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Kelly Kicks Off Spring

March 7, 2017

University of Notre Dame Football Media Conference

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly: As you heard, Mike has now decided on whether we go inside or outside. He makes those decisions as well. Play calling will soon follow. Thanks, Mike. I guess we’ll be inside tomorrow. If it gets a little bit warmer, I’ll check with Mike and see if we can go outside. Expanding roles. As a father, he seems to take more control now.

We’ve had a good eight weeks. It’s been our eighth week now in our off-season program. I don’t know that I would call this a typical off-season program for us. We had a lot of changes on our staff. Anytime that you go into the off-season and you make a number of changes, what influences your team the most is your strength and conditioning, and we have a whole new staff of five in there that are influencing our guys over the last eight weeks. I think they’ve done a great job.

The charge that I gave Matt Balis down there was to create an environment down there that we could build the traits necessary for excellence. Our mission for excellence is to graduate our players and to play for championships. I think he’s done a great job. I think his staff has done a great job collectively of building those traits within a very positive environment, one that challenges our players in a positive way and gets the performance necessary of building those traits of excellence.

So I think the process over the last eight weeks has been outstanding in terms of what we’re asking our players on a day-to-day basis to do. They have been great. They have come to work every day with a great attitude, and I think that’s the first place that you look to start. What is the attitude of your team, of your group. I think that’s the first trait that you look for, the difference between being good and great. This group really wants to be great.

So I think we start there. The last eight weeks I think we’ve been developing those traits necessary for excellence on a day-to-day basis. We’ll continue to work on that through the spring. So the spring for me will be a lot more about the process more so than production. So I’m not as interested in what the route looks like, what that technique looks like. I’m more interested in attention to detail. I’m more interested in laser focus. I’m more interested in grit. I’m more interested in those traits that are necessary to win a championship.

We’ll develop those things in time, but going through the spring, I think the most important thing is to continue the process and continue to build those traits.

So if I’m talking more in terms of process, that’s what I mean. I mean developing those traits. I think we’ve got a great eight weeks. I think Matt has taken that charge with the staff and really focused primarily on building those traits that I want with our football team. And now that we get a chance to work on them tomorrow, I’m excited to get our staff in there working in the same direction.

So, again, not to be redundant, but to answer a million questions about depth chart, competition is very important. You know? There is a winner and there is a loser in everything that we do. We clearly understand that. But I’m less interested in those things and more interested in continuing the process and developing these traits within our football team.

So with that, I’m sure we’ve got some questions that are more in tune to what you want.

Q. Coach, you talked about process heading into the spring. We all go to the depth chart to see who is playing where. But how does it look this year when you look at a new coaching staff? I imagine there might be more shifting around as they try to learn what guys can do to fit into their system. Is there going to be more of that this spring?
Brian Kelly: I’ve told them had not to worry about that as much. Let’s not let the spring — let’s not confuse ourselves here. What I’m most interested in and what the most important thing is is to continue to develop our football team with the traits that are necessary for us to be successful and win a championship.

Getting caught up in who is the rover, who is the buck, who is the drop, that will sort itself out. If you get caught up in that in 15 practices and lose sight of who can pay attention to detail, right, who has winning habits that’s going to show up for you in the fourth quarter, who’s got that grit that you need to come up with to stop a drive, those are more important to me than getting a pecking order at the rover position.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t — you’ve got to put guys out there. But let’s not trip ourselves up by worrying too much about that and forgetting about the process.

Q. As a head coach, you’re putting these schedules together. How do you go about tailoring your practices to create opportunities for players to show these coaches those things every day?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, so first of all is skill development, making sure that there’s a portion that we’re working on their skill. Putting them in competitive situations, putting fatigue, putting stress on them during competitive situations. To see those guys fight through those kinds of situations and handle themselves with great focus, with great attention to detail. Grit, grit. Grit is sustained effort over a long period of time. And having some adversity. So creating those situations in practice with an eye towards building those traits is what our practices will look like.

Q. When you introduced the new coaches back before signing day, you talked about the desire to speed things up offensively. Is the spring a big time for that? If it is important in the spring, how much emphasis is placed each day on let’s try to work on pushing the tempo? Because you’ve always kind of had faster practices, but now it seems like you want to translate that more into games. How do you make that happen?
Brian Kelly: From a bigger picture standpoint, I think when you look at our practices, I’ve always had two things that have to be a part of what we do. I want intensity through repetition, and I want safety within our practices. If tempo can be introduced in our offense, it has to be introduced at the ground level. And that is through the ability to communicate and for your players to execute in a manner that allows you to go fast.

I think with some of the things that we’ve been able to do offensively, with verbiage and nomenclature, I believe that we’ll be able to pick up the tempo even more.

So tempo is a general term, and I would like us to keep pushing the tempo within our offensive structure. I believe that we’ll be able to do that this spring.

Q. Obviously there is a long way to go before you get to August when it comes to developing leadership. Spring is just a part of that. But in the winter, obviously, it’s a part of that. But as you head into spring, where do you feel or how do you feel about the leadership that’s been established within your program as you get ready for spring ball?
Brian Kelly: I feel really good. You know, we’ve included our leadership group to not just be about our captains, but to be about a number of players, from our quarterbacks to players that we’ve identified this year and moving forward who will be future leaders in our program that have responsibilities, whether it’s in the locker room, our players’ lounge, whether they are swag team captains. We have eight teams that are responsible for a group of players, accountability teams. They’re out front, and they have to be in leadership positions, holding players accountable on a day-to-day basis. So that’s been going on for the last eight weeks.

I have weekly meetings with our senior captains and our leaders. We’ve used the Rosenthal Academy to even add more for our captains and leaders. So a lot of things that I think have added to our leadership group and strengthened their ability and confidence, I think, more than anything else, to lead in the manner that we need them to.

Q. I know eight weeks is somewhat a short window for seeing tangible results, but beyond the traits and the things you want to see developed from that standpoint, did you see physical, tangible evidence of this new regime with your players?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think I asked Matt to put together — the way we put the staff together is that we wanted the combination of a high-intensity training with some velocity-based training, Olympic lifts. We wanted correctives immediately with some individual position-specific lifts. Then, obviously, some speed, agility, and quickness. So those five layers of training have already been implemented, and I think we’ve already seen that through just the workouts, preliminary workouts with our guys.

I know they feel better. I know that they feel as though their confidence in their workouts, whether it be numbers that they actually see, how their body looks, I know that they feel a lot more confident in how they’re moving. We’ll see how that translates on the field, certainly. We’ve got to be able to take it out of the weight room and put it on the football field.

But I know there is a really positive feeling amongst all of the players and the way they feel right now.

Q. Back when we had a chance to talk to you in February, you didn’t think there was going to be a very long list of injury-restricted kind of guys in the spring. I’m wondering if that list is basically the same?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think it might even be better. I’m very optimistic that when we look at two of our big guys in terms of the injuries, you know, Shaun Crawford being one, with the Achilles. You know, he’s jumping, his change of direction, I think you’re going to see him extremely active in the spring. I don’t see him in a contact position at this time, but he won’t be cheated this spring. He’s really going to use spring as an opportunity for him to continue to grow as a football player.

I think — I’m looking at the other injuries that we had. Nick is fully healed. He’ll be in a full situation. I don’t think he’s an issue at all. We had one other. Cage is good, wide receiver. Who am I missing? Javon has done extremely well moving. A slight limp, very slight, almost not noticeable. I’ve got a really good feeling that he’s so far along, too, four months, four and a half months where he’s going to be able to do a lot more than we expected. So we feel really good about where we are.

Q. This might be a question for a couple weeks from now, but I’ll throw it out there today. Sometimes when you have a lot of changes in the program, there are guys that have been kind of stuck in the shadows that see their opportunity and jump to the forefront. Did you see anybody at least in the winter workouts that might fit that profile, a guy that jumped out to the forefront?
Brian Kelly: I think everybody in the program, from the top to the bottom, has gained a sense of competence — competence in the sense that they can do it — confidence, autonomy in the sense that they made a decision that they’re all in and they’re doing it for the right purpose, the why. They want to do it for Notre Dame.

So when you take those three forms of motivation, right, a guy who believes he can do it, a guy who has made a choice that he’s all in, and he’s doing it for a bigger purpose, you see everybody making strides across the board.

So there isn’t one player right now — and, again, I was at the 5:45 a.m. workout, have been at the workouts, something that I haven’t done before. When I look at every player, I have not seen one guy that has not made progress and has moved up in their own mind and our minds as we evaluate them.

So that confidence is there, and I’ve seen improvement from everybody.

Q. Alize, from the moment he was academically ineligible, it seemed like he took, at least from the outside looking in, a pretty positive path toward coming back. Very active on social media, came up with great hashtags, seemed very positive. We’re still not sure what to call his last name. He’s confused us with that a little bit.
Brian Kelly: I think he’s confused too.

Q. Okay. But what are your expectations for him? What has his path back looked like?
Brian Kelly: We want him to continue to work hard in school. I think for me and my relationship with Alize is to — and, again, you guys are going to be tired of hearing this, but this mission that we’re on is to graduate our players and win a championship. He’s got to stay focused. He can’t lose focus on the most important things, and he can’t get distracted, and that is graduate and win a championship. Social media, other things that pop up in life can distract you from that end.

So I just try in my relationship with him to keep him focused, to pay attention to detail. If he does those two things — he doesn’t have all the traits yet, but if he focuses on those two things, he’s going to have a really good spring. Because his physical tools are really, really outstanding.

So I’m excited for him because he’s put himself in a much better position to get to that end of getting on the field. But he’s got to keep doing that every single day.

Q. You had mentioned tempo back in February and today as well. What kind of made you re-fall in love with that concept? Because we’ve only seen it in spurts the past few years. You did a lot in Cincinnati. It seems there is a bigger commitment, a bigger recommitment.
Brian Kelly: You know, I don’t know that — like anything else, you have to have a full, 100% of your time and effort has to be about doing that, and Chip will be allowed to put all of his time and effort in running the offense and playing fast. I’m going to give him that autonomy to do that. I think that over the last few years it’s been a committee running the offense. There is no committee now. It’s one guy that can kind of turn it loose and run it.

When I was at Cincinnati, I was the guy. I was running it by myself. So I think going back to what I believe is the most efficient way to do it and get out of the way and let Chip run it.

Q. Listening to your conversations with Alize, do you get a sense he is on track to be eligible in the fall?
Brian Kelly: Yes.

Q. With Brandon coming in, and DeShone’s not here, what do you want to see from him on the field of practice, but also the ability to sort of command a room in a way that he’s not been able to do in the past?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, look, we all know — everybody knows football. The quarterback position, whether it’s at Notre Dame or anywhere else, requires an incredible spirit in itself that you’ve got to be able to handle so many other things that are outside of football. What I’m asking him to do are probably more focused on him just taking care of himself. And we’ve got a lot of good leaders. I’m giving him some leadership opportunities, and I think he’s doing quite well.

But we’re not asking him to come in here and lead the entire building. We’ve got seven — six captains right now. We’re going to probably have as many as seven. So he’s well supported in that role.

He has to have a presence about him. Body language. He’s got to have confidence in himself. So those are the areas that I’m spending more time on than him having to take control of the entire football program.

Q. The 5:45 workout, you being there, that’s something you haven’t done in the past. What led to you changing that?
Brian Kelly: 93 interviews with our players and their want and desire for me to be more involved with the team. So I took a lot of my — a lot of the things that we’re doing were based upon the feedback that I got from the players.

Q. What do you feel like you’re getting out of that?
Brian Kelly: Well, first of all, it allows me to clearly spend and develop a deeper relationship with all of the players, not just offensive players, but all players.

Secondly, a better understanding of who needs certain time with me at certain times of the day. So I’m able to touch so many more players in the program by being accessible to them in that fashion.

Q. You’ve sort of mentioned the grit and putting them through fatigue situations and stressing them. Does that sort of change in the structure of your spring practice, or how do you go about that over the next six weeks to try to accomplish that end?
Brian Kelly: Well, we’ve already started it, so we’re very different than a lot of programs where we have our weight training and our running in succession. In other words, most teams are weight training and then come back in the afternoon and do their running. We do our weight training and running right after the weight training. So we’ve already put our guys through that fatigue and stress that requires them to stay in the moment. Requires them to build a focus to get through some very tough times.

We’re going to continue that process on the football field. With competitive situations, where we can now go to our guys and say, listen, you’re tired in this moment. You’ve been there before. What got you through it? So we can use similar talks we’ve had over the last eight weeks and now just transfer it into a football-related situation.

Q. One depth chart question. The right side of the offensive side line, do you have an idea of what you’d like to do there, how many candidates? How many balls are in the air at that spot?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I think we feel pretty good that we want to get a competitive situation over there. Kraemer, Eichenberg, Bivin, all those guys will get an opportunity to get some work. You know, there are a number of candidates, Tristen Hoge is going to be in there, you know, Jimmy Byrne looks really good. He’s probably had his best off-season. All those guys are going to get an opportunity to get out there and compete.

Like I said, I think it will kind of take care of itself. We know who the guys are on the left side, and I think Sam has had a really good eight weeks as well. But I think there are four or five guys that get an opportunity now to get in there and compete right away. We’ve got a couple of mid-year guys that we want to go see them compete as well. They’ve handled themselves. Our five mid-year guys have done a great job coming in and handling the rigors of a pretty aggressive off-season, and they’ve handled it very, very well. So let’s get them in there, too, and see what they can do.

Q. Safe to say that Bars could be a tackle, could be a guard. Just a matter of what’s the best combo?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I would say that’s fair.

Q. We all know who the new defensive coordinator is, we all know who the new offensive coordinator is, all of the changes that have been made. In general terms, how different is the product going to look on the field on September 2nd?
Brian Kelly: Well, I think what we’re looking at is a team that is a lot more focused, a lot more attention to detail, has a lot more grit. The traits that I’ve been talking about, that’s what we’re looking for. We want to be smarter as a football team.

I think all of those traits that I’ve just been kind of alluding to, we want to see all of those things show themselves, because I think we could — we all could make the case that there are plenty of players there that we can put out whatever the scheme is. And if you’re smarter, you’ve got attention to detail, you’re focused, you’ve got a great attitude, you’ve got grit, you’re going to have a good football team. So that’s why I focus myself on much more on the trait building with this football team. Because I like the genetics, if you will, of the football team.

We’ve got guys that have experience. That’s going to kind of sort itself out. I think what you’ll see is those traits will show themselves when they’re most needed. Finishing off games, separating themselves when they need to. If we truly develop all the traits necessary, then you’ll see the kind of football team that I want to see.

Q. With everything you’re talking about and then obviously all the changes that have been made with strength and conditioning and the coaches, for lack of better term, would you feel like you have kind of hit the reset button on things to start from scratch? Not in terms of the players themselves, but in terms of how you guys are operating?
Brian Kelly: No, I would say that the focus and the message has been clarified and has been — I think on a day-to-day basis been, I think, across the board, echoed from the strength staff to our seniors, to our captains, to our assistant coaches. There isn’t one person that’s in this building that’s not talking the same language, and I won’t let them. Our strength coaches are talking about the same traits. Our captains have been in front of our team on a number of occasions to talk about the same traits, as well as our assistant coaches. I think that is the biggest difference, is that we’re all talking the same language.

Q. For Brandon, I know you’re talking about all the traits for the team as a whole, is that what your focus is on with him? Or is there also the aspect of, hey, he’s got to get these specifics down because he’s going to be our starter?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, well, I think there is more to it than just those traits. So you need those traits, but we also have to continue to drill down where we get to mental performance, too.

And mental performance for him is building the confidence level, building his mental toughness, building all those things. Because he’s got to understand that he gains confidence from a number of different areas: through his preparation, through his background, how he handles himself on a day-to-day basis.

If he goes out and throws an interception, he doesn’t have to hang his head. He does so many good things that he can have confidence that he’s going to be successful, because what we’re looking for is not perfection from these guys. It’s excellence.

I’ve been the person to stand in front of them and tell them, look, confidence is about having some failures along the way. I was the poster child for that last year. But I’m extremely confident in what we’re going to do this year.

So him understanding that; that he’s going to have some setbacks, but have the confidence in yourself to go. So we have to build that in him as well, and the other quarterbacks. They don’t have a big resumé to fall back on.

Q. You mentioned the other quarterbacks. There is a curiosity with Brandon what percentage of reps are you looking to give him?
Brian Kelly: 60/40.

Q. With Ian Book?
Brian Kelly: He’ll get 40.

Q. What have you seen from Ian that would get him very unfamiliar —
Brian Kelly: We offered him a full scholarship to Notre Dame, and I was part of the evaluation process. I am a big Ian Book fan. I like the way the ball comes out of his hand. He’s extremely smart.

You talk about some of the traits of excellence, he’s got them. He’s got to continue to work on them. He’s a good quarterback. He just needs some work. But he’s got the tools to be a winning quarterback at Notre Dame. So we’ve got to get him some work. So he’ll get 40% of the reps right now.

Q. You talked about how with Chip Long it’s sort of like you need to get out of the way a little bit so that he can operate on his team. What is your role going to be in the spring with six new assistants? Is it coaching the coaches? Is it having a more macro view of the team? How do you define your own role in the spring with all the new changes?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I want to make sure that every day that we are creating a positive environment for our players through preparation and that our coaches are moving our players through that process and continuing to build those traits that they need to be excellent in the areas that I want. So that will be my job on a day-to-day basis, working with all the players and all the coaches on a day-to-day basis.

Q. Maybe it’s difficult to quantify, but are you looking to spend 50% offense, 50% defense, or a certain percentage on special teams?
Brian Kelly: I’ll be involved in all three phases of the game. I’ll be involved in offensive game planning, defensive game planning and special teams, and then I will make myself available to each of the position groups during practice.

If I see that there’s a need to be in a particular area, I’ll spend time in that particular area. But they’re all my players, and I’m going to be responsible for all of them.

Q. Is that something that kind of developed where you need to have that more broad-based attention to everything after looking more at the defense last year with the changes?
Brian Kelly: Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty clear that my players want me to be more involved with the entire football team. They like it when I’m there in the morning. They like when I’m around. They like when I’m having breakfast with them. They like when I’m available to them. So I want to be able to do the things that help our football team win in any way that I can.

So it’s pretty clear to me after the last eight weeks that if I’m available to them, if I’m there to be able to talk with them, help them through whatever I need to help them with, that’s the best way for us to win, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Q. What may have prevented you from doing those things previously? Were there other commitments?
Brian Kelly: There weren’t enough hours in the day. It became a situation where I was involved in the offense. I was worried about raising money for our new facility. I was not focused on the traits that I needed to build in this football team. And I’m not worried about that anymore. I’m going to let other people take care of that.

Q. Just from the personnel standpoint, are there any potential position switches you may be looking at? I know you talked about maybe Alex Bars being the guard, tackle, depending on how it best fits. Is there anything —
Brian Kelly: Nothing crazy. Maybe a tackle slips out to an end. Maybe a corner moves to a safety position. Maybe a backer bumps over to a rover position. But nothing that they can’t be outside of their physical tools and their ability level. Right?

So you guys are going to be out at practice. You’ll see guys running around at some position. But this is not going to be a gong show. I mean, these guys are going to be in positions that can map their physical tools, right? So if somebody’s at a particular position, we’ve already done the analysis that they can match up at those particular positions.

We may have a situation where we’re trying to get guys on the field and see if they can compete at particular positions, but I don’t think you’re going to see anything that’s like, wow, Jay Hayes is playing slot? You know? What’s up with this group?

Q. What if Jay Hayes wanted to play slot?
Brian Kelly: He’d have a hard time getting on the field.

Q. You talked a couple times about how in meeting with your players it was evident that they wanted you around more to have you available for talking or whatever. I’m curious, how has that been for you? Are you enjoying that part of the process?
Brian Kelly: I love it. You can’t get up at 4:30 in the morning if you don’t like it. You know? If you don’t love getting up and spending time with your players and are not energized to do that, you can’t do this job.

But I can’t wait to get in here in the morning. I can’t wait to spend time with our guys. They’re incredible to work with. There’s such a desire to want to be great. That’s the only way you can continually, five days a week, get up early and get in here, because there is an incredible passion by our guys to want to be great.

Q. In that regard, would you say this off-season has reenergized you as a coach?
Brian Kelly: I think anytime you take a different approach to the way you’re doing things on a day-to-day basis, it has a tendency to move you in a different way. I was always energized by the job of being the head football coach at Notre Dame. But you’re doing things a little bit differently. My day is consumed differently. I haven’t spent much time in the staff room going over the offense. I’ve spent much more time with the players. I’ve been down in study hall. I’ve been down in meeting rooms with players.

It’s been much more of a different association, which has been great to do it on that end. It’s been a lot more like when I was a Division II head coach and I had to spend all my time with the players. It’s been extremely enjoyable.

Q. We’ve seen things on social media where the players seem to be excited going through the workouts and running, and things players don’t necessarily want to be doing, but they seemed energized by that. Were they creating that push and that challenge, do you think?
Brian Kelly: They were, they were. And we couldn’t give it to them. Our former strength coach wasn’t able to do it. He’s on disability right now. We couldn’t give them what they wanted. So it was something that they needed and wanted. So we’re giving them exactly what they want. I think it’s proving itself to be not only beneficial for us as a program, but for the players as well. They’re seeing themselves in a different light.

— ND —