Nov. 26, 2013
An Interview With: Coach Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: We play our fourth Top 25 team this weekend and our most difficult competition in that Stanford is a veteran football team, well coached, plays physical on both sides of the ball. I think more importantly, you know, plays with a confidence and a swagger that is apparent when you win as many football games as they have over the past half a dozen years.
So a very confident football team that has played exceedingly well. They have one of the longer winning streaks at home and again, they are deserving of their rank as a Top 10 team.
So another great challenge for our football team, one that we are very excited about. We know how we are going to have to play this game. And coming off the BYU game, I think it’s a grail challenge for our football game to continue to play a physical brand of football need to do that against Stanford.
Both sides of the football, you can pick out a number of guys that certainly represent that kind of play. From an offensive standpoint, Tyler Gaffney, look what he did against Oregon and the number of carries he got; he’s just a guy that physically, can pound the football, a great offensive line.
And you know, I think a lot of people talk about Yankey, and he’s an outstanding offensive lineman, but they have great balance, great size up front. Hogan is a quarterback that can make things happen. He threw the ball very well last week against Cal. Manages the game very well and can get out of trouble and keep the chains moving.
Montgomery has been an outstanding playmaker for them. This weekend, number of touchdown catches, very dangerous. And a guy that we have to count on. They are a little bit different offensively, and we have always defended a number of tight ends. They still have the tight end game, but certainly not to the level that they had over the past couple of years, but still an important part of their offense, as well.
Defensively, pick whoever you want there, with Gardner out who is an outstanding player, Trent Murphy leads a very aggressive front; I don’t know where he is in the country, but his career, he’s sacking the quarterback. They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback to get the quarterback down on the ground. Shayne Skov is a leader on defense, and plays with a passion and a demeanor that you want your inside backers to play with.
You know, Jordan Richards is one of my favorite players in college football. I think he’s probably one of the most underrated players in the country at his position at the safety position. He does so many things well. Just a really good football team.
And I think the last thing that shouldn’t be overlooked, their special teams has contributed greatly to their success this year in terms of their kickoff return team, their punt return team. They have done an incredible job of helping them win football games. I think the Washington game in particular, you can look to that in terms of actually winning that football game for them.
So, well coached, well balanced, physically, exert their will on you. Play extremely well at home. We are really excited about the challenge of playing the Stanford Cardinal. So with that, I’ll open up to questions.
Q. We hear a lot about teams getting excited to play Notre Dame every year; it’s their Super Bowl. Do you get that sense when you play a Top 10 opponent like this? Is it a really big game for your players?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’re excited. For us, we want to continue to build on our play and the way we play the game. And when I say the way we play that game, with that focus and that attention to detail and that physical and mental toughness that is so necessary week in and week out.
So I know that the players want to build on that. And so Stanford forces that out of you, because it gets your attention. You know, their consistency nationally has been as good as anybody in the country, so that certainly gets their attention.
Q. Could you go over the Thanksgiving plans for the team this week, if any?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. Today all the players that will not be traveling relative to injuries, we will release them after practice today. Classes end today. So we will release them to be home with their families for the holiday. We will practice at our normal time on Wednesday.
Thursday, we will go earlier and then we will have a team meal here. Coaches will bring their families; not all, it’s optional, but quite a few of the coaches will bring their family and we’ll have thanks giving meal here. And then release the team sometime around 3 o’clock and reconvene back here for mass on Friday around 10:00 AM and then work through our normal Friday. I think we are going to depart here sometime around one o’clock on Friday.
Q. Do you have any idea how many turkeys they go through?
COACH KELLY: No, I don’t. But we do a very good job of making a dent in the food that’s here.
Q. Stanford has been beaten twice this year and arguably not by the best teams they have played; they have been really good against the Top 25 and have lost to two unranked teams. What have teams been able to do against them when they have had success, even though it’s been infrequent?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think you can make that case for us, as well. I think sometimes, it’s not as, you know, evident in terms of tactically, but simply sometimes just not making enough plays.
And college football today, there’s not a great margin. If you don’t make a play here or there, then the thing gets away from you. I don’t know that anybody would tell you that Oklahoma State and Baylor of that different of teams. But yet you make a couple plays, momentum gets into it. I guess my answer to the question is, you watch them on film and it’s just a play here or there. Stanford has won a lot of close games. That game, there wasn’t anything there that you would watch in Utah and say, well, they can’t do this or they didn’t do that. I just think that they didn’t make enough plays, didn’t get a couple crucial plays to go their way that had gone in some other games.
Q. After the game Saturday, you said: “This is how we have to play Notre Dame football, this is Notre Dame football.” Can you elaborate on that? I don’t think you’re talking about run / pass distribution.
COACH KELLY: No.
Q. As much as you are temperament; is that correct?
COACH KELLY: Absolutely. You know, it was clear to me that our guys – you know, I want tough gentlemen. I want tough guys on the field, gentlemen off the field. And we’re really, you know, trying to build that on a day to day basis. At Notre Dame, we want our guys to be Notre Dame student athletes. We want them engaged in everything about Notre Dame is and we don’t want them to be marginalized as just football players. We want them to be engaged in our entire community.
We want Corey Robinson to be the multi dimensional person that he is. And KeiVarae Russell to be the lead in the play. But, when it’s time to play, we want tough guys. And we were able to really make that transition the way we’ve been trying to get our players to make that transition. Never was the weather a factor or a consideration. When we walked out of the hotel, the cozy, warm confines of the hotel, it was cold and it was windy. And I didn’t hear anybody talk about the weather. At no time did I hair anybody talk about, wow, it’s cold out today.
They were focused. There was a single minded focus on playing that game. That’s what I was referring to, and we need to continue to build on that and develop that, and that’s the way we’ve got to play this game of football.
Q. So that attitude is kind of hit and miss at times?
COACH KELLY: We don’t play the game the way we need to play it each and every week, everybody, every player. And we’re getting there. And our guys are understanding it and they are seeing it. And now that I’m able to really show them, they are looking at it and going: We get it, Coach. That’s a positive thing that they were able to take from the BYU game.
Q. You may want to knock on wood before you answer this question, but your running backs have done a great job of protecting the football. When you recruit, obviously you’re looking for guys that have the physical skills, but how much do you look at how a young running back protects a football coming out of high school?
COACH KELLY: I think it’s the whole package. If he’s somebody that is sloppy in his overall approach to how he plays the game and how he handles himself, then there’s sometimes a correlation there. And then we all love guys that will go in the wrong way of the running back, Jammer, remember that in the preseason camp? You know, that’s why we have a fumble, and nobody has even written a story on that. All right, so I got a little bit of a laugh thank, appreciate that.
No, I think in terms of recruiting, if you see a kid that’s not focused and doesn’t have a great attention to detail and is a little sloppy in the way he plays, there’s definitely a potential carry over for that.
Q. You’ve said after the game, you mentioned the Pittsburgh game was a bit of an anomaly and that there were some other factors that you didn’t want to get into. Were you referring to the two at ejection or were there some other?
COACH KELLY: No, I think what I was referring to – that’s not how we – an anomaly in the sense, that’s just not how we play. We don’t play that game that way. Our football team has shown over the last three, four years, we don’t play that way. And so for me, that was an anomaly. That’s why it was so important to get back this weekend to playing the game the right way and they certainly did.
Q. Without giving away your scouting report, if you come away with a win Saturday night, how does that unfold? What does Notre Dame do in order to come out of their with a victory?
COACH KELLY: Well, there are really clear benchmarks for us that you can all see and that have really unfolded this year that if Notre Dame does this, they are going to win the football game, or they have got a great chance to win the football game.
One, you know, one or less, in terms of turnovers, that’s been a win. So one turnover or less, that’s got to happen. Number two, there’s got to be a running game, an effective running game as part of it.
From a defensive standpoint, eliminate big plays. If we eliminate big plays, we can give up, you know, eight or nine or ten but eliminate big play touchdowns. If we eliminate big play touchdowns and keep the points down. And our margin for keeping the points down is keeping is in the teens; then we’ve got a great chance of winning.
Q. From where he was at this time last year, how has Matt Hegarty been able to get where he is right now and actually be a starter for you?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think there’s a couple things. One, his own confidence in himself. He’s a very confident young man and he believed that he’s a BCS football player, because with the kind of physical setback that he had, if he didn’t believe in himself, I don’t think that he would have been able to come back, but he really believed in himself.
No. 2, Coach Hiestand believed in him. I think with those two things in play, it allowed him to get back to work and continue to do the things that he was asked to do. And then I think really all the work, all the preparation that they had as a group in the summer, that unit of the offensive line did some unique things this summer. They worked together; and I think that the benefits are paying off now where we’ve now had to call on three guys that we didn’t think were going to play much this year, have had to play substantial roles.
So I think the individual and Matt believed in himself. Coach Hiestand showed a lot of belief in him. And I think the unit himself, I think really all those three things together, have put him in a position where he can succeed now.
Q. It seemed that was a pretty significant situation to go through, and how close was he to having football taken away from him and it being a career ending thing?
COACH KELLY: It was clearly one of those operations that we were not certain. It was a matter of, we had to see, there was a period of time there was a window there to see how he was going to respond, and I think you could get some specific information from our training staff, Rob Hunt, on that medical procedure. But there was a window there where we were not certain whether he was going to be able to play again.
Q. How classic was that stand last year – the final series I guess, but the final play? It just seemed like a great play in college football where they had an awesome running game and you guys had a great front seven.
COACH KELLY: I mean, I think the whole game, if you think about it really, it was – we call it and we use this term a lot; we were fighting for every inch, both teams were fighting literally and the game – the game was talked about in that sense.
We are going to have to fight about every inch and the game was decided by inches and that was the type of football game it was. And quite frankly, it’s going to be similar on Saturday. Both teams will be fighting for inches and not yards.
Q. This seems to be a great series that Notre Dame embraces, every year besides ’95 and ’96 for a long time here, a lot of similarities between the two programs, as well, academically and athletically.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I mean, both teams want to be the smartest toughest football teams in the country. Stanford right now is ranked eighth in the country. We are ranked 25th. We get a chance to decide it on the football field and so last year we were able to get Stanford. Now we’ve got a chance to settle it again on Saturday. It’s a great rivalry.
Q. Just the momentum you take out there, you have to feel a lot better about our football team after last Saturday’s performance.
COACH KELLY: Well, that’s the way you’re going to have to play this football team. You know what you’re going to get. You have to be physical. You have to be able to play smart. And you have to be able to make plays, because you’re not going to get many opportunities. It’s going to be a tight affair. You want to get it in the fourth quarter and make some plays late.
Q. With Nick Martin, did you get some specifics?
COACH KELLY: It was an MCL tear.
Q. And how long will that –
COACH KELLY: It’s generally a six month procedure in terms of he’ll miss spring ball. But certainly have him back training aggressively through the spring months, and have no questions that he’ll be able to be fully recovered for the fall.
Q. And the direction you went with the backup?
COACH KELLY: What we’ll do is if we need to go to a two, it will be hand ratty. Hanratty will be the backup center.
Q. Tommy had a really nice over time against Stanford last year, really struggled in 2011. Do you ever talk about past performances against a specific team? Do you look at those metrics with him, or not really?
COACH KELLY: Well, not really in terms of the kind of defense that they have run the past couple of years versus when Tommy was a sophomore has changed fairly dramatically. So I wouldn’t go back to years.
Last year, there’s some similarities, but I think we’ve really tried to stay focused on this year. Our game plan is focused on the last nine games that they have played and what Tommy has done this year.
So to answer your question, I would say we are more focused this year on what Stanford is doing and what Tommy is doing this year than maybe what happened last year or the year before.
Q. We’re going to have a chance to talk to Tarean but earlier in the year, it sounded like he got some pretty good advice from his dad about being patient and so forth. I mean, did you see that throughout the year with him as things were sorting out in the backfield?
COACH KELLY: I did. And you’ll find this when you talk to him, he’s very easy to talk to. I think he’s – I would consider him a fairly mature kid for his age. He has not become frustrated.
He understands the process of learning and waiting for his chance and for his opportunity and he’s been very enjoyable to coach. He’s very, very coachable and very knowledgeable and I think a lot of that has to do with having a parent who has been in it, has seen it, and I think has given him very, very good guidance.
Q. Hogan committed very early to Stanford. Did you ever look at him?
COACH KELLY: We were late in the process. We had come in to look at him and considering him as a candidate but it was fairly late in the process.
Q. You mentioned the tough gentleman thing a couple times this week. Is it harder to create that toughness at Notre Dame than other places you’ve been in the past?
COACH KELLY: No, I wouldn’t say it’s harder. But I think it’s a point of emphasis in that our players have a lot of skill sets that they are incredibly talented in so many areas that they do bring a lot of those to the forefront.
So sometimes we just have to get them focused on, you know, this football job, this piece of it. There’s so many other things going on, and they are so involved in a number of different things.
I’ll use a Kapron Lewis Moore example. A lot of you know Kap in terms of being probably one of our biggest cheerleaders for other sports, as well. His senior year was incredible. And his ability to focus strictly on football and just turn the switch on and focus on football and dominate on football and do so many other things and that’s what we’re looking for.
We are working hard on getting some of our younger guys – and some of our older guys have seen that, too. That’s the challenge at Notre Dame because we have guys that want to be involved in so many things and that’s a great distinction that we have. I’d rather have that distinction here at Notre Dame than have guys that are just football players. I think that’s a great distinction that Notre Dame has and we just want to build off of that and keep making sure that we work on that every day.
Q. Stanford, especially, in their front seven defensively, sort of has that reputation as the tough guys and the aggressive type set. Do you look at what they do and can you recruit that type of guy or do you have to develop that?
COACH KELLY: I think both. You want both. You want to recruit it and you want to develop it, and both of those things, I think you have to have an eye on both of them as you put together your team.
Now there’s a profile there that they follow and you can see it when you watch their team. They are long and physical and so they recruit to that profile but they develop it as well. I think we are being – we are not giving them enough credit for what they do within their program if we just say that’s all they get. They develop their players, as well, but they do a very good job of profiling in terms of what they are looking for, as well.
Q. You mentioned Hegarty and his teammates rallying around him. What was maybe the biggest obstacle from a mental or physical standpoint that he had to get past?
COACH KELLY: Going against Louis Nix for two years (chuckling). I mean, look, Lou is on the ones, right, and Matt is on the twos. And he’s getting his brains beat in in his freshman year. That takes a toll on your confidence a little bit. The ball is going sideways, snapping it backwards, and the guy is in the backfield making tackles. I mean, that’s not an easy existence early on, and there’s some crazy guy back there screaming at him, and all that’s going on. And he’s got to develop through all of that.
I think he’s been able to take all that have and he’s been able to develop through that and when the wind was 30 miles an hour and there was snow blowing around and we were on the four yard line and he was on the shotgun snapping, all of that worked for him.
Q. You talked a week or two ago about Zack Martin building the foundation here. Can you give an example of how he built a foundation and how he passed it along to the other players?
COACH KELLY: He brought his lunch pail to work every day. I mean, just a consistent, every single day, he was there. And he brought energy. He brought a workmanlike demeanor that was unmistakable.
And if you talk about the way our offensive line now works and how they work together in the summer, and how we are able to plug in guys now and still be effective, a lot of that has to do with Zack Martin and his approach to every day. Every single day is the same day, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and that’s why, you know, he’s a 50 game starter, and I think it’s 36 wins puts him as the third most in the history of Notre Dame football. It’s a testament to him. He’s left an indelible mark at Notre Dame.
Q. I think one of the marks of Stanford is that they are known for wearing teams down. How concerned are you, defensive line, offensive line, pretty beat up; that you’ll be ready in the third and fourth quarter without much replacements standing up for that.
COACH KELLY: I think we have trained ourselves year round to get to this point, where even though we may be thin in some areas, we play a lot of players, and we’ll move them in and out. We did on Saturday. You saw our units moving players in and out and so I’m not concerned about wearing out. I’m more concerned about us taking care of the football and doing things they’ll talked about before.
Q. I was wondering what you think it is about David Shaw’s approach or style that has allowed him to sustain the success that Jim Harbaugh had, a coach with a different personality.
COACH KELLY: First of all, he’s very smart. He’s a smart football coach and he knows what he wants.
He knows Stanford, right. He’s a graduate and he knows Stanford and he knows what he’s looking for. He sticks with the plan. I think any coach that has a plan and sticks with it and knows what he’s looking for, especially at a university like Stanford, has a great chance for success. And you can see that in the way they play. They have a plan, they stick with it and they recruit to that plan, and I think he’s put together a very good staff around him.
So all of those things together, very smart football coach, very good leader. I think he knows Stanford and has set that plan in place and they have stuck with that plan.
Q. And Kevin Hogan is a quarterback that with the exception of a couple of games, has not turned the ball over a lot and your defense has had some struggles forcing turnovers at times. Are you concerned about being able to force a turnover Saturday?
COACH KELLY: No, I mean, I’d love to get some turnovers, but I don’t look at that as, we can’t win if we don’t get a turnover. It’s not a marker for us. It doesn’t mean we are not going to win if we don’t get a turnover.
What’s more concerning is if we give up big play touchdowns defensively. We need to keep the points down. I’d love to get a couple of turnovers along the way, because that just accentuates the opportunity for winning for us. So we focus more on those markers that equal winning with this 2013 team.
Q. Your current centers, in Martin, Hegarty and Harrell, and I don’t believe any you recruited were centers in high school. How difficult is that process to find a talented offensive lineman, bring them here – how hard is it to move guys to be able to play college center?
COACH KELLY: Well, we think we have somebody that we’re going to move there that can play the position. We think it requires intellect and demeanor. Both of those have to be in play on the offensive line. Intellect, because there’s a lot going on. There’s communication that has to occur there. There’s recognition that has to occur relative to fronts and then demeanor.
Look, you’ve got somebody on you and you’ve got to snap the ball. You’ve got to be able to listen to cadence and count. There’s a lot going on. You have to have the right – you cannot be a high strung guy in there. If you’re jittery and high strung, you can’t being flinching. All those things, you’ve got to have the right demeanor.
So just picking an O lineman that’s a road grader and physical, that’s not enough. You have to really drill down deeper when you’re looking for a center when you’re in the recruiting process. That requires a lot more work.
Q. I think you saw it right away in Matt. For Nick, did that kind of come along?
COACH KELLY: We have to develop that. We have to develop that. But we had the demeanor. He walks in here and you can see it. A bomb could go off and Nick Martin would not turn around. He just has that demeanor about him. We have to develop some of the other things in terms of recognition and awareness and he picked it up pretty good.
Q. If a team goes three wide, four wide, you can go nickel, dime. If a team goes six offensive linemen, seven offensive line then, are there similar personnel adjustments you make, or do you just stick with your base and be fundamentally sound?
COACH KELLY: You have to be able to – obviously figure out, can you hold up with your personnel, your three down personnel. Do you have to go and kick to four down and do you have to get into some of those fronts.
But relative to adding another lineman on the field, those are the only questions you have to decipher. The question is, can you get them on the field in time. And so, generally, you can’t. The way they play, you are not going to get a chance to get them on the field.
So you have to live with the personnel that you have on the field and that’s generally how they play. So we are going to have to figure out ways to stop power with our field personnel.
Q. What kind of challenge does this game present for somebody like Jalen who is not 255 pounds, a speed player and this is a team that is a power, hit you in the mouth type offense?
COACH KELLY: Well, he’ll be 1/11th of it and we’ll put him in a position where we can utilize some of his skill sets. Yeah, he’s going to play a tight end that we think he can match up with. The pulling guard, no, he can’t match up with the pulling guard no, question about it. But where we have him positioned, we think we can neutralize that end of things, but he’s going to need some help along the way.
Q. And could you speak to Trent Murphy, what edge he gives that defense, and how they use him to try to move him around?
COACH KELLY: Well, picture Troy Niklas, that size, that length, that’s Murphy and just arriving with a really, really, really bad attitude. That’s Murphy.
So he sets the tone of their defense because he plays so physical, and he’s long, he’s athletic, and he just creates – look, he can do so many things because he can stand up, he can play, as a drop player and so he allows the defense to give you a lot of different looks. That’s what he gives this defense- the multiple looks that they have start with Trent Murphy’s ability to set the edge with his size but also drop. That’s pretty good stuff.
Q. A guy I get a lot of questions about, Max Redfield. Came in with a lot of recruiting hype and all that kind of stuff. How do you think he’s progressed since he’s come in?
COACH KELLY: I think he’s done very well. Let’s just take Tarean Folston and Max Redfield, two very gifted young men. Tarean has had to wait for his chance and he’s getting more of it as the season progresses. Max has ten times as much on his plate at that position than Tarean Folston, ten times, in terms of coverage checks and formation adjustments and communication.
All of those things which are all going into the knowledge base for him. He’s going to be a dynamite player for us. But there’s so much knowledge in our system and the way we play, because we are a two deep team.
If we were a close the middle of the field, cover one team, he would probably have been standing back there in week one if that’s what we did. But that’s not our system. We are a two deep team, and there’s a lot going on. He’s learned a lot and he’s grown a lot, and he’s at a position now where he’s starting to feel pretty comfortable.
Q. And the one time we got a chance to talk to him, he mentioned how much more complex things are, as opposed to when he was in high school. Is that the biggest thing for him going forward?
COACH KELLY: No question, and certainly, when you think, you stink, right. He has to think too much right now, and that’s starting to chip away where he’s not thinking as much, and we’re seeing him kind of fire his guns like we know he can. And that’s only going to get better for him. He’s got a bright future.