Dec. 30, 2015
Coach Kelly: Fiesta Bowl members, distinguished guests, obviously from us at the University of Notre Dame, on behalf of our president, Father Jenkins, we are thrilled to be here in the Valley of the Sun. Part of the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl.
We’ve had a good week of preparation. A couple more days before we hit the field, but it’s been a good week. Our kids have really enjoyed being here. It’s a great atmosphere. We’re looking forward to the matchup with Ohio State.
Congratulations to Ohio State, Urban Meyer, his football team. They’re on an incredible run over the past two years. I think it’s going to be a great matchup, two great traditions, two very good football teams, and I know both institutions are excited about playing on the football field.
With that, we’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Even though Notre Dame and Ohio State are very close geographically and in many other ways, you’ve only played 10 times in your history. The last time you faced each other was here in 2006. Any possibility you can start a home-and-home series that you can maximize that rivalry that should be a natural one?
Coach Kelly: We certainly always look, as an independent, at the kinds of matchups geographically, nationally that make sense for us year in and year out. Certainly Ohio State would be one of those.
There are great challenges as you can imagine with our schedule. We have a collateral relationship with the ACC in football in that we are mandated to play games with the ACC, which we certainly appreciate and enjoy, as well as annual games with USC, Stanford and Navy.
As you can imagine, it becomes a little bit more difficult year in and year out to get all of those requests of those kinds of games.
Ohio State is certainly one that we’ll always have on our radar. If we can make it work, we certainly would.
Q. Brian, there’s always concern going into a bowl game, especially the bigger ones, that you may not get the same team you had in the month of November. Where are your guys mentally and physically? What do you expect to show up on Friday?
Coach Kelly: We’ll get the same team relative to how they play. They’ll play hard. They’re excited about going out there and competing one last time together. It’s a close team. They really enjoy being around each other.
Those dynamics haven’t changed. I know this is what you’re asking. The execution is certainly one that all coaches, when you have this layoff, concern yourself with.
It’s a similar feeling when you go into our opener, you know, how are you going to execute.
But I really believe that we’ve got some experienced players, I think we’ve got some guys that have been in this before, that know how to prepare. I think we’ve prepared them to the point where they’ll execute because they know what’s expected of them day in and day out.
My feeling is, watching them prepare over the past two and a half weeks, that we’ll see the same team that we’ve seen all year.
Q. Brian, what is C.J.’s status for the game? How much do you think you can get out of him?
Coach Kelly: I’d like to get a lot out of him, a lot of big plays in particular. He looked pretty good yesterday. I think yesterday was his first day that he really showed, I think, the best way to put it is: That looked like C.J. That was the first time yesterday when we saw him cut and look explosive.
I think the timing is good. We got a couple more days. But I expect to see him do some things for us offensively. He’s going to share carries. He’s not going to be a workhorse in the sense that he’s going to get 20 carries like he did maybe in the middle of the season. I think we’re going to definitely see him have an impact in the game.
Q. Ohio State, Notre Dame, have you had internal conversations whether that was doable given your schedule?
Coach Kelly: Here is really what we’re looking at, is those national marquee games. We’ve added Georgia. We feel this is a team that’s going to cross the Mississippi, head up north for the first time in their history.
We want to look for venues as well. Playing at Ohio State is a great venue. So they’re definitely on the radar. Trying to find those matchups as we move forward.
But they’re very tight windows. We have to entertain Michigan and getting them back on the schedule as well. We definitely want Ohio State in the mix there. I know they want that as well, and we’re going to continue those kinds of conversations.
Q. Is recruiting a factor in it?
Coach Kelly: Not necessarily. I think our Shamrock Series games give us that geographical piece. I think these games are really that marquee program, maybe even that marquee stadium that you want to play in.
Q. What was your relationship like with Urban Meyer when you were at Cincinnati?
Coach Kelly: I got to know his dad Bud. That really was kind of how the relationship fostered a little bit. Bud was a great fan of college football. He followed Cincinnati football because he was in the area. So that’s really what the connection was.
Also he had a preexisting relationship with Tim Hinton, who was on my staff. He would come in to see Tim. Obviously Bud was living in Cincinnati at the time, coupled with his sister, who was helping us a lot in recruiting on the weekends.
It just became one where it wasn’t, Hey, come on in and let’s talk football. It was really about his family being in Cincinnati.
Q. What did you take away when he visited you in 2005? What was that like?
Coach Kelly: I think for him it was an opportunity for him to assess where he was, where he wanted to go. I think it was probably really good for him. I don’t want to say therapeutic, but it gave him a perspective during his time at ESPN to take a look at where he was, how other head coaches were dealing with the grind, if you will, of being in a major program.
We now talk about, How is your health, how are you dealing with the pressure. Those are the kind of situations we have.
We didn’t get into, Hey, are you running the bash play, going two down, three down. We were talking about the pressure of the job more than anything else.
Q. I didn’t know him at Florida. He seems more at ease at Ohio State. What are your thoughts?
Coach Kelly: It seemed like the switch was always on before. It seems like you could turn the switch off a little bit now. He’s such a fierce competitor. We all are in our own way. But he just seems to be a lot more balanced in the way he handles things. I think it’s obviously very healthy for him.
Q. You saw what happened with Chip in Philadelphia yesterday. Any idea on why it’s tough for college football coaches to make it in the NFL?
Coach Kelly: I think that’s more of a generalization. If you’re a football coach, you have to understand what you’re getting into in the NFL. You’re coaching and collaborating. To me, that’s the NFL.
You have to understand there has to be a great collaboration. Pete Carroll has found a great situation in Seattle because he has great collaboration.
Doesn’t seem as though there was great collaboration there. If you’re a ball coach, you’re a ball coach. Chip Kelly is one heck of a football coach.
Collaboration is extremely important. All the pieces have to be moving in the right direction. So I really don’t think it has anything to do with the college experience as much as it has to do with collaboration and understanding what you’re getting into.
Q. (No microphone.)
Coach Kelly: When you look at those, there’s generally more than what the press release will tell you. It’s generally best for both parties. It’s a situation where it works out best for everybody.
Those are ones that we talk on the phone. Urban and I will talk, it works out best for both.
Q. What is your relationship like with Urban Meyer?
Coach Kelly: Very good. Very good. We have I think a mutual respect for each other and the work that we each have done and are doing with our programs. I got to know his family very well when I was in Cincinnati. I knew his dad Bud very well before he passed. Knew his sister very well.
There was that personal relationship, knowing his family, that I have with him that maybe some other coaches don’t have.
Q. You just missed playing each other in the Sugar Bowl.
Coach Kelly: I was on my way to Notre Dame. It would have been out of hand (laughter).
Q. Urban got lucky, but now he has to deal with it.
Coach Kelly: Thank you. I’m glad it didn’t come from me (laughter).
Q. In terms of getting your program to continue its ascension, how important is it not only to get to these bowl games but win them?
Coach Kelly: I think every bowl game, it’s a playoff game now. Somebody is going to finish fifth in the final polls. That’s a string board for next year. These are important games. You’re also measuring yourself in this game, Where are we?
We measured ourselves in 2012, found out we were a little short. Now we’re back here in ’15/’16, get a chance to measure ourselves again.
To me, that’s more the important thing. We need to win the game, but we’re still measuring where we are.
Q. How satisfying for you would it be to measure up?
Coach Kelly: I think we will. I think we will. You talked about winning the game. We want to win the game. Got to get a break here or there, got to catch the football. It’s about how we compete, how the game flows. Those are the things I’m looking for. I want to win the game, but we need to go out there and compete and play well.
Q. Would a win make this a great season?
Coach Kelly: It will be a satisfying season that we overcame a lot of things to get to this point. Probably for me the most enjoyable, with the group of kids that we had that just didn’t let anything get in their way. They just kept moving forward.
Q. How close an eye have you kept on Nick Watkins?
Coach Kelly: Very close eye.
Q. What kind of player do you think he is?
Coach Kelly: I’d be surprised if he didn’t play well. He’s going to get picked on. I sure would pick on him if I was them.
I think he’ll hold up. He’s a kid that will compete. He’s got a lot of pride. He’s got some innate athletic ability to go out there and compete with some good players.
Q. (No microphone.)
Coach Kelly: He’s better. Physically, I think we’re away from the physical issues, and now it’s technique issues.
Q. (No microphone.)
Coach Kelly: He’s getting there. He had an ankle sprain in our first week of practice. He’s a Cincinnati kid. He wants to play. So I think he’ll be fine on Saturday.
It’s similar to what Ohio State has to figure out, when you have Washington in shutout, do you move Bosa inside at all. Well, it minimizes what you do on the outside. We’re the same way. We don’t want to use Isaac Rochell on the inside because it minimizes what you do on the outside. I’m not comparing the two, but your rotation, we’d rather not.
To have those two guys healthy, it’s minimizing the need to rotate Isaac Rochell inside.
Q. (Question regarding the magnitude of the game.)
Coach Kelly: I just really think when you have two great programs, great traditions, anytime you get these matchups, it’s kind of like, Wow, this is really good for college football!
I think everybody saw it that way, that this is good for college football. I know the Fiesta Bowl is excited. I know college football fans are excited. When Ohio State and Notre Dame can play, I think it is good for college football.
All we’ve talked about is that there are opportunities to do some things here that haven’t been done in a long time. Certainly our kids understand what the Fiesta Bowl means relative to a national championship. So that’s what we’ve talked about. There’s been some good memories here, then there’s been a beat-down here, too.
They understand the history, the Fiesta Bowl. We have all of our bowl games in our team room. The Fiesta Bowl sits there prominently because there’s a national championship next to it. So they know what the Fiesta Bowl means.
Q. With the television show this year, what was it like when that show debuted? Did the whole program get together and watch it?
Coach Kelly: After practice we eat dinner together in our team room. That would invariably always be on. I would not watch it, but it would always be on. Our kids would normally just come in every Tuesday, I think it was Tuesday, or it was Wednesday, they would show it when we came in for dinner. They watched it every Wednesday.
Q. Is that the future of college football? It was very well-received.
Coach Kelly: Kudos to anybody that does it. It’s hard. It requires an incredible commitment from your digital media, from your support staff and the head coach. I couldn’t do it again. It’s a lot. It’s a lot.