Nov. 15, 2011

An Interview With: Brian Kelly

COACH KELLY: Another rivalry game for us, Boston College has been a great game in years past. There’s been much riding on it, and other years for us there’s a lot riding on it because it’s another opportunity for us to continue to play with consistency. So Boston College is that one game every year that I know our guys understand the like philosophy of the universities and obviously a similar approach to the way they operate. Our guys are locked in on BC this week. So one of the best linebackers in the country in Luke Kuechly. He’s all over the field. He’s got great instincts. Offensively they take care of the football. Chase Rettig is emerging as the starting quarterback for them, and I think they rely on the running game, whether Harris plays or not, we have to prepare for him. It’s what we expect from Coach Spaziani. It’s a very good defensive team. They play fundamentally sound, and offensively they’re going to take their shots when they get them. Special teams are very solid. So just a team that we have to prepare well for this week or we’ll have our hands full. So again, I’ve been up here many a week talking about the same things, so I’ll talk about them again. It’s in our preparation and how our guys prepare. If we do a good job in the preparation and then execute we gotta execute as well we should be in good shape.

Q. You kept in the first team offense pretty much the entire game against Maryland. Is there a value to style points?

COACH KELLY: I don’t think so. I don’t look at it as style points as much as progressing our football team, getting them better. We’ve had our inconsistencies in terms of turnovers, so we’re still trying to get better. It was nice that our defense got most of the time in the game. We get a lot of those younger players. If it was flipped, we would have had more time on offense. It just worked out on defense this time.

Q. You mentioned Kuechly already. When you have a super star like that on defense, is it harder to have a game plan or can you change your game plan?

COACH KELLY: Well, in some respects you have to. We have to know where he is. We have to identify him because he’s a savvy player. And it’s like when you have that great defensive lineman, sometimes you don’t block him and you option him. Well, in some instances with a great player like that you try to put him in as many conflicts as possible out there. But there’s no denying his ability to play the game and get to the football. So we’ll have to be prepared.

Q. Following up on Kuechly, how far did you get down the road with recruiting him?

COACH KELLY: Oh, we loved him. Felt like he was the kind of linebacker that has shown to be great instincts, loves the game, great character kid. His interests were from the very beginning towards Boston College. We knew it was going to be an uphill climb. But certainly St. X is a school that at Cincinnati we had somebody in there as much as we could.

Q. There’s people that may say these are the two best inside linebackers in the country that’ll be playing on Saturday. Are they similar players or are they a lot different in style in what they do?

COACH KELLY: No, they’re similar. I think when you talk about the really good inside linebackers, it’s interesting. It’s great tackling. The leader on their defense. I think Manti (Te’o) and Luke carry a lot of those. I think physically Manti is a little bit bigger, but maybe Luke you could say is maybe a bit more agile. I don’t know. I would think maybe Manti would question that. But I think clearly they’re very similar in terms of the intangibles that they bring and both are very, very productive.

Q. I just wanted to ask you about a couple of walk ons that are going to be having their last game in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday. Matt Mulvey and Ryan Kavanagh. Just talk about their contributions.

COACH KELLY: Well, starting with Mulvey, he’s created his own cult and fan club with the red hat brigade, and his impact is that he understands our offense very well. He’s part of our signaling crew, and he just has a great personality that fits in with what we’re doing on a day to day basis. We ask him to do a lot of preparation during the week to help in all of our offensive play calling, and he’s done a great job. As for Kavanagh, he carries a real load and responsibility for what he does. I think we all know that position is so important to the kicking game, and he’s done it very, very well, and he’s done it as a walk on, and to put that kind of faith in somebody, it’s pretty neat that a young man can rise to that kind of level of consistency.

Q. You thought you might have more info on Theo Riddick today.

COACH KELLY: We’ll run him around today. We’ll get a chance to see a little bit better today where he is.

Q. And Cam Roberson we haven’t asked you about him for a while. How is his rehab coming?

COACH KELLY: It’s been a slow process and it will continue to be. He’s moving around a little bit. He’s not going to be able to practice this year for us, but certainly it’s a long, long road for him.

Q. With Saturday being senior day, in your experience do you find that the emotions involved in that day are helpful to a team or can they be a distraction?

COACH KELLY: I don’t know that the emotion is really an issue. It’s when you become emotional. I think emotions are fine because it’s your last home game, and you should feel those things naturally. I think when you get emotional is where you can run into problems. We talk about our players staying within themselves all year. So I’m not really concerned that we’re going to come outside of who we are. There should be some emotions. It is your last game. But you should be able to handle those emotions appropriately so you can enjoy the moment, but yet go out and execute.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about what Harrison Smith has meant to this program as a solo captain and we’ve talked a lot about what he’s meant on the field this year, but can you kind of summarize what he’s meant to your program the last 55 days?

COACH KELLY: Leader by example, how you prepare, how you take care of yourself, both on and off the field, what it’s like to represent Notre Dame football seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I mean he’s the kind of guy that you can model as to what your programs look like because of the way he handles himself all the time. When you’re in the mix of changes going on in your program, he has to be a great communicator to the other players as well. He sometimes has to carry the water, so to speak, in terms of the messages. And he’s always be welcome here because of what he’s meant to us, I mean our entire program here, too.

Q. Is it important, do you have to have a guy like that on every team? Can you be successful without that?

COACH KELLY: I would say that there are times you need somebody that can do some of the heavy lifting, but as a unit, as a group, you can be successful without one named captain provided that you’re getting the proper leadership. It’s just it was pretty clear that he was the kind of guy that we wanted to put out front.

Q. Coach, we try to make more, I think, of halftime adjustments than you guys might, and you know, how about in terms of the 77 to 13 edge you guys have in the third quarter. What is it? Do we make too much of the half time adjustments? Is there some other reason for that?

COACH KELLY: I would say that our guys get a feel for the flow of the game and really especially with our schedule where there’s a lot of new opponents across the board. I think more this year than any year that I’ve experienced that we’re making adjustments at half time. But I think our guys are in really tip-top physical conditioning as well, and they’re able to come out with a burst in the third quarter. So to put my finger on one thing, probably can’t. Some of it is luck, some of it is very good execution. Some of it is preparation. The numbers don’t lie. So the question is valid. But I think it’s a combination of many different things that equal that lopsided number.

Q. Can you step back and look at the program in general and say, you know, we’re a good third quarter team? You know, it’s important to be a good third quarter team. Is it more important to be a better fourth quarter team?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. I think the numbers are good conversation for after the season. As you know, Al, we talk about preparation during the week should be for all four of your quarters. Again, there’s a number of things that may go through why those numbers are what they are. But it’s certainly not a message that we bring up to our team.

Q. More about Lo Wood’s development, what did you see in him that told you, okay, he’s ready to play?

COACH KELLY: He was the next guy. He was the next guy that we had. So he’s got a ways to go. He knows that, but he’s certainly a young man that we have confidence in. He’s gotta continue to develop in his strength and his technique and things of that nature. Kerry Cooks has done a good job of bringing him along as a young player. But he’s got a ways to go, and he knows that, but he’s the next guy. So whether it was Lo Wood or Jimmy Smith just throwing a name out there they had to be ready to step in.

Q. How did he survive that play against Southern Cal when all of a sudden he was matched up and he got beat in the end zone handily?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think we’ve all heard this cliche, but in particular the cornerback has gotta have a very short memory, and I think Lo’s that kind of personality that he can play corner, go to the next play. I think he went to the next play.

Q. Early in the year you talked about adjusting Rees’ release points and screen passes and Sunday you talked about on it on the deep ball. How difficult is that to change someone’s memory of that?

COACH KELLY: We’re not asking him to repeat it. We’re asking him to pull it out when necessary, because we’re not changing his actual delivery as much as last night Green Bay was playing and I saw a clip this morning of a little screen pass that we run to our backs where Rogers had to kind of almost sidearm underhand it, and sometimes it requires athletic throws that are not necessarily what you have in muscle memory. He has to come outside of that once in a while to make some plays. And he’s doing that. It’s not easy, but he’s starting to develop that.

Q. I would imagine when you’re recruiting players, I mean are there some quarterbacks you maybe like a lot, but you’re a little fearful of the release point that you won’t be able to change that when you get him in there?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. I want to be clear, we’re not going to change if I see a quarterback on film and his release point is low or over the top, we’re not going to bring him to Notre Dame and say, hey, we’re going to change everything. I think what we’re looking for is he can make all the throws and make adaptations, if necessary, to get the ball to his receivers. Tommy’s growing into that role, and again, a lot of it is experience, and getting those experiences, and as he gets them, he’s starting to understand how he has to at times change his delivery points.

Q. You’ve developed some really nice depth along the defensive line and you’re shuffling guys in and out every series, sometimes every other play. What are you trying to accomplish with that? Is it keeping them fresh, is it giving your offense a different look, the constant shuffling?

COACH KELLY: We just think controlling the line of scrimmage is best when you have some depth at that position, and you have guys that are capable of going in there and helping you. We would not shuffle them in unless we felt they could impact the game. Now, some can’t impact it as long as others, so hence there’s going to be some more shuffling in and out. Ethan’s not 100 percent yet. We wanted to make sure in pass rush situations that we kept Aaron Lynch fresh. I think I could go on and on. The point being that when you have some depth and you’re able to get them all engaged and get them all reps and get work, it really helps your football team.

Q. There’s a realistic possibility you might have two 1000 yard rushers this year.

COACH KELLY: I hope so.

Q. I think most people perceive you as just a pass coach. What’s transpired this year, is that kind of validation of the overall offensive scheme? And I just wanted to inquire, did you ever have any thoughts about recruiting (inaudible)?

COACH KELLY: Well, you used the word perception. I think sometimes you have to overcome perception. But I’ve had multiple 1000 yard rushers when we had the depth at that position and we had an experienced offensive line. So yeah, once in a while you have to be able to say look at my entire body of work, not what we had to do to win football games over the last few years. So yeah, sometimes, but I don’t think we need to worry about that anymore.

Q. A few weeks ago you mentioned Jonas earning more playing time. Would you say the same thing for Robby Toma?

COACH KELLY: Yeah. Every chance that he’s gotten he’s made the best of. But it’s like having Jonas (Gray) and Cierre (Wood), you’re not going to shut down one to get those reps there. You’re going to try to balance them in. So I think depending on Theo’s status, if Theo’s full, 100 percent ready to go, I think Robby’s earned an opportunity to be on the field as well, in answering your question.

Q. Next year when you don’t have Michael Floyd, it’s either Theo or Robby in that position?

COACH KELLY: That is so far from my mind, I’m just trying to get through this week. We’ll evaluate all that stuff at the end of the year.

Q. In just the development of Tyler Eifert, how would you compare? Last year Kyle Rudolph was the best tight end in the country. You look at how Tyler has grown.

COACH KELLY: Really proud of his development physically. Mentally, all the things that go to the will and the want. That’s what I’m so pleased about is that his desire to want to be the best. You know, he’s the one who’s put in the time in the weight room. He’s the one who’s mentally got himself in a position where he fights through any injuries and comes back. He’s put himself in that position, not because he’s athletic and he can run and catch. But he’s there every week. And at the tight end position answering the bell every week says a lot about the person, and that’s probably the thing that stands out, his mental and physical development is something that he’s taken on himself.

Q. Prior to Kyle’s injury, where did Tyler stand?

COACH KELLY: I mean I think you know how important he is to our offense. He creates so many match up issues as far as you know, I’ll take both of them. They’re both really good players.

Q. At the beginning of the year you said that the BCS was a goal of this team, and from what I understand the process, that goal would appear to be by the boards now, even if you do win out. How do you keep your team motivated or what is the focus and the motivation for your team when you lose a goal like that?

COACH KELLY: We’re playing the game of football. These are 18 to 21 year olds. They love to play. So their focus is on the next day. Their focus is on the opportunity to play at Notre Dame stadium. Their focus is on not letting their teammates down. We don’t let it get anywhere else. That’s for all you guys to talk about. What our guys know is what’s expected of them today in practice, and that’s how we operate on a day to day basis.

Q. Have you talked to Jack (Swarbrick) at all about any possible bowl scenarios so far?

COACH KELLY: No. We haven’t had that conversation yet.

Q. And your special teams have improved dramatically in some areas over the course of the year, particularly Ben Turk probably had his best game as a punter since coming here. When you’re coaching a punter or a kicker, how does that work? It kind of along those same lines of the other question about Tommy Rees’s mechanics. How do you get a punter or kicker to get better?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think they’re really two different stories. Ben was muscle memory and making sure that he repeated that action and then taking that and translating it into a game situation. I think he’s doing a much better job of taking that work, that technical work during the week and starting to translate that on one day during the week when it’s most important is that Saturday when we play. So I think that’s just been his work. He’s been consistent. He shows up every day with the desire to get better, and that’s really been our focus in special teams. I told you this, we’re not going to do anything different. We’re just going to keep coaching them really hard and demand excellence from them and we’re making progress.

Q. And you mentioned this being a rivalry. How much do you hear from the relatives and the friends back home when it’s BC week?

COACH KELLY: There’s a lot of requests for tickets, but for me, we have some sayings, and one of them is you gotta not listen to the noise. The noise would be on the Kelly family asking for tickets, so I don’t even pick up the phone.

Q. Just looking back at the totality of what Michael Floyd has done, where do you stack this up in terms of good stories?

COACH KELLY: This is why I coach. This is why I coach. I’ve said this a million times. I get hired and fired on wins, but what motivates me to coach and put all the time and effort that I’ve put into this, especially away from my family, to see a young man change the course of his life, and see that on a day to day basis. It’s probably as rewarding as any singular victory. And that’s what Michael Floyd has done. And that feels good as a coach that you can see a young man who is in a good place. Wasn’t in such a good place, but now he is, and that’s important.

Q. How does that manifest itself on a day-to-day basis?

COACH KELLY: This was not a matter of what you have to lose. This wasn’t about punitive. This isn’t about suspending you for a few games, you naughty boy. This is about changing your life. So once he has made the decision to change, you’re comfortable with yourself. He comes to practice with a smile on his face every day. I think I said this last week. Last Wednesday he was in the infirmary getting an IV. He was sick. Came to practice, didn’t miss a rep. He’s comfortable in his own skin, and that’s the difference.

Q. (Inaudible).

COACH KELLY: Well, there’s been so many different players that I’ve coached, I think this one as it relates to the football end of things, what I love about watching our players is how they finish their career. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. And I’ve seen him develop as a football player this year. He’s a better player than he was last year. And so those stand out. When you start picking out those guys, the guys that really have developed in their senior year kind of stand out to me, and I think his work on the field speaks for itself.

Q. Any update on Manti (Te’o).

COACH KELLY: Yeah. He’ll practice, and he looked really good running out yesterday, so I’m sure that the time off helped him, and we expect him to be in good shape.

Q. Jonas Gray came out after the game Saturday night and talked about all the things in the game he did not do. That just kind of speaks to the mindset that he’s taken on this year, doesn’t it?

COACH KELLY: I think it speaks to the mindset that we want our players to have, and that is each and every week your focus is on execution, preparation and execution. He was asked at the time when it came to execution, he didn’t execute some of the things he needed to. And that’s the way we’re getting our guys to think on a day to day basis, and preparation, doing the right things during the week both on and off the field and then when it’s Saturday, it’s your job to execute, and there were some things he didn’t do well and there were some things he did very, very well. And those are the things that we want our players to be most focused on.

Q. This just an example of that?

COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s starting to become the norm how our guys think. That’s the norm.

Q. Over the last three weeks it seems like the perimeter screens have become more and more of a part of your offense. Is that a natural evolution of your offense or is it more taking what the defense is giving? What has been kind of the reason why you’ve done that? I think you were nine for nine this week on the perimeter screen.

COACH KELLY: It’s the natural progression of our offense when we want to play a little faster. And we wanted to pick up the tempo, felt like at USC our tempo really worked against us, and we tried to really make sure that that’s the point of emphasis. So it’s just been more of a point of emphasis as to where we want to go offensively.

Q. When you do that, what exactly are you looking to attack? Is that a way to control the edge or a way to get the ball on the perimeter? What are you looking to attack?

COACH KELLY: Well, if you look at our running backs and our offensive line which is a strength and you put Michael Floyd in a position where you can throw the ball out, you’re forcing the defense to defend the entire width of the field. So stretching the defense it’s not just about stretching it vertically. It’s about horizontal stretch. So that’s a part of our offense that I think we got away from a little bit and it’s been a focal point, that horizontal stretch.

Q. A place like Notre Dame with so many traditions, knowing this is the last weekend for some of the seniors, is there a message you can leave them with?

COACH KELLY: Win. You’ll remember this a whole lot better if you win. So I want them to prepare, do all the things necessary to put themselves in a good position. There will be some emotion because it’s the last game, and that’s natural. But we really focus on little things. Get your tickets taken care of early in the week. Don’t wait until Thursday or Friday when you get a crush of all those things so you can really focus on this being just like any other game. And I think that’s been our message during the week.

Q. Can you speak a little about the underclassmen also, what it means to them to maybe play their last home game with their seniors?

COACH KELLY: Well, I don’t I’ve been doing it for a long time. I think it becomes less of a point of conversation when your players really care about each other. They don’t want to let them down, regardless if it’s their last game or not. The underclassmen know they’re coming back, but they don’t want to let their seniors down, so I think that’s just part of the process of developing your team that they rely on each other. So I think our guys will carry that on.