Nov. 16, 2010
An interview with:
COACH Brian Kelly
THE MODERATOR: Coach Kelly will start with some opening comments today and take questions from the media.
COACH KELLY: Army is the opposition this week. We’re going to be playing them in Yankee Stadium. It’s a great venue, exciting, on NBC, national television. I think just a great atmosphere for college football. 50th meeting of Army versus Notre Dame, so there’s a lot to the game. We’re excited about that certainly.
I think for us, more than anything else, though, it’s about consistency and performance. Really that’s our focus. That’s what we talked about this week early on and we’ll continue to talk about, playing with the same mental and physical toughness that’s necessary to win football games on a consistent basis, not once in a while, not just playing well one day.
Again, the theme, what we have talked to our football team all year about is a consistent message. They’re hearing the same thing from me every day. They continue to hear playing the game the way we want it played and conducted in the manner that exhibits physical and mental toughness. We’re going to need it.
Army is an offense that really hasn’t been stopped this year. Nobody can claim that. Defensively they have an outstanding defensive end in Josh McNary who is back in form, very active player off the edge. Their scheme defensively is unusual in the sense that it’s not seen every week, similar to their offense. They do a very good job with the option and they also add some traditional offense. You’ll see fly sweeps, counter, a passing game that is a little bit more diverse than a typical option team.
Great balance offensively in the sense that if you just try to take away one phase of it, as evident last week, 9 for 10 throwing the football with well over 100 yards, they can hurt you there as well. Trent Steelman is a very tough, competitive guy. He’s obviously very important to their offense. Their receivers are rangy, 6’3″ types that can go up and get the football. Then again, the fullback is the leading ground gainer, and he’s somebody that obviously we’re quite aware of.
Again, physical and mental toughness, controlling the line of scrimmage, those are all the things that I’m sure you’ve all heard that you’ve heard a football coach talk to the media. We have to do the same things we did against Utah, and we have to do it against an offense and a defense we don’t see very much.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. I take it you’re a Red Sox fan.
COACH KELLY: You know, I’m a baseball fan, very passionate baseball fan. I follow the American League most of the time.
Q. Any memories from growing up back east of going to Yankee Stadium?
COACH KELLY: Actually, I hate to say this, but my memories were of Mets stadium when the Red Sox played the Mets in the World Series. We all watched that groundball go down the first baseline, the agony of not making that last play.
I’ve been to Yankee Stadium, but a lot of my memories were of the Mets.
Q. You talked Sunday that your offensive signals may have been compromised. How do you get a sense of that?
COACH KELLY: When the players came back and said, ‘Coach, they knew the signal. They were calling the play.’ Then just doing it for so long. Every year we have to go in and change up our signals, especially when you’re on TV every week. There’s a thing called TiVo now. People click it back and forth.
When you’re out there so much publicly, you’re doing a lot of that, you just have to be prepared. So it’s not unusual in that sense that we’ve had to do this before.
Q. Army’s offense, the biggest difference between it and Navy’s, is it the passing game threat?
COACH KELLY: No. It’s still about defending triple option. It’s still about the same principles that you have to defend the entire width of the field in the running game, and then obviously the passing game. They do a very good job of getting the football out and can really make some plays in the passing game.
But it’s still about the principles of option football.
Q. Duval (Kamara) is a guy that has been a starter in the past. Taking on a diminished role. Comes up with a huge game on Saturday. Does he kind of typify what Saturday’s win meant to this senior class?
COACH KELLY: I think in a lot of respects he is what I was talking about after the game, what our seniors have done to really continue to move the program forward at the expense of their own individual game. You have to be selfless to do that. That’s why those kids are special kids.
Q. Seems like every week we ask you about this guy or that guy that is going to miss the next game. You’re finally getting guys back. Is it nice to talk about getting healthier for a change?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’re really only getting Carlo (Calabrese) back. TJ (Jones) should be back, too. He’s not a hundred percent. Yeah, it’s better than the alternative. I think we’ve gotten our fair share. We really haven’t complained about it. We’re playing with a lot of young guys. But they’re competing and fighting. That’s really all we can ask for.
Q. Are there ever times in practice when you feel the wind blow? How often are you reminded of what happened and caused to think of the accident?
COACH KELLY: I don’t know that during those two hours it’s something that I spend too much time thinking about. I think he’s always in our thoughts. But I think we’re at a point now where we’re able to focus on the job at hand. There’s always those private moments that you’re going to have, you’re always going to have them.
No, I would not say that there’s a sense or even in our practice that we’re distracted when we’re out on the practice field.
Q. Any update on the investigation at this point?
COACH KELLY: I have no updates, no.
Q. Brian, just looking at the last two weeks, is Brian Smith proving to be a better fit inside for your defense?
COACH KELLY: No, no. I wouldn’t say that. I think he’s done a nice job in asking him to come inside and do a nice job for us. He’s played with a great deal of emotion and spirit. Carlo (Calabrese) is going to play a lot this week, too, with Brian.
I would not go back and say we should have put him inside in lieu of the position we had him at. But he did fill in and do a really nice job.
Q. So to be clear, does Brian (Smith) move back outside this week or is he still in the inside rotation?
COACH KELLY: He’ll be in the inside rotation.
Q. You’ve been to Yankee Stadium for games?
COACH KELLY: Not the new Yankee Stadium.
Q. But the old one?
COACH KELLY: Yes.
Q. Were you at Shea Stadium for that game?
COACH KELLY: Yes.
Q. You were?
COACH KELLY: Yes.
Q. Where were you sitting?
COACH KELLY: The third base side, upper deck. Didn’t have any money really. I took the subway. I remember coming home on the subway to take the PATH Train into New Jersey. I tried not to look up at all. I was very scared.
Q. There’s obviously a sense of history with this game being at the new Yankee Stadium. Having seen the pictures of Wrigley Field, I don’t know if you‘ve seen those, but are you pretty satisfied there’s going to be plenty of safety involved with this venture?
COACH KELLY: I know that that has been a great concern of everybody involved. We have a lot of people that have been working on this for quite some time. I know Chad Klunder, our director of operations, has been out there on a couple of occasions. His reports have been positive. But it’s clearly something that has been at the forefront of every conversation that I’ve heard of, from moving a foul pole to making sure there’s enough access on the sidelines.
Based upon my secondary information, I think it’s been something that has been gone over and over quite a bit.
Q. Are your coaches going to have a good angle to be able to see the game up in the booth? Are they going to be moved down to the luxury suites maybe to get that angle?
COACH KELLY: We’re going to go over the logistics on Friday more in detail than probably we have ever at a venue. So we’re going to be there on Friday. We’ll get a chance to go through all those things.
But all those are things that we’ve asked to be examined. Chad (Klunder) has come back and feels pretty good about the setup.
Q. (Andrew) Hendrix is number three this week or still with the game plan from last week with (Brian) Castello?
COACH KELLY: He’s closer. He’ll continue to get more work this week. I think it’s safe to say that as we move forward, he’s getting a better knowledge of the offense. I think I would reserve the right to make that decision at game time or during the game in finding out what the situation is.
Brian (Castello) obviously went in because we were kneeling on the football.
Q. Who gives you the look in the scout team?
COACH KELLY: We’ve used a couple different guys at that position. Cameron Roberson has been the guy that has done most of the work, has been very good for us. We’ll probably continue to utilize him at this position this week as well.
Q. Cierre (Wood) and Jonas Gray, talk about those two guys. Do you envision Jonas getting a little bit more work based on the fact he’s a little bit healthier?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think we want to continue to get him more and more work. Cierre obviously got the bulk of the work, felt comfortable out there, carrying the football a lot. Given the conditions, we stayed with the guy we felt like was slogging it out there pretty good.
But, yeah, Jonas has become more of a, Hey, get him in, whereas he was an afterthought in a sense. Now he’s really at the forefront of, Let’s get him in and get him some work.
Q. I remember after the Navy game you talked about telling your defense the previous seven weeks we liked what we saw, hoping that one week was an aberration. In that sense is this a good week for you given what they did against Utah?
COACH KELLY: Certainly there’s a lot of confidence in our ability to play physical football. Regardless of the style of football, there still has to be that part of your defense that plays physical and that tackles well.
We’ve done a very good job at the basics and the fundamentals. We’re getting much better separation at the line of scrimmage. We’re doing a much better job of keeping linemen from climbing up to that next level and letting our backers run, and we’re tackling better. Those principles will carry over.
Now we have to do it in a little bit more of a concerted effort because you’re going against a different offense.
Q. Can you talk about anything you might have done after Navy in terms of film study that will have these guys a better understanding what’s coming at them?
COACH KELLY: We took virtually a number of different teams that have had consistent looks against Army and teams that have defended the option. We’re a three down team. We looked at a lot of Air Force film. They’ve done pretty good. We’ve tried to collect as much information as possible as we move forward.
Q. I know in the past your guys have talked about being excited playing at night. They get to do that again. Have you heard anything from them about that?
COACH KELLY: No. I think they’re just excited about the game is one thing, they’re excited. They know they’re going to New York. I don’t think I’ve ever had more injured guys ask me if they were traveling this week. They’re all excited about that.
The fact of the matter is, they want to play well again. They want to obviously, on the stage, in New York, they understand playing well is the most important thing.
Q. I think when Ian Williams went down, expected the defensive line to soften up a little bit. With Sean (Cwynar) in there, can you talk about his play, the stabilizing effect that he’s had in combination with Hafis (Williams)?
COACH KELLY: I think there are four guys that have done a nice job. Sean has been by and large the guy that has done a nice job inside. But we’ve kicked our front, played a lot more stack, got into a lot more four down, which gets Prince Shembo on the field, Hafis Williams, Kona Schwenke on the field. Really, it starts with Sean, but it has been four or five guys that have stepped in also and done a very good job there.
Q. I think coming out of Navy game, with that game plan there was very little he were going to be able to do to adjust on the fly, if Plan A didn’t work, there was going to be a problem.
COACH KELLY: That comment will not even be something that we could even consider.
Q. Is there something inherent about the option to makes it hard to adjust on the fly?
COACH KELLY: Under the circumstances of what we had installed, we weren’t about, and I was not about to let our guys draw it up on the sideline. So we’ve done all the drawing up. We’ll have answers. That will not be anything we can use as, We can’t make that adjustments.
Q. With your offensive line, (Utah) Coach Whittingham was in there after the game saying, We never controlled the line of scrimmage. Was that just mentality changes or have they kind of matured in the same way that maybe some other guys have?
COACH KELLY: I think it was a little bit of both. It was the style of football we wanted to play. It was the circumstances of the game and how we wanted to manage it. Quite frankly, we made a point of the kind of play that was necessary for us to win this game against Utah. We talked all week about matching. I think I said this in the press conference. It’s one thing to go against them as a football team, but we had to match their toughness. That was a point of emphasis all week.
I would argue that it was an outstanding performance because their two inside guys are as good as we’re going to see. They’re outstanding. They’re a physical front. They made it difficult on us. But we were able to do enough.
So I would not downplay the role. I don’t want to say that right now. I want to really emphasize that those guys did a very, very good job up front.
Q. Do you get a boost at all if Chris Stewart isn’t giving you what you want, you can put others in and feel confident? Does that help the collective confidence of the team, my job is on the line here?
COACH KELLY: I think so. I always felt competition is really key to that whole mix that you want. Stewey obviously had a bad ankle, limping around pretty well during the week. But he fought through it. Chris Watt can come in the game. (Matt) Romine can come in the game and do a very good job. I think we’re fortunate we’ve got some depth.
Q. Green jerseys this week?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, we’re going to wear green jerseys this week.
Q. With regard to the defensive line, I think a lot of people were surprised that your D line has played as well as it has without Ian Williams. Do you envision Hafis Williams staying at that position in the future? Sean Cwynar has. You have Louis Nix behind him.
COACH KELLY: We’re a multiple front. We can play three and four down.
I think there’s a couple things. Number one, our strength program for our guys. I’ll give you an example. Ethan (Johnson) is 290 pounds. He’s a tough guy to move around. Our training table, our weight training, all the things, our guys taking care of themselves, that’s the most important thing in November that you want to be physically stronger. We feel pretty good there.
Hafis (Williams), Sean (Cwynar), all those guys are going to have to be in the mix. Louis Nix I think is going to be a really good player for us. Kona, I think we continue to develop because we’re going to be multiple up front.
Q. Kona (Schwenke) is listed at 245.
COACH KELLY: 263. He weighed in yesterday at 263.
Q. When pre season practice started with Prince Shembo, I’m sure you had an idea based on what the guy showed during the summer. Did you anticipate him being the type of impact player that he appears to becoming already?
COACH KELLY: Prince Shembo will bite your nose off. We knew that from the very beginning. He’s just a tenacious football player. That’s the way he plays the game.
He doesn’t necessarily have all of his assignments down. There’s a bit of a concern there, whether he’s going to find the curl behind him or sloop to the flat or be in the right gap. But he just plays with such a tenacity that it brings out the best in everybody.
We could see that in pre season camp just the way he practiced. It was just a matter of getting him lined up and having him be assignment correct.
Q. You talk about your defensive line doing a better job of getting separation. That seems to be one of Shembo’s great strengths.
COACH KELLY: He does, he separates extremely well. He can take somebody that’s 320, 325 pounds and walk them back. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to go better at edge pressure. He’s going to be able to add a couple of moves as he develops as a football player.
I think we’re just scratching the surface as to what he can do for us.
Q. There’s kind of a theory that when teams go out to play Air Force, they do not talk about the high altitude. Now when you’re playing an option team again, I know against Navy a lot was made about the cut blocking. Do you feel that it almost psychologically got into the head of players?
COACH KELLY: No. We just didn’t defend it. We couldn’t get to the areas that we needed to get to. We’re not going to be talking about it as much as we’re going to practice and execute. The guys know what to expect from it this time around.
I don’t think we’ll overemphasize it. They know the schemes. This is strictly about, again, controlling the line of scrimmage than worrying about cut blocks.
Q. Defensively, since the Navy game, you faced a couple of offenses. One averaged 38 points, Utah about 41. You have one touchdown given up in the first possession against Tulsa by the defense. What has occurred since that Navy game? Was that a wake up call even though the offenses were different?
COACH KELLY: No. If you go back and look at the games leading up, the Navy game has been an aberration from my standpoint. We’re going to correct that against Army. We have battled pretty good defensively all year. Clearly not giving up more than one touchdown, that’s a pretty good offense.
No question we should have won the football game. That wasn’t our defense’s fault. We had an interception for a touchdown. You know the deal.
So I think we’ve played solid defense. We just have to correct the Navy situation and we’re going to get that opportunity against Army.
Q. You threw out the exact weights of Kona (Schwenke) and Ethan (Johnson). Last year at the end of the season, (athletics director) Jack (Swarbrick) mentioned one of the alarming studies he found that in the defense, the players lost an average of 13 to 15 pounds from the beginning to the end of the season. Is that something you’re almost monitoring now weekly?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, (strength and conditioning) Coach (Paul) Longo does a great job of giving me that information weekly. The only thing we’re concerned about is we’ve got 46 freshmen, sophomores and walk ons that are traveling with us. That’s my biggest concern, not the weight anymore, which is a great thing. Now it’s just developing our young guys and getting them better. Coach Longo does a good job of getting me that information and alerting that particular player if we have some issues with his strength or stamina.
Q. Prince Shembo, his fortÃƒÆ’Â© is bringing the heat. When you play a team such as Army where it’s so much assignment football, does his role change a little bit or diminish a little bit because of the discipline that is involved?
COACH KELLY: Yes and no. I think where his strengths are, clearly he’d like to get after the quarterback. Clearly you’re going to get more roll outs, sprint out and play action pass. So it does diminish just because of the kind of play.
But we’re going to ask him to do some things at that attack position that’s going to require him to be solid and do the things that he’s been doing, just in a different form.
So yes and no. I think the style of game to obviously change things in terms of how Prince plays the game.
Q. You talk about consistency. What makes that so elusive?
COACH KELLY: Let’s see. Three different football coaches. Different coaches, different coordinators. Just a different voice every day. Not every day, but just a change. A lot of different offensive line coaches. There just needs to be a consistency in the approach on a day to day basis. We’re 10 weeks into it. If we listen to everybody else, there would be a change again.
It’s consistency in what they hear and how we go to work every single day. It’s just, Let us do our job. Let us work with our kids and get them better each and every week. That’s what we talk to our players about. Just keep doing what you’re doing.
It’s good to get some wins along the way because it helps in that. Regardless, it’s the message being consistent every single day.
Q. So you’re not necessarily displeased with the consistency within this season; you’re talking a bigger picture?
COACH KELLY: We’re talking about day to day the way you live your life in this football program.
Q. How about the consistency within this season? Are you pleased with that?
COACH KELLY: Well, you’re never pleased with being 5 5. I mean, nobody comes in thinking 5 5 is going to be a good season for anybody. But what I have to be focused on is the things that you’re not as concerned about. You want wins and losses. I understand that. I have to be concerned on some things that are not easily seen. I’m pleased with that.
Q. On Army, talk about No. 93 (Mike Gann). His dad played here. A lot of people are aware of him. Talk about the strengths he brings to their defense.
COACH KELLY: Well, he’s a very good football player. Strong, physical at the point of attack. They don’t have great size. Josh McNary is an outstanding end, quick. Those guys aren’t running around at West Point. He adds a very, very important piece to their defensive structure:
Q. Offensive line, what did you see from them since the Tulsa game or late in the year that you could trust putting the power game in their hands against a physical team like Utah?
COACH KELLY: Again, I don’t think it was one defining moment. It was just continuously talking about, just because you’re a spread team doesn’t mean you play with finesse. If you want to win football games, you have to be able to exert your will. So it’s really just something that we’ve talked about.
This particular game required us to pull that part of our playbook to find a way to win that football game. Against USC, it might be five wide, being able to catch the football and protect. So it’s something that you talk about every day because you have to be prepared. And I think I’ve said it pretty clear, in November, you’ve got to be able to run the football. If you want to win late in the season, you’ve got to find ways to run the ball.
Q. At the end of last season, watching Cincinnati, it seemed like you were worn down, maybe weren’t playing your best on the defensive side of the ball as you had early in the year, against Oregon State, for instance. Here it seems you have these guys playing well at the defensive side of the ball at the end of the year. What are the factors that go into that?
COACH KELLY: Personnel is better, first of all. The way we played the game at Cincinnati. We can’t win on offense here at Notre Dame right now. We can’t win just on defense. We can’t win just on special teams. We have to have all three of those in unison for us to win.
At Cincinnati, the best way we could win games was on the offensive side of the ball. So we put our defense at times in a tough spot because it was the best way for us to manage the game and win the game.
So our personnel is a little bit better because it’s a little bit older. We played a lot of young guys at Cincinnati. We had freshmen and young guys. Not that we got a bunch of veterans here. But we’ve gotten better here because those guys have developed, whereas at Cincinnati we were really thin and had a lot of young players.
Q. Did you see any of the highlights of last night’s NFL game? I saw a lot of concepts that you have been using the last couple years.
COACH KELLY: They steal everything from me. Son of a gun. Terrible.
Q. Coach, just wondering if you have any family members that served in the military?
COACH KELLY: I have not had any family members that have active duty. I take that back. Currently right now, I do. One of my nephews is in Afghanistan.
Q. If you lose to Army, you won’t be too bad?
COACH KELLY: No. Actually he’s in special forces. He was just deployed.
Q. Navy and Air Force have had some very good, sometimes better success, in recent years. Do you have any theories in terms of why Army hasn’t won since the mid ’90s?
COACH KELLY: Well, Ed Warinner, who is on my staff, who coached at Air Force and Army, would have a better understanding.
I think there’s a lot to that. There’s a lot of levels to it. I’m not an expert at it. But, you know, I know Ed feels like there’s some inherent strengths and weaknesses at each one of the academies. I’m not going to put out what he thought one way or the other. But it’s more than just it’s Army, it’s more than it’s just Navy. There are more things behind the scenes that go into that.
I think they’ve got an outstanding coach. Coach Ellerson at Army has obviously shown that a great coach can get them going in the right direction. They’re a Bowl eligible football team. I think you’re going to see all three of the academies be Bowl eligible. I think that’s outstanding.
Q. I’m guessing growing up in New England, Irish Catholic family, the Army Notre Dame series back in the ’40s, anything that anybody in your family talked about? I think they played the spoiler’s tie in ’46. Any sense of history in that particular series back then?
COACH KELLY: Ronald Reagan being George Gipp, watching that movie, knowing they played Army, that’s probably about it for me in terms of Army and Navy.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone.
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