come up with a full evaluation of where you are other than the fact that it was very difficult to do some of the things that we wanted to do. I know that we need to close out games. To do that, we have to be committed in everything that we’re doing, and everybody’s got to be on the same page. To do that, sometimes less is more.

That’s my response to paring back, if you will. We’re going to be diverse offensively, but in certain situations maybe a little bit less is better for us.

Q. Do you feel like you put more on DeShone’s plate given the success that he had last year and there’s the confidence factor that okay now we can expand?

Brian Kelly: I wouldn’t say that. I think what we need to do a better job of as coaches and probably me in particular is I’ve got to be clearer in terms of where I want the ball. Where I want that ball thrown to, who I want the ball thrown to, under what circumstances, and that’s probably the biggest factor, more so than having too much on his plate. He can handle a lot.

Q. I know you have to go with whatever is given to you by the defense, and history does show when you are in the 200-yard range rushing you’re going to have a very good team. When been in the 140-160-range. It hasn’t worked as well. I look back to that Music City Bowl. You developed that entire month of preparation of physicalness. Is it difficult to develop that mentality during the season week after week after week?

Brian Kelly: I think you have to have a demeanor on offense and it’s one that we don’t have yet. But we’re working on it. There has to be a mental approach to this. It’s not just about scheme. It’s about exerting your will, and I think our guys are working toward that and understand it and what has to happen. It’s more about exerting will than anything else.

Q. Is it more difficult when you do have that promising attack, when you have a guy who was projected as one of the top picks in the NFL draft next year? Is there more an attitude of wanting to sling the ball around when you have that type of quarterback? Because when you have had less experienced quarterbacks maybe you’ve had that demeanor more.

Brian Kelly: A left tackle is not going to immediately say that you’ve got a great running attack, and it doesn’t mean that you’re going to have a great passing attack. It means you’ve got one really good player. You need more than that to have the kind of passing game or running game. I wouldn’t look into too much about one guy influencing what the scheme is. I think what we have to develop comprehensively is all five guys working together.

Q. Spending time with the defensive backs as you have, the young guys in particular, the freshmen, what have you learned about them in the last couple of weeks and what do you like about that group the most?

Brian Kelly: Well, there is a lot to like. Where do I start? Football IQ I like. They understand the game. They play the ball well in the air. I think more importantly, an eagerness and willingness to be coached. They take coaching very well.

So, for me, if you have the prerequisite skills to play the position, let’s assume that is the case, and I think it is the case, and you’re here for the right reasons, which they are. They want to win a championship, and they want to get a degree, and they are extremely coachable. That’s a fun place to be for me right now in that room. There’s a lot of guys in there that are going to be here for several years, which is for me a great teaching environment, for right now and for the future. All of them are absorbing everything that we’re doing on a day-to-day basis.

Q. You mentioned the team understanding how to prepare, and I think when we talked to you last Thursday when you came in you lamented that they didn’t. Is that the inconsistencies of a young team? You’re going to have days where they practice great and look like they know how to prepare and they’re going to have days where they don’t and it’s going to continue on like that for a little bit?

Brian Kelly: You know, I would say this: In all honesty, when you expect them to know it without actually drilling down deep enough, I think that falls on me not doing a good enough job, quite frankly. We got it placard everywhere and it should be assumed that they know, but you know what? That falls on me to overemphasize the message.

So what’s been happening is that I’ve been overemphasizing the message and they’re getting it. I really should have been doing it from day one. I took a lot for granted that they knew it, and they really didn’t. They kind of had a sense of it but not truly to the level that they needed to be. This past week going into the North Carolina State week, it all started to come together for them.

Q. Do you reach outside here for advice or input? What are you seeing? What do you think? Do you talk to Jack Swarbrick about it? What do you think? Or do you just rely on your coaches and keep everything inside this believe building?

Brian Kelly: I just look to your blog. That’s where I get all my information! Honestly, I’ll talk to Jack because he has a good perspective. He’s around the team a lot, Jack Swarbrick. He’s around the team. He’s got a good sense from his perspective. So he can share some thoughts with me relative to what he sees and he’s been really good. Then what I try to do is I try to use my 27 years of experience of, okay, when did I experience something like this?

Now, not necessarily being 2-4, but the make-up of the team being similar and how I went about trying to get them back on the right track.

So, yes, I guess, is the answer to your question, is taking some advice from outside because they give you a fresher perspective and then try to rely on some of my experiences over the past couple of decades and go from there.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody.

Brian Kelly: That doesn’t mean I don’t read the blog, but I don’t (Chuckles.) Sorry! I will when I retire, I swear!