March 26, 2010

An interview with:

COACH Brian Kelly

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. We’ll take some opening comments from Coach Kelly and then we’ll take questions.

COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. It’s an exciting day around here today. There’s an energy in the building that I think we all feed off of as coaches and players. I know our players are excited about today. I know our coaches are.
You know, again, it’s what we do. It’s getting out on the field, getting that next opportunity now to evaluate our football team.
As you know, we pushed back spring practice quite late, probably as late as anybody in the country. That bump was specifically to spend more time in evaluating our football players.
What we believed were some of their deficiencies, we think we’ve addressed. We certainly have now gotten a better feel for our personnel, making sure that as we go into the spring, as I said, we don’t have five years to put this thing together. We’ve got to do it right away. Spring ball for us is not about a, Let’s get to know each other. We have to do more than that. This is a very, very important month for us as we set into motion the 2010 season.
A little bit different than the other stops along the way in the sense that we need to get to work right away. Today will be that first step in learning a little bit more about our football team.
You’ll notice a couple of things relative to the spring right out of the gates. I’m not a big believer in the depth chart. We won’t be posting depth charts. Really from a who’s first, who’s second, who’s third, you know my background. I played five quarterbacks one year. So, you know, those battle scars are still with me (laughter). We’d like to get all of our players in a competitive situation. We’ll certainly be evaluating our players. You’ll also notice that we don’t have many players that are not involved in our practice. We have a very clear way of defining how our players compete. They’re either out of practice where they’re not in any form of practice gear, they’re not involved, they’re fully cleared. And we have two status positions: one is protected, and one is restricted. We have two players that will be protected. That will be Dayne Crist and Theo Riddick.
‘Protected’ means that both sides of the ball understand that they need to be involved in what we’re doing on a day to day basis. They’ve got to be in scrimmages, in all segments, but they need to be shadowed and protected. There’s no way you can develop football players by keeping them out of practice opportunities.
‘Restricted’ would be players that have had specific injuries and we want to keep them out of compromising positions. Again, they’ll be involved in all the practices that we have, but it’s incumbent upon the position coach, our strength and conditioning coach and myself to monitor their activities. I think those two things will be stark right away.
There’s no depth chart. We’re going to compete with all of our players. We’ll begin to get units involved as we move through the spring. You will see an immersion virtually of every player in our spring practice format because it’s that important that they’re involved in the skill development.
At the end of the day if you ask me, What do you want to get out of spring ball? I would say that if I can clearly understand our football team as it relates to their work volume, their ability to do their job for four quarters, their work volume in practice, how they can compete for the entire practice, and the competitiveness of our football team, if I know how we compete with each other and amongst ourselves, I’ll have a pretty good feel for where we stand going into 2010.
So those are the two things that I’ll be looking for, our work volume, how we can compete at a high level, because I think we all know how that translates, didn’t translate, closing football games out, winning games in the fourth quarter, then how we handle ourselves together in a competitive fashion.
With that I’ll open it up to any questions.

Q. Coach, you mentioned the other day some of the position switches you already made. As you go through spring practice, are you still open and looking to other ones?

COACH KELLY: Constantly evaluating our football players every single day. I think the way that I go about practice is that I set the practice schedule every day after practice. I don’t can the practices ahead of time. In other words, I don’t have five or six or seven scripts already. So we’re constantly evaluating after practice, making sure we get the pieces in the right place.

Q. I believe at Cincinnati you didn’t have an indoor facility.

COACH KELLY: That’s correct.

Q. Are you going to take advantage of this one or do you want to get outside?

COACH KELLY: I think one of the themes we’ve talked about with our football team is we want to return to our roots. Our roots are the Fighting Irish. I think building that model requires some toughness. Certainly if we don’t believe that we can get a profitable practice in and one that we can get work done, we’re going indoors.
We’ve gone outside already at 5 a.m. in the snow. We’d like to stay outside as much as we can.

Q. Could you talk about Dayne Crist, your first impressions of him when you met him, kind of how that’s evolved.

COACH KELLY: Well, I think the first thing you see an engaging young man, bright eyed, enthusiastic. He’s got all those intangibles that immediately people would gravitate towards.
But it takes more than that to be a championship quarterback. You know, you’ve got to be able to produce on the field. You’ve got to be able to get your players around you to obviously make plays. So he’s got a lot of work to do.
It’s going to be a competitive situation for Dayne. That’s why it’s so incumbent upon him to be involved in everything we do through the spring. It’s a proving ground for him as well.

Q. I read an article that you did some stuff with video game technology at Cincinnati. Can you talk about that a little bit.

COACH KELLY: Again, I think you’re trying to maximize your time with your players. Eight hour rule forces you to be creative in the time that you spend with your quarterbacks, in particular. We have a video game that allows our players to see the playbook in action.
So, again, we’re just trying to build a little bit more. It’s not the end all. It’s just a slight piece of the puzzle when we’re trying to put this together in a very short period of time.
We have plenty of time to do this, we use it. It’s helped us at giving our quarterbacks a little bit more of a view of our offense.

Q.When you’re evaluating quarterbacks, what do you want to see in practices where you can say, That’s my guy?

COACH KELLY: I think there has to be a comfort level where he and the offense are comfortable with each other. That obviously is going to take some time. But there are some that immediately feel comfortable in the progressions, the reads, how to run things.
For me it’s hard to really determine who that guy is until I see the pace and ease that they move into this offense. I try to use an analogy, but it’s just about a fit. Some guys fit better and easier in the system. Others it takes a little bit more work.
It doesn’t mean if Dayne struggles the first couple days, it’s not meant for him. But I think I have to see them all out there first before I can really give you a good assessment of how they fit within the offense.
We give them some very basic parameters to start with. If they stick to those basic parameters, we can move them quickly through the process. But that’s going to take us a couple of days before I get a real good sense of where we are with the entire lot of quarterbacks.

Q. Are you going to be able to figure out what Kyle Rudolph can do for you? How do you see using him?

COACH KELLY: Again, if we go back to the two criteria that I’ve used, I think it would simplify it for everybody. He’s in a restrictive mode throughout the spring. That does not mean he cannot be live in certain situations. He has a shoulder surgery we have to protect. When we say ‘restricted’, he’s involved in practice.
It’s incumbent upon our trainers and coaches, we don’t want him using a backside technique, let’s put him in a spread set and utilize him on the perimeter in a stop block routine. That requires more time on my part, but that’s what we have to do to get Kyle Rudolph into spring ball. We’ll do those things.

Q. I know there’s no depth chart, but how do you see guys fitting in at various linebacker spots?

COACH KELLY: I can give you just a general evaluation of the kind of body type and profile. The inside guys in the 3 4, the guards are uncovered. When Chris Stewart at 345 pounds comes out at you, you better be able to go to war with him. So if you’re 215 pounds, you’re gonna have a hard time in there.
So we moved Steve Paskorz over there. (Anthony) McDonald and Te’o are 240 (pounds), 250 (pounds), they can handle that a little better. On the perimeter I need guys that can work in space. They can get out and cover a vertical receiver as well as line up on the line of scrimmage and bringing pressure.
So you’re more fast twitch dynamic on the edge, you’re stronger, more physical are inside to give you kind of a general picture of what they look like.

Q. The other day you said in the off season you’ve had a chance to identify some of your leaders. Can you tell us who some of those guys are and what you’ve seen in them.

COACH KELLY: Leadership takes on so many different forms. I think the first group of leaders were those guys that bought in right away, said, Look, this is it for me. Generally those are your seniors. Those are the guys that this is their last shot. They’re like, Coach, I’m all in, I don’t have anything else going here.
Chris Stewart stands out to me on the offensive side of the ball. I think she’s showed himself. Defensively there’s probably a number of guys. Probably Kapron Lewis-Moore, Manti Te’o. There’s probably been four or five guys defensively that have said immediately, Coach, whatever it is, let’s go get it done. I think the rest of that leadership takes time to develop.
But those guys in particular were right there at the very first day.

Q. I suppose we’ll start to get a sense of this as we watch. In practice are you more of a guy that likes drills versus scrimmage? Because this spring is unique, do you need to do more of one than the other?

COACH KELLY: It’s a combination. There has to be individual skill development, there’s no question. There’s got to be some form of group work where your wide receivers and quarterbacks are certainly working on routes and timing. Then there’s that teamwork. It will always have those three components of individual, group and team.
I will set the practice based upon where I think we need to emphasize. And the body of practice is two hours. It’s 24 periods. It’s five minutes per. We’re clicking through.
I think probably the thing that’s absolutely non negotiable is the intensity through repetition. There’s not a lot of standing around and talking. Next play. I want our guys thinking on their feet. I think that’s the theme more than anything else.

Q. Did you watch a lot of film in the off season or are you kind of looking to the spring as now is your chance to show me what you got?

COACH KELLY: We use film to demonstrate what we were talking about in our own system. For example, running to the football, for example, we would use some clips from last year’s game at Notre Dame where we thought they ran for the ball extremely well, then maybe some times when they didn’t. Then we countered that with film from Cincinnati. Tried to use the visual with the message.
So we used film more to show our players, This is what we’re talking about, this is what this looks like. If it’s not done this way, it’s unacceptable. That’s how we used it, more so than sitting down and going, This is a neat play, how about this play. That stuff is not as important to me as actually getting the sense and feel for how we go and run our offense, defense and special teams.

Q. You addressed this with your opening statement. It appears it’s more important that your players learn the pace and level of expectation from you as opposed to maybe understanding the system right away. How important in terms of picking up the system, the rapidity of it, how important is that compared to playing at the level, the play you’re looking for?

COACH KELLY: They got to read the whole book. But we’re not going to start with the end first. To begin the reading of this, to really understand what needs to be done, they have to understand pace. They have to understand how we practice first before we can get into schemes and how we’re going to do things.
To answer your question, they got to read the whole book. But we have to start with the premise of, How do we practice with each other? Are we going to cut? We don’t cut in the spring. We stay up. We don’t want guys on the ground. We respect our teammates. I don’t like talk. I’m not a guy that wants to listen to anybody talking BS. I don’t like seeing fights in practice. Emotions get out there. If I have to stop the practice because I have two knuckleheads fighting, you’re not getting through the book with me. It starts with understanding pace, then it works towards the end they have to get the whole thing.

Q. (Question with regard to the depth chart.)

COACH KELLY: There’s no 1 2. We’ve got a group of guys. We’re really working in pods and groups. That will slenderize. It will get down. As we work into the spring, we’ll start getting into rotation. We don’t get caught over he’s a one, he’s a two, he’s a three. We really pod them and we’re working in groups right now. As we move closer to the end of spring, we’ll start to identify key backups, your key players on both sides of the ball.
But it’s kind of right now way too early for us to get into ones and twos.

Q. Will players know where they stand at the end of spring ball?

COACH KELLY: I think it becomes pretty clear where the pecking order goes. I don’t have to force it. You know what I mean? It will come naturally. They’ll know just by who’s going in with what groups and how we’re seeing things on a day to day basis. We just don’t spend a whole lot of time defining, You’re a two, you better be ready to go when he doesn’t answer the bell because I’m not waiting around for anybody. If so and so can’t answer the bell, you won’t hear me crying about it on Tuesday or Wednesday, the next guy is going to be ready.

Q. You touched on it some. What is the climate you want for spring practice, just the general climate?

COACH KELLY: There’s so many things. I think we need to get the fight back of the Fighting Irish. I want to compete our butt off for four quarters. I want our guys to go to practice every day and compete, compete, compete. If I can build that work ethic and that mentality, you know, I’ll probably feel pretty good.

Q. (Question regarding communication.)

COACH KELLY: It’s huge. It’s so crucial that at any good organization that you have clear lines of communication. There’s really four integral pieces to that. One is our doctors and their ability to be available as they have been. Our team athletic trainer, our strength and conditioning coach and myself. Those four pieces have to be working together, not independently. It can’t be a pushback.
We’re working through that process. There’s a lot of habits that have been here that we’re breaking through. We’re making great progress. You’ll see that today. We got all hands on deck, all hands. I had 17, 18 guys out when I got here for December 11th, 12th. We got them all in spring ball. So we made great progress in that.

Q. You mentioned Manti for leadership. Can you talk about what you’ve learned about him through the last couple months?

COACH KELLY: He’s a college football player. He’s got that excitement, that passion. Those are the guys I want to be around. I’m passionate about what I do. I want to be around guys that love the game, love being around it. So he brings that energy on a day to day basis.
He’s got to get much better as a football player. He wasn’t very good (last year). And he understands that. He’s been committed to learning. Remember, he hasn’t been here a year. He’s a freshman. So I just love the energy that he brings and the passion that he wants to be a great player. If you write the prescription for a coach, Who do you want to coach? Get a guy like that. That’s fun.

Q. Talk about the receivers for this year. Michael is established. Aside from that, it seems pretty wide open. It’s also a spot where in the past that may have been a two starting spot. You’re probably looking for four starters or more than that. Talk about that competition.

COACH KELLY: Michael Floyd has work to do, as well. The volume that we’re going to throw at him is something that’s going to be new. He’s lost a lot of weight. He’s down into the 216, 217 range, from 233 when we got here because he just would not have been able to stay on the field with the pace of play. He’s made a great commitment. He’s got to show that he’s got that volume.
You’re right. If you’re looking for a battle, you if want to say, What’s going on out here? That wide receiver battle is going to be interesting. Now with Riddick in the slot, you’ve got a lot of dynamics out there, a lot of players that get a chance. Shaq Evans, Deion (Walker), (John) Goodman, (Duval) Kamara, Roby (Toma). I could go on and on. There’s a number of players that are going to get an opportunity. That’s going to be one heck of a battle, as well as the tight end doesn’t come off the field.
So (Kyle) Rudolph is going to be involved. Tyler Eifert is going to be around. I’m impressed with the way he’s come back from back surgery. (Mike) Ragone and (Bobby) Burger, we know they’re role players in certain senses, so it’s going to be an interesting battle on the perimeter. That should be fun to keep an eye on.

Q. I noticed you have Brian Smith listed as outside linebacker. You have quite a contingent at outside linebacker. Seems to be an extremely competitive area. What prompted the move of Brian to the outside instead of playing in the middle?

COACH KELLY: Well, we like his ability to play in space and also provide some athleticism off the edge. We want those two outside linebacker positions to be, You don’t know who’s coming, who’s dropping. If you have (Darius) Fleming on one side, (Brian) Smith on the other, you don’t know who’s coming, you’re going to get a matchup with a running back.
It just worked out that the balance for those outside positions was probably our greatest depth in the program. You have five guys who we believe can create a great competitive situations and obviously get some skill players on the field.
It’s really up to anybody right now to show who those top guys are going to be, because they’re five. They’re all interchangeable is what I’m saying. In other words, all five of those guys, even though one is a drop, one is a cat, those positions are interchangeable. So you have five guys fighting for two spots. It’s going to be pretty competitive.

Q. Can any move inside?

COACH KELLY: I think we want to give the guys that we’ve slotted to the inside position an opportunity to do it there. We prefer not to. I think if there’s an emergency situation, (Kerry) Neal and (Brian) Smith are more towards what we would do. But that would be a stopgap opportunity for us. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to do it with the guys we have.

Q. With Lane Clelland moving over from defensive end to offensive tackle, you have four on scholarship now for the spring. None have started a game. Is that another position you’re looking at where maybe a guard could move to the outside?

COACH KELLY: Like I said, we haven’t slotted them. Our guards and tackles, we are in the shotgun. It’s a little different when you’re five yards deep with the quarterback that that left tackle does not have to be 6’7″, kick slide, get back with a direct snap quarterback. So we can take a 6’5″ kid in there and he can handle himself.
So there will be some bouncing around from that guard to tackle position, which actually increases our depth a little bit.

Q. Harrison Smith, last year he started free safety, struggled some, moved to outside linebacker, now he’s back at safety. Didn’t quite fit the prototype and you had the need at safety?

COACH KELLY: I never thought he would have been an outside linebacker. He never would be an outside linebacker in our system. He never fit that prototype for us. He’s always been a safety. If he can’t play safety, he can’t play. It was pretty easy for that one.

Q. I also understand you kind of cited him as one of the leaders.

COACH KELLY: Again, he’s a veteran. We would expect that from him. He’s done a really good job in terms of just being engaging every day around the offices, making sure he’s picking up all the little things because he wants to be a great player.

Q. I believe you talked before about fitting your offense to the personnel that you have. Do you have any idea going into spring how that will work out, how close that is to what you would like?

COACH KELLY: I think it goes back to the earlier question. I’ll get a feel once you know what our quarterbacks can handle. The quarterbacks dictate how this offense runs. Everything runs through them. They set the protection. They handle all the offensive line signals in terms of where they’re sliding, where the gap is. They’re flipping the plays. This is a quarterback driven offense. So it’s impossible for me to say where we’re going to be until I get a good feel for the quarterback.
Once I know what their strengths and weaknesses are, I got a library. I stole stuff from everybody. So I’ve got plenty of stuff to fit into the quarterback. I just got to know what they can handle first.

Q. Can you talk about Dayne’s progression mentally so far.

COACH KELLY: He’s a very bright kid. Coach Weis did a very good job, his staff, of getting him the football intelligence needed to be a BCS quarterback. So these guys were well taught. So we’re not coming in here with a blank slate. So they’ve got some intelligence.
But it’s still different, you know. When you get out there and that ball comes in your hands, how you react. Does it come out on time? Are you seeing it clearly? It’s hard to tell.
Their knowledge base is pretty good, but I’m not fooled by knowledge. It’s action and the ability to make plays is what I’m all about.

Q. You said one of the reasons for moving Theo was create some room from Cierre Wood. What are some of the things you like about Cierre?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s part of that. I want to give all of our players an opportunity to see light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t know Cierre is an All American as much as he’s a very talented young man who it was hard to look through five other backs. So we had to open up some space there to give him an opportunity.
He’s still got to win the job. He’s still got to beat out some really good players. This was about, more than anything else, getting another play maker on the field. And we think that Theo Riddick fits that role and opened up space for Cierre Wood now, too.

Q. You said in the last few minutes that Michael Floyd and Manti have a lot of work to do. I think that has to send a message to the rest of team. Have you made that something that the team knows?

COACH KELLY: We’re 15 21 the last few years. There’s no bruised egos. Everybody knows where this thing is at. Again, we’re not coaching anything and being nice. We’re saying, Here is where we are, here is where we have to go. We’re not beating you with a stick. We have a long way to go and they get that. That’s the great thing about that.
I don’t bring that up all the time where you talk about what they did last year. I really don’t care. This is about where they go from here because we got a lot of work to do.

Q. You talked about not having an indoor facility. How do you use that but also create toughness within these players, the amenities?

COACH KELLY: It starts at the top. Starts with me and our coaches and how we go to work every day and what our expectations and our demands are as it relates to our players, how we play, how we practice. Talk about it every day.
I think it starts at the top and it works its way to the players. They see it. It manifests itself onto the practice field and then into games.

Q. Can you elaborate a little bit about running at 5 a.m. in the snow? Did the players know this was coming or was it a surprise to them when it happened?

COACH KELLY: The snow (laughter)?

Q. Running outdoors at 5 a.m.

COACH KELLY: They knew something was up. We had given them a couple of tips it was going to be an early morning and they should use their sweats. We gave them a tip. It was for us more of a signaling of, Okay, we’ve been in the weight room, it’s time to get out, let’s go. So it was pretty clearly defined that there was going to be, after four or five weeks of being indoors, Hey, we’re going to start branching out a little bit.
It was pretty common knowledge that we were going to head outside in some tough conditions because the workout, Camp Kelly, is about mental, not physical.

Q. You mentioned the other day about you’re pleased that you haven’t lost a lot of players. Is that something you’ve done differently or is it people buying in? Is loosing a few players inevitable when there’s a coaching change?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think the university makes it unique. You don’t walk away from Notre Dame. I think the university, its academics, its community makes it hard to walk away from the University of Notre Dame. I think that has much more to do with it than my style changing, because it hasn’t changed as much. All these guys had to jump in and follow a very, very strict routine. And they all did.
So I probably applaud Coach Weis and the guys that he recruited that love Notre Dame and are here for the right reasons more so than I’m getting (indiscernible). I hope so.

Q. Is the line one of the biggest changes and how big a change is it maybe than before as far as the training table, being leaner?

COACH KELLY: Well, they don’t huddle. They’re on the line, they got to move. Again, I go back to this work volume element. They could not maintain a consistent work volume the way they played for four quarters. That requires a change in their cargo load. They have too much cargo on them. We had to lower the cargo. That means body fat, dropping some weight.
In the instance of Chris Stewart, he didn’t lose body weight as much as he lost body fat, gained a higher level of conditioning. It’s absolutely crucial to what we do. It’s the difference between running a halfcourt offense than a pushing the ball. You’ve got to have guys that can run.

Q. Coach, with your emphasis with competition throughout the roster, how does that translate to your work on special teams? A lot of frontline players will be competing for those roles.

COACH KELLY: There’s no reason we shouldn’t be competing in special teams. We’ll begin with special teams rights out of the gate. We’re going to evaluate our punt team today. I think we should have outstanding presence on our special teams. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be a dynamic team when it comes to those areas.
Our emphasis will be right out of the gates. I think a lot of teams tend to wait on spring practice relative to special teams. We’re going to get to work on it right away. I’m a big believer that you can help win with your football team right away by playing great special teams.

Q. In a situation where you want to give some of the players that maybe don’t get in the first few lines a light at the end of the tunnel, is that where they can become a niche player on special teams?

COACH KELLY: Yeah, and some of our other guys who have aspirations to continue to play. They need to excel on special teams, as well. I think all of that. Yeah, you want to give some young guys an opportunity to get their feet wet, get involved. You want your frontline guys to be dynamic in it. I think you want to give some of those guys that are playing roles, it gives them an opportunity to heighten their credibility.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, gentlemen.
COACH KELLY: Thank you.

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