Jan. 29, 2013
COACH KELLY: I wanted to take the opportunity to kind of just put together the final thoughts on the 2012 season. Certainly extremely proud of our entire football team for the accomplishments. Undefeated regular season. Coming into this season, the schedule looked daunting at the least, and our guys and our staff tackled it week in and week out. Great leadership from our senior class, and it showed itself.
Having said that, certainly, very disappointed in the outcome of the National Championship Game. On that day, Alabama was the winner by 28 points, and it’s our job to begin work as to how we close that gap. That gap on that day was certainly one that we got a chance to experience.
Here’s the great thing for me. In three short years, when I stood before our team my first year, we did not have one player on our roster that had beaten a top 25 team. Three years later, we’re playing in the national Championship game with 15 plus starters coming back.
So really excited about the progress that our program has made in a very short period of time. We know what it looks like now relative to the National Championship game, and our workouts now will be in the off season focused on getting back to that game.
So, as I told our team, I met with them on (Sunday), we have some work to do. There is no question. But we know where we want to go. We know that we’re capable of getting back to the National Championship Game, and we started that journey two weeks ago.
With that, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Coach, I wondered if you could take us through the process that you went through with the Philadelphia Eagles, and then kind of tell us what you tell recruits and their parents when they ask about your future aspirations?
COACH KELLY: Well, I’m not going to get into the specifics of everything, but here’s what I can tell you. The interview, so to speak as people have talked about, was really a discussion that I had with Jeff Lurie of the Philadelphia Eagles and his leadership team. I will tell you that the discussion was more about intrigue on my part. I had obviously always been in the college game. Really did not have a good grasp of the NFL set up. So for me, my head said let’s be more informed as it relates to the NFL, but my heart is in college football and with Notre Dame. So I think the recruits, I tell them up front that I’m committed to Notre Dame, flattered that the NFL would want me to be one of their coaches, but it’s just not what I want to do. I want to be a college football coach. Really was happy and impressed that the Eagles would give me the opportunity to sit down and talk with them. I very much appreciate Jeff Lurie for the opportunity. But as I said, it was more intrigue than it was an interest on my part.
Q. Can you talk about what when you knew about the Manti Te’o situation when you knew it, and when it went public?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think Father John’s letter gave us a very accurate time line. When I looked at it, that was all in line with my recollection of getting a phone call from Manti on the 26th. Everything from there kind of followed the time line that had been set up. So everything that he told me, every little thing that’s come out of the past couple of weeks is what he told me. So I can only go on the information that he gave me versus what we’re seeing out there. It was in lock step (Indiscernible).
Q. How was he in the lead up to the title game, just demeanor wise, stress wise, did he seem different to you?
COACH KELLY: No, I didn’t sense it, really. I don’t know. Manti’s a young man that continues to lead, and you don’t really see him because, obviously, he went through a tough time during the year, and we didn’t really see anything there that would have set off an alarm that he was under so much pressure concerning the situation. I just didn’t see it as we practiced and leading into the game.
Q. One of your guys went through a few surgeries, is there anything that looks like (Indiscernible)?
COACH KELLY: I heard something about surgeries; is that correct?
Q. Yeah, a few different guys looked like they had things cleaned up?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. Well, Bennett Jackson had that shoulder tighten up. He had that labrum tear that needed to be addressed. Dan Fox had a similar surgery that we feel like all of these guys that had the shoulder surgeries are going to be back for us. They probably won’t participate in the spring, but they’ll be in a non contact situation.
No, we feel really good about the things that we have to clean up. We don’t see any long term issues with any of our returning players.
Q. is there an update on the status of the potential fifth-year players?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’re going to sit down when we get back as we always have through recruiting. Once we finish up our numbers in recruiting, then we start to talk about our fifth year guys. They’re all, as we’ve had in the past, they’ll continue to train because they’re in school anyway. Then we’ll let them know what our decision is as we talk to the University relative to granting that additional year.
Q. Following up with the personnel question after both of your first two years, you found a way to move a guy from one side of the scrimmage to the other. Is there anything in the works for that in 2013?
COACH KELLY: No, I don’t think so. We’re going to get an opportunity to see a lot of young players. We get some guys out through the spring with some of the surgeries that I talked about previously. But nothing that stands out to me, that, hey, here’s a starter that’s going to move on to the other side of the ball.
We have some guys that didn’t play this year that certainly we’ll evaluate and find out where their best fit is on offense and defense, but nothing specific at this time.
I will tell you, relative to our roster, most of the thoughts have been about completing and getting up to 85 scholarships more so than moving any of those pieces around right now.
Q. (Asking about Jamoris Slaughter)?
COACH KELLY: We’re still in the process of an appeal for an additional season of competition. We’re hopeful we’ll hear something before the conclusion of recruiting. We hope that’s going to be the case. Jen Vining Smith has been on it. She’s been great and diligent in putting this thing together. We just don’t have word right now.
It’s one of those things that everybody wants to know. I know I want to know. The media wants to know. Certainly Jamoris wants to know. But we just don’t have an answer at this point.
Q. Is he in school and training with the team right now?
COACH KELLY: Jamoris is in school, that’s correct. He has been doing and finishing up still a process of rehab. But he is around the team.
Q. Lastly, just to put a fine point on the Eagles stuff. Could you give us an idea of the time line of when they called your agents or when you knew you were going to sit down with them and your thought process during the week as you were mulling the decision whether you wanted to continue with the interests or make a decision to come back?
COACH KELLY: There was contact, I believe, and I don’t have the specifics, I believe it was the very same day or next day after there was a change in the coaching staff there. Protocol in the NFL is to reach out to the athletic director. They reached out to Jack (Swarbrick). Jack called me. We agreed that we would not have any contact with the Eagles, if, in fact, we did. And that wasn’t certain until after the game.
Subsequently, my agent was involved in talking and setting up a meeting with the Eagles on Tuesday when I was in Nashville accepting the American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year Award.
If there was anything that I would have done differently, it would have been to close that timeline relative to my interview and coming out with a statement.
I was on vacation with my wife, we were away, we weren’t watching TV, but I should have been more sensitive to the fact that there was a time period going on and released a statement much sooner.
Q. Just lastly, from the time you knew the Eagles were interested in you, you’re still preparing for the national title game. How did you prevent that from being a distraction to you personally?
COACH KELLY: I wasn’t even certain I was going to interview. It wasn’t even on my radar. So there was never any consideration. It wasn’t an option. I think I even said that it wasn’t an option for me because I wasn’t even thinking about it, and hadn’t decided that that was the direction I was going to go.
Q. Real quick, to kind of follow up on the Eagles thing, you use the word intriguing. What was maybe the most intriguing thing about the whole thing? Just coaching in the NFL and that kind of thing?
COACH KELLY: Well, I just didn’t know anything about it, really. Again, as I said, college is all that I’ve been involved in. I really didn’t understand the NFL process, the game, who is involved in the day to day operations of selecting the team, all of those things.
Quite frankly, I wanted to answer those so I wouldn’t have to go through this again. Because we’re going to win again next year, and there are probably going to be teams that have an interest in coaching in the NFL, and I want to be able to tell them definitively that I want to coach in college.
So the intrigue was more that I wanted that information so it’s easy for me to make a decision on being here in the college game.
I love Notre Dame. I love the college game, but I think the intrigue was more just finding out about it so it’s now easy for me to say no.
Q. Just one final quick one. (Austin) Collinsworth, do you expect him full go this spring?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we do. We do. We haven’t gotten any kind of reports yet, but he’s at our meeting and all indications are that he’s going to be ready to go.
Q. When you first heard about Manti (Te’o), can you tell us what your first thought was and how worried you were about this becoming public before the game?
COACH KELLY: That wasn’t my first concern. My first concern was to find out what was going on. I was really concerned that it sounded obviously, we all heard the story. It just sounded so crazy that the first thing I wanted to do was make sure that we got the right people on top of this immediately and got ahold of my athletic director and our vice president of communications.
That was my first thought. Let’s find out what the heck is going on here. Because you get a phone call in the middle of the night, and the first thing is this young lady is not, in fact, dead. You don’t know what to think. So try to get dialogue and make sure that we begin to find out what happened here. That was my first thought.
As we went on in the process, our athletic director, Jack Swarbrick was, as you know, a center in it. And he was putting together all the pieces over a period of time. I don’t know that any of us were motivated by we don’t want this to be a news story. We wanted to find out what the facts were.
Q. Did you have an opinion whether it should be publicly released before the game or not?
COACH KELLY: I wasn’t involved in that conversation. Our athletic director, Jack Swarbrick, took it over. I think there were a number of people in the loop in it, I was focused on coaching our team.
Q. Do you think it affected Manti’s play at all?
COACH KELLY: Hindsight is 20/20. I didn’t think he was affected by it going into the game. He didn’t play his best. Alabama had something to do with that, clearly. But I really don’t know. There’s a lot to weigh on the shoulders of somebody. I think we could make a leap that maybe it did. But I think that Manti would know for sure.
Q. Can you talk about how the contract extension talks are going?
COACH KELLY: Well, Jack and I have been in dialogue since December, as a matter of fact, December 6th. We both want the same thing. That is the long term consistency of the program. So we’re, again, I think the best way I could say is that Jack and I are in lockstep in how we want to continue to build this program. So I feel really good about that.
Q. To follow up on a few other personnel matters there. Anybody else such as Lo Wood, Tate Nichols, Matt Hegarty, their status and others who might not be able to play?
COACH KELLY: Well, right now we’ve got great news on Hegarty. We think we’re going to get clearance for him pretty soon. The procedure went extremely well. He’s adapting to the medication, so we feel really confident there.
Tate Nichols, on the other hand, is not as confident that he’ll be able to return to action. So we’re in conversation about that being a medical situation with Tate.
Lo Wood is progressing really well, and all of the reports I’ve gotten from Rob Hunt have been really positive relative to Lo and him coming back for us.
Q. What would you say right now would be your front runner for the center position and even at the Mike linebacker?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think we’ve got three guys that are capable of playing inside (linebacker) that have a lot of experience. I think you’ve got to throw (Carlo) Calabrese and (Dan) Fox and (Jarrett) Grace as the front runners to be involved in that inside linebacker position. As you know, Kendall Moore got some experience there as well, and we’ve got a host of young players that want to be included, and that will be front part. But those three guys lead right now.
I think at the center position we have to look at a couple of different options. Certainly (Matt) Hegarty has had some experience there. We’re going to look at Nick Martin, not Zack Martin, at that position. And I think Mark Harrell did a very nice job for us in the bowl season or excuse me, the Championship game preparation. So those three guys, I think will get the first look at it in terms of the center position.
Q. Wanted to double back on the Eagles. Did any players assess any concern to you during or after the process (Indiscernible)?
COACH KELLY: No, I had none. Though I did address the Eagles situation with my team on (Sunday), and effectively said the same thing that I have said to everybody that’s on this call. That I’m committed to them. I’m committed to Notre Dame.
The Eagles, it was flattering that they asked to talk to me. I think from their perspective, they just wanted to know that I’m going to be their coach and be their coach for some time. So I addressed that.
I addressed Manti and some of the things that we’re talking about right now. I always try to make sure that our players get that communication from me.
Q. Specifically, that (Sunday), was that two weeks ago?
COACH KELLY: No, this is this (Sunday). Actually, I take that back. It was Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. because I was on the road Monday. So it was Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. to be specific.
Q. I wondered if you had a chance to talk to Manti, and also kind of where you are with him? What you feel about him? What you think his legacy will be at Notre Dame?
COACH KELLY: I did, and I think Manti will be remembered as a great leader on our football team on an undefeated team at Notre Dame. He showed the way for how to be a great teammate. His work ethic, his commitment, all of those things, for me he’ll be, in my eyes, one of the very great teammates that I’ve ever had in 22 years of coaching.
He was just special to coach, and he did all the great things that I think great players have to do on a day to day basis. And we’re going to continue to hold him in that type of esteem.
BRIAN HARDIN: Thank you, Coach.
COACH KELLY: If I can just say one more thing. Brian Hardin is leaving us for another position. He’s pursuing the administrative end of things. I think he’s crazy, too. But working with Brian, and I know his work with you, I’ve got to tell you he’s the best in the business and we’re certainly going to miss him, and he’s going to be hard to replace.
So I just wanted to say that publicly, Brian, thank you for everything that you’ve done for Notre Dame.
BRIAN HARDIN: Thank you, I appreciate that. Thank you so much. We’ll see you when you get back here.
Reporters thank you so much for everything over the last seven seasons. We’ll try to get a transcript posted as soon as we can.