Nov. 14, 2012
COACH Brian Kelly
COACH KELLY: Start as a recap. The Boston College game, as I told our football team, I was really proud of the way that they handled a business trip to Boston College.
It was very businesslike for them. Very mature on the road. Handled themselves in a manner in the way they prepared all week against a team that was going to throw everything at them. I think we saw that that occurred in the first half.
Coupled with the fact that we had a late flight, got delayed, very easy for guys to complain. All they did is came back yesterday ready to go and prepare for Wake Forest. So I was really proud of our team and the way they handled themselves at Boston College.
Moving forward, obviously the preparation for Wake Forest. It’s at a point in the season where you know what to expect, you know how to prepare, how to do the things necessary to get yourself to Saturday. We’ll start that today in our preparation for a team that obviously in the ACC has played great competition.
Campanaro on offense gave us fits last year; Tanner Price is very elusive in the pocket, can make plays, extend plays. Harris is the veteran running back. You know the guys on offense.
Defensively they throw a lot at you. You’re going to get blitzed from every formation. We have to do a great job of making sure that we protect our quarterback, find ways to get after them on the offensive line and running the football.
Very athletic, as good as some of the very best in the country in the back end of their defense. Two very good corners. Athletic safeties. They match up very well against the top-skilled players in the country. Outstanding punter that can flip field position.
So, again, another challenge for our football team. We’ve got (29) seniors that will be playing in the last home game. Excited about the opportunity to send them off in a positive way.
Again, just our last home game here this year, our guys will be excited.
So with that, I’ll open up to questions.
Q. Is KeiVarae Russell still on par to come back today, and any other injury/flu concerns?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he was clear today to participate. He passed a number of his tests, his ACSM test, which is the software test for the last hurdle for any concussions. He passed, and he’ll practice today.
No, I think we’ve handled ourselves as well as we could with the influenza and the bug that was running through us, but nothing that would affect anybody playing on Saturday.
Q. From a coaching standpoint, how do you balance the sentimental part of Senior Day with the fact that you’ve got another road game, a bowl game, more work to do?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, there is a lot of work to do. I told our team yesterday that certainly the most important thing is for them to get the proper perspective through the week.
In other words, yes, it is your last home game, but we got a lot in front of us. What you’ll remember most is whether you win the game, not that it was your last home game. So make sure that you keep the distractions to a minimum. And if there is any emotion let that be after the game. Let’s have the emotion after the game celebrating a great victory.
So, yeah, there is a little bit of dialog and conversation about that. Our guys have been around it. They know what it’s like. I expect them to handle it appropriately.
Q. I would imagine (John) Goodman is part of your vision to replace the production from DaVaris (Daniels), but can you talk about his year, what he’s been through, and how you feel about him now as he’s finishing up?
COACH KELLY: He really hasn’t been healthy all year. He’s battled a number of different ailments. When we ask him to go in there, he’s the center of some big plays. Obviously Michigan State and then of course Boston College.
John has given us everything he has in his senior year. He’s been a great teammate. He’ll get a chance now to play a little bit more in the absence of Double D (DaVaris Daniels).
Danny Smith will play a lot more in that respect. Again, we’ll probably get T.J. (Jones) moved around a little bit and the three of them will make up for the loss of DaVaris.
Q. Obviously in a year like this you’re going to get a bump in recruiting. How much are you feeling that, both in the class that you’re putting together now and the 2014 group?
COACH KELLY: It’s been a great year, there’s no question. I will tell you that winning helps in recruiting. It also solidifies those commitments. We have a number of mid-year enrollees that obviously are very excited about the direction of the football program.
So there is no mistaking that that kind of success helps you in recruiting. Having said that, I think we had made great progress coming into the season where we had a number commitments already in place. I think the winning has obviously enhanced that and strengthened those commitments.
But I don’t think there is any question that winning definitely gives you a bump in recruiting.
Q. I know we’ve talked to you about Manti’s reach on and off the field. How about his legacy? What is he going to leave behind? Seems like again already some of your recruits are very close with him and the younger players. Can you talk about that.
COACH KELLY: Well, it’s a great story, first of all, but I don’t think it’s finished. Think there is more out there for him. He believes that to be the case.
When those books are written they’re written about championships. They’re written about the great days at Notre Dame. Certainly this has been a great year, but there is more to accomplish. I think he would be the first one to tell you that this story is not over with and there are some more chapters to be written. I think he wants to be right in the middle of those.
Q. You’ve been through this before, changing jobs, and every coach really has. The senior class has been here longer than you have. How has your relationship evolved over the last three years?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think all relationships over time evolve. I think you learn more about each other. You learn about the strengths and weaknesses that you have.
But more than anything else, you begin to trust each other, trust that everybody is here for the same reasons. We’re here to develop them to be the best they can be both on and off the field. I think once they understand that and they know you’re not here just to get something out of them – you know, I want to get more football out of you, I want to get more out of you as a young man – once that wall has been broken, then it allows you to have to some fun with those guys.
I think that is what we’ve seen this year.
Q. Was there a specific moment when you felt that wall start to break down?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know if there was a particular day as much as more access. I spent more time with the team this year. I think that helped in developing and strengthening those relationships. But, no, it’s a process.
They would tell you from day one to today they were pretty clear on what the mission was what we wanted to accomplish. As you develop closer relationships with your players they starting to go, Oh, I now know what you were talking about.
I think we’re at that point now.
Q. Goodman in particular came in here with a lot fanfare, and the numbers haven’t really borne that out. What has is provided though, aside from on the field, over the last few years for you?
COACH KELLY: A good teammate. You got to have good teammates. Guy is great in the locker room. You know, an upbeat, positive guy. Guys really enjoy being around. He’s a good teammate.
I know that sometimes people are measured and I know I’m measured by wins and losses, but the relationships that he has on this team strengthens that group. I think he’ll look back and say, Yeah, I would like to have caught more and made more touchdowns and done all those things, but he’s going to look back on the relationships and the strength that he’s provided as a senior in this football program.
Q. You have a chance to finish the season undefeated at home. That hasn’t been done here in 14 years. That’s another piece of useless history that you can disregard.
COACH KELLY: I actually know that for some reason.
Q. Anyway, obviously you want to be a dominant team at home. How close are you to getting to the level you want to be? You’ve had some close wins, but also obviously learned how to win at home as well.
COACH KELLY: Well, one of our goals, a tangible goal for us, was to protect our home field. We felt, I felt, I think everybody in the program felt that if you want to take that next step in terms of success, you got to win at home.
I think we all talked about the statistics of Oklahoma, and the numbers were mind boggling in terms their home field advantage until we beat them. We want to have that kind of legacy. We want to build that kind of dominance at home. The first step is winning all your games at home, which hasn’t happened in a long time.
So we actually talked about that yesterday, how important it is for us to finish the season undefeated at home. Our guys know that as a real goal.
Q. Can you imagine or can you picture establishing the kind of dominance that a guy like Bob Stoops has at Oklahoma?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, if I stay employed here long enough. That’s the toughest part. If you can stay in one place long enough you’ve got to a chance to do that. I think we’ve won 18 out of our last 20 regular season games. We’re towards that direction. Now just need to keep doing that.
Q. You mentioned T.J. Jones being moved around. Can you be specific?
COACH KELLY: I guess what I was saying is that where we use T.J., and we use him in multiple positions, he’ll pick up for the loss of DD, too, because we can move Danny to the field, we can move T.J. to the boundary. So we can flip them around because the offense is so interchangeable.
So it just won’t be one guy lining up at Daniels’ position is what I was saying. You’ll have two or three different guys.
Q. Does this open up any opportunities for Chris Brown?
COACH KELLY: Oh, certainly. Absolutely. I should have mentioned him at well. He’ll definitely get some more reps and play that position as well.
Q. Louis Nix’s ejection the other night, does that impact…
COACH KELLY: No, it doesn’t. He was disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct. Under the rule, he does not miss any time the next week.
Q. We always see you get together with your parents on the field after the game. What’s that’s been like to share the experience with them?
COACH KELLY: It’s probably one of the great moments here at Notre Dame where my family gets to be actively involved in what I’m doing. Because you don’t get a chance to spend a lot of time with your family, I think one the great things at Notre Dame is family is included. We’ve got kids that come to dinner that are coach’s kids. We really do a great job of including.
So my parents, who have been with me every game that I’ve coached, it’s great to see them after the game and be part of Notre Dame football.
Q. What’s your dad like? Does he offer advice about coaching or does he leave that to you?
COACH KELLY: You know what? He’ll pick his spot. He’s seen a lot of football. He’s seen me coach a lot. He’s not afraid to speak his mind.
But he does pick his spots.
Q. There have been so many players this year that have elevated their games. It would seem almost difficult to pick a most-improved. How about you as a coach? What would you say in your third year at Notre Dame you have improved on most to get where you are right now?
COACH KELLY: I just think spending more time with the players. Look, I’ve been a play caller and so focused on managing the day-to-day. I’ve let my coaches coach, and I’ve tried spend more time with our players on a day-to-day basis.
I think it was needed and necessary in our third year. The first couple years I had to set a bar and a standard and an operation of the way we wanted things done on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes that means that you got to be hard on some guys.
This third year was a year where you knew our guys knew exactly what was expected, and it allowed me to spend more time with my players and build those relationships that are so important to having great morale.
Q. Why did you feel it was important to spend that time with the players? Many times there is the stereotype that the coach almost has to be like a separate figure, where they almost fear him. Why did you feel that was necessary?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that that’s the model today. I think today it’s respect and leadership and great communication. I think we had established all those things. I thought it was important that I spend more time with our players so they understood on a day-to-day basis what I wanted from them clearly without it being directed through an assistant coach.
I wanted them to know directly from me what expectations were of them. I think they heard that loud and clear this year.
Q. You mentioned that they had to get through a certain bar that you had set. When did you feel that it was starting to turn?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I know I get the “turn” question a lot. It’s a process, that when you’re so involved in it that you don’t know there is a particular day, but you do know that things are being done the way you want them on a day-to-day basis. You sense and feel it.
I don’t know that there was one particular day. I think the last couple years our players really understood preparation. They understood how to prepare. They were learning how to play the game.
I think we’ve learned how to play the game on Saturdays a lot better over the last year and a half. I think that’s where we are now in terms of winning football games.
Q. One thing on Manti. You mentioned Sunday one thing you were most proud of was he was 1/11th on defense.
COACH KELLY: Yeah.
Q. Did you feel maybe in his first couple years here maybe tried overcompensate, and because he’s seen the all-American figure he has to do everything and now there is that trust with his teammates on defense?
COACH KELLY: No, but I think sometimes he was feeling as though he needed to, you know, that he needed to make more plays and he needed to gamble here and there because of not winning enough games, you know.
So sometimes he pressed. He knows he doesn’t have to do that anymore. But he wasn’t a guy that was outside the defense. I know there was a lot of pressure on him. He places most of that pressure on himself to be a playmaker.
Sometimes that tends to put you out of your job itself. He’s done an incredible job of staying within that parameter.
Q. Tyler Eifert has gotten rave reviews. Frank Spaziani raved about him the other night after the game, and now he stands five catches away from Ken McAfee’s school record. Where have you seen his development take place the most since you got ahold of him?
COACH KELLY: Learning the game. He’s learning about the game each and every week. Sometimes at the tight end position you get labeled as either a pass catcher or a run blocker, and he’s broke that mold. He lines up as a wide receiver. He’s lines up attached as a run blocker and a pass protector, because we all knew one thing that he had: He could catch the football.
So knowledge of the game and then just developing his skillset this year. This isn’t about numbers this year. This is about a guy that’s developing himself as a complete tight end.
So if you asked the guys at the next level about Tyler Eifert, they really don’t care about how many balls he caught because they know he can catch the football. They’re looking at other things that he’s developed. He’s going to find himself in a pretty good position in April.
Q. As he develops as blocker, was that primarily technique or…
COACH KELLY: Strength. He’s done a great job of committing himself to the weight room and being stringer. He’s taking care of himself. He’s physically fit. Hasn’t missed a snap in a very rugged position, at the tight end position itself. You see the way he’s sometimes reckless in the way he throws his body up there. He’s always trying to get an extra yard.
I think that strength has really helped him this year.
Q. Defensively when you like at your ball club, where have you made the most improvement from game one to game ten?
COACH KELLY: I would say that our pass defense has really improved. Now, a lot of that has to do with some experience. I think if you watch Bennett Jackson, he was alone to the field a number of times one on one and had great breaks on the ball.
KeiVarae Russell is a more accomplished player, understands our defense. And Matthias Farley coming in early in the season just trying to figure out how to play that position. Danny Spond, they emergence of Danny Spond playing really very good pass coverage for us.
I think that’s probably got to be the area we made the most progress since game one.
Q. You talked about that being a unit, that it’s not just the secondary or it’s not just the front seven. With that secondary, I remember the in preseason you were saying they were better than most people thought they were. What was it that you saw out of them that gave you that confidence?
COACH KELLY: At that time you had Zeke (Motta) and (Jamoris) Slaughter that were really more experienced than we thought. We knew Bennett was going to be a good player for us. It was just going to be a matter of time.
Coupled with the fact that you’ve got a Manti Te’o who is experienced. Danny Fox, who is a very good guy in coverage. And really those pieces coming together, we felt like they were going to be good.
The question was going to be one of the cornerback positions, and that’s cleared up nicely with KeiVarae filling in for an injured Lo Wood.
So we had some safeties with experience in Bennett and knowing our linebackers with Manti, who obviously is second in the country in interceptions, it was just a matter of how is that next cornerback position going to come along? It’s worked out well.
Q. You mentioned Wake Forest’s secondary.
COACH KELLY: Yeah.
Q. With a kid like Okoro, do you make a point of saying, Hey, this is a guy that breaks up a lot passes; we want to work the other side; or do you take it as a challenge and say, Yeah, let’s test him?
COACH KELLY: We know the right side from the left side, you know? It’ll be part of our game plan to attack a particular side. But there is going to be opportunities where you’re going to have to throw the ball against those guys and going to have to make plays.
Look, you can’t be late and you can’t be throwing ball that the defender can get his hands on, because they will take the ball away from you. It’s a really good group of guys back there.
Q. One more historical reference, but it was you that said it. Getting back to Tyler Eifert, the first month you coached him you actually made a tongue-in-cheek comment that he was Wally Pipp because he had stepped in for an injured Kyle Rudolph. You also said that he was the most impressive, one of the most impressive tight ends that you had ever coached and it had been one month. What did you see at that point that you could say that having coached NFL players at the position?
COACH KELLY: His ability to go and get the football and catch the ball at its highest point. Just the little nuances of the position. Athleticism coupled with the fact he was not afraid. The guy does not play with that sense at all.
He’ll stick his nose in anywhere. He’s not afraid. Sometimes the tight ends get the reputation as a pass catcher and they don’t like to get in there and block. Sometimes they’re just glorified offensive lineman.
What I saw early on was a guy that had the combination and the ability to be the best tight end because of those two skills together.
Q. Maybe a future in scouting for with that type of…
COACH KELLY: Well, I been doing this a long time, starting in Division II. Didn’t have many Tyler Eiferts, so we had to try make our way through developing our players.
So I think we’ve got a pretty good sense of who those guys are, but you have to develop them.
Q. Did he kind of change your look of what you could bring here on offense with using a tight end and moving (Troy) Niklas to tight end? It’s a tight end based offense this year, and it can be in the future if you continue to bring in that type of athlete.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, it’s still about players, not plays. You’re always going to evaluate your roster based upon the players that you have and fit it for that. I’ve had to do that in Division II each year when you have 35 scholarships. You got to make it work with the guys you got.
So I think you look at what your roster looks like, and you put your team together based upon that.
Q. Curious, what kind of advertisement do you think Manti is for kids coming back for their senior year?
COACH KELLY: Well, I don’t know how to answer the question other than I think it’s important if you look at getting your degree and how important that is. You know, it’s what, 2.5% of all college players play in the NFL. Average career is 3.3 years.
I think it’s important that Manti understood that. Hopefully he can be the guy that says, Look, you can be a great player. You can still lead your team and have a degree, and have a degree from a place like Notre Dame.
Advertisement? I don’t know how to answer as much as I think it’s a great case in point for a guy that understands and recognizes the value of a life versus a career.
You know. His life is set up because he’s got a degree from Notre Dame.
Q. Do you think your younger players look at that? You’ve got some very talented younger players. They’ll have decisions to make. Do you think they’ll look at Manti’s experience, everything he came back for, Heisman and all that stuff, and say, That’s going to influence what I decide to do?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it’s beginning to become more pervasive within our program that our guys are here to get a degree first, and that the NFL calling will take its course. You’re not coming to Notre Dame because you’re going to hang your hat here a couple years to go to the NFL. I don’t want to recruit that way.
I want to keep that dream alive that you can have a career in the NFL, but the way I want team and program to be constructed is that you recognize the value of a degree;help your team win.
Look, Manti doesn’t get any of those accolades unless this team is winning. Help the team win, and then all the other things are in your grasp. That’s what we’re hoping that this program is moving towards.
Q. Changing gears entirely from that, but when you have a great defense, your defensive coordinator is going to get a lot of looks for head coaching jobs. How much time do you and Bob (Diaco) spend talking about that, and how have you seen him evolve as a coach that he may be close to something like that?
COACH KELLY: I want to provide all my coaches an opportunity. If it advances their career to a leadership position, we want to be able to give them that opportunity.
But quite frankly, we don’t spend much time talking about it. You know Bob. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t come to Notre Dame to be the head coach somewhere else. He came to Notre Dame to help win a national championship.
We got a lot of the work left. But if the right situation comes for Bob and he comes to me and asks me to give him advice on it, I certainly will.
Q. How have you seen him mature and evolve as a coach over the last year since he’s added the title of assistant head coach?
COACH KELLY: I think he clearly understands that it’s more than just fielding a team on Saturday. He did before he got here. That’s why he’s been with me. He just has a great sense of Notre Dame and what Notre Dame means and that it’s not just about football.
I think any great head coach is going to have to have more than just understanding it’s Xs and Os. You’ve got to understand the players and the university and how to work within that entire setting.
I think Bob really knows that well.
Q. You talked about having a chance at having an undefeated home season. You struggle more at home, and you’ve talked about the distraction. Is there anything left to do, or have you done everything you can as far as trying to eliminate whatever is a causing the problem?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think the only game I have a problem with is the first probably half defensively against Pittsburgh. Other than that, our guys have prepared and have played hard against some solid competition at home. We’re constructed that way. We’re going to play for four quarters and look up at the end and hope we got one more point than the other team.
I’m not too concerned about that. We think we’ve got a great schedule for our guys. They’re going to be excited to play at home.
Q. You talked about the Senior Day. Do you remember what the emotions were for you your Senior Day? Do you recall that game at all?
COACH KELLY: I don’t. I don’t remember it. I do remember the wins, and I do remember the fact that we did not win that game, I can tell you that.
But I don’t remember the emotion of the game as much as losing the game after. So I want to make sure that we don’t have that experience for our guys.
Q. You mentioned Danny Spond, what he’s done. He doesn’t have the gaudy numbers, but it seems like he comes up with key plays. I think he had two or three just last week.
COACH KELLY: He’s a good player. Players don’t need numbers; players need production. We have a production chart that all of our coaches carry with them as it relates to the players, and he rates pretty high on that chart.
If they were giving out helmet stickers, he’s have a lot of helmet stickers. We don’t put any stickers on the helmet. There were other times you did because of production points. He’s a guy that gets a lot of production points.
Q. As the season’s evolved, we’ve seen very tangibly the confidence growing in your group of players. Where is your confidence level at this point? How high is it?
COACH KELLY: Very high. I believe they’re going to win every game they play. I think they understand what it takes, the commitment, the preparation, and how you play on Saturdays.
So there is no doubt that I believe that no matter what the situations are during the game, if we just keep playing and grinding it out, we’ll find a way to win. I hope that that is seen by our players.
I think it is.
Q. You’ve talked a lot about Manti today. Of all the players you’ve coached, where would you rank him in terms of how good he is?
COACH KELLY: I knew that was going to come up at least five or six times. He’s unique. He’s a unique player. I would say that the one thing that stands out to me is with all the things that have gone on off the field and all of the hype and all of the all-American and Heisman talk, he gets better each week. It’s amazing to me.
I was up here, I don’t know, when do we do media with the players? Wednesday? It was, I don’t know, 7:00 he’s up here doing another interview. He just goes to class, handles all this, and then plays really well on Saturdays. That’s what makes him so unique to any player that I’ve coached.
Q. Offensively where is your concern level for turnovers at this point?
COACH KELLY: Theo Riddick doesn’t turn the ball over. He understands how to take care of the football. It happens.
George’s (Atkinson III) deal was kind of strange. Forward progress has been stopped and Chris Watt hits from behind. I’m not trying to make excuses. We can’t put the ball on the ground. If we do it’s 21-6; if we don’t, maybe the score is different but we win the game. We can’t turn the ball over. We’re not good enough to do that.
So we went back, talked about it, and practiced. I don’t believe it’s an epidemic. I don’t believe it’s a situation where we need to change anything. We just understand that turnovers in the game will affect our production.
Q. Obviously talking a lot about Manti today. We know what he does on the field and all the other things. But his character, talk about what kind of influence he’s had chemistry-wise and morale that’s made this team closer and better?
COACH KELLY: He lives his life the right way. So he goes to class. He takes great care of himself off the field. He’s a college student. He can laugh and have fun and be silly. He can be tough.
He’s just all that you would want in a young man as a college student and a representative of Notre Dame. He’s a good student, fun to be around, and one darn good football player. So when that guy walks in and out of here every day, there is a mirroring effect and a trickle down effect to the other players in the program that go, I want to be like that guy.
It’s something you don’t get very often.
Q. The national attention, has that been any kind of a distraction at all?
COACH KELLY: You would think. If I had that kind of media attention I know it would probably adversely affect me. It would distract me, I can tell you that.
Just seems to be an easy thing for him to handle and still be focused on going to class and doing the right things and leading his teammates.
It’s really quite extraordinary.
Q. Talk about Robby Toma, his best friend, and what he’s contributed to this team as well.
COACH KELLY: Love him. It’s enjoyable to go out to practice because he’s always got a smile on his face and he’s always competing. He’s a competitive kid. Doesn’t matter what it is, he wants to win in it. He has always got something funny to say, a bit of a wise cracker. I kind of like that about him.
And he’s a really good football player and helped our football team this year. Great personality. We’re lucky that we were able to get him in our program as well.
Q. Was there ever a moment or point when you had to ask Manti to dig deeper, or has he always been the way he is?
COACH KELLY: No, I think after his first year here it was, Hey we need more from you. You’re such a great leader. You’re respected. He didn’t want to be able to — let me rephrase that. He didn’t really feel it was his place to tell others how to do things. I understand what he meant.
But if he really wanted to understand what I was trying to do here, he needed to hold other players to the higher level that he has for himself. So we did have one conversation about that. We call it peer accountability to hold others to the same level that you are.
Once he started to take to that kind of philosophy, you could see everyone else around him raise their level of play.