I used to work for the company that makes Old Spice, and as you've seen through the years, their marketing has taken some interesting angles on the deodorant business. Perhaps Brian Kelly is going to be filling in as the spokesman after Wes Welker, because what better way to sell more than to convince everyone that, "certainly, when you think, you stink." For those who lament Kelly missed his calling in politics, perhaps he's really just a frustrated ad man.
As the coach of the Fighting Irish, Kelly demonstrates the consistency-of-message and branding within his program necessary to be a great ad man (and a great coach). In his weekly media session before the Stanford game, Kelly gives some very clear insight into how he runs the Notre Dame program and his expectations of his student athletes.
So What Is "Notre Dame Football"
Those of you watched Kelly's press conference after the BYU game heard him talk about needing to play "Notre Dame football." The phrase also showed up frequently in the FIDM ICON piece that followed the game. Kelly talked about needing to be enthusiastic and physical on Saturday evening, and on Tuesday, he expanded on his definition of "Notre Dame Football."
The gathered media had an inkling that Kelly's definition had little to nothing to do with run/pass balance or particular defensive alignment. Kelly views Notre Dame football as focused, physical, and tough. Kelly talked about the Pitt game being an anomaly in previous media sessions, so Tuesday, he clarified that he felt the difference between the embarrassing defeat in Pittsburgh and the complete victory performance on Senior Day was focus. "We don't play the game that way," was Kelly's retrospective on Pitt. He indicated Saturday vs. BYU was a whole other story. He could tell his team was locked in from the minute they left the cozy confines of their hotel and headed out in to the cold, blustery day. Kelly saw the determination and focus necessary to play Notre Dame football.
Right away on Saturday night, he talked about how he and his staff found a way to generate that focus vs. BYU that seemed to be missing vs. Pitt:
I think you always get what you demand, and we were demanding it from our guys in everything they did from the way the locker room looked to every meeting we went to. We went back to saying, look, you can't start winning until you stop losing. So you can't do the little things you've got to do them the right way all the time.
Wow, that's a lot of coaching cliche to fit into 3 sentences, but if you look at the excruciatingly painful ways the previous regimes found to lose football games, hearing the Irish head coach talk about finding ways to stop losing sounds darn good to me. Kelly's message there is simple: create a habit of full focus and effort in everything you do. Keep your locker correctly, pay attention to detail, focus on giving your best and do it all consistently - and that's what lets your talent shine through when the chips are down.
The Irish head coach also took some time to explain his expectations of the players. He's consistently described the profile as "tough gentlemen." Using KeiVarae Russell and Corey Robinson as examples, he explained his desire to see the whole student athlete engaged in all the things the Notre Dame community has to offer, while at the same time, being able to lock in and focus on their "football job" when the time requires it. Kapron Lewis-Moore was another example Kelly used. Kap was able to be a super-fan for other Irish sports while concurrently knowing when to drop that and focus exclusively on his football preparation and performance his final year. The "tough gentleman" is a difficult profile to recruit for, but Kelly is doing his best to brand his program in a manner that casts ND in the best possible light and reflects positively on The University's mission.
He says it best himself...
I think it's a point of emphasis in that our players have a lot of skill sets that they are incredibly talented in so many areas that they do bring a lot of those to the forefront.
So sometimes we just have to get them focused on, you know, this football job, this piece of it. There's so many other things going on, and they are so involved in a number of different things.
We are working hard on getting some of our younger guys - and some of our older guys have seen that, too. That's the challenge at Notre Dame because we have guys that want to be involved in so many things and that's a great distinction that we have. I'd rather have that distinction here at Notre Dame than have guys that are just football players. I think that's a great distinction that Notre Dame has and we just want to build off of that and keep making sure that we work on that every day.
Kelly also gave some insight in to his expectations of Notre Dame football on Sunday when he talked about Jarron Jones and his rise...
Well, you have to do other things in this program to earn trust, and it starts with off the field. You know, Jarron needed to earn some trust relative to his schoolwork and doing things the right way off the field. You know, and that's just part of the entire process of developing within the program. You know, he had to attend to making sure that he was making good decisions in the classroom and taking care of the little things, and then I've always seen a direct correlation that when you're doing the right things off the field, it generally starts to show itself on the field, and that's what we're seeing with Jarron.
Again, the consistency of message is what is impressive from the head coach. His program is designed about a continuous focus and attention to detail. Preparation, training, and consistent effort help you to stop losing, and start winning. I know many here are more concerned with whether or not we use a lead blocker or our run/pass ratios or how many stars the next recruit has, but when Kelly defines ND football, this is what he's talking about. Cynics will call them out as empty coaching platitudes, but college football is played by 18-22 year old men (unless you're BYU) and Kelly is focused on helping those men form the habits that make people successful. Fans tend to obsess over X's and O's and advanced stats, often pretending that if the coaches only called the right play or ran the right scheme on Saturday, they could build a NCAA '14 dynasty on their Xbox. Fans get frustrated and say Kelly is throwing his players under the bus when he says they "didn't make plays," but they're young men. Sometimes they don't perform as expected. Kelly talks about that when asked about Stanford's losses this year. They just didn't make enough crucial plays. It happens. The reality is that Kelly uses consistency in his message and in his approach to try to equip his young men with the habits and skills to win far more often than they lose, to compete, and be very successful in life.
Will this stop me from wanting to pull my hair out when I don't agree with a play call? Probably not, but we all have blind spots.
Going in to Stanford
For those of you interested in Kelly's assessment of this week's opponent, there are insights in all 3 sessions. Overall, expect an incredibly physical match-up that will likely mirror the down-to-the-wire slug-fest that went down in South Bend a year ago. Stanford has impressive players in all three phases, and Kelly took time to single out Tyler Gaffney, Trent Murphy, Jordan Richards and their kick return game. Look for the Irish to specifically game plan for Richards and Murphy. Kelly talked about the benchmarks necessary to come away from Palo Alto with the W:
Well, there are really clear benchmarks for us that you can all see and that have really unfolded this year that if Notre Dame does this, they are going to win the football game, or they have got a great chance to win the football game.
One, you know, one or less, in terms of turnovers, that's been a win. So one turnover or less, that's got to happen.
Number two, there's got to be a running game, an effective running game as part of it.
From a defensive standpoint, eliminate big plays. If we eliminate big plays, we can give up, you know, eight or nine or ten but eliminate big play touchdowns. If we eliminate big play touchdowns and keep the points down. And our margin for keeping the points down is keeping is in the teens; then we've got a great chance of winning.
Those of you looking to see a deviation from the "bend don't break" style will be sadly disappointed. It is clear Kelly is willing to give up even 8-10 yards underneath to keep from giving up the big-play touchdown. He says as much in his BYU review press conference. Switching Russell to the field was part of that strategy.
Speaking of the defensive backfield. Many of us here at OFD have been wondering the fate of a certain highly touted freshman defensive back. Given the poor performances we've seen at safety, Kelly gives some insight as to why Max Redfield hasn't seen more playing time:
I think he's done very well. Let's just take Tarean Folston and Max Redfield, two very gifted young men. Tarean has had to wait for his chance and he's getting more of it as the season progresses. Max has ten times as much on his plate at that position than Tarean Folston, ten times, in terms of coverage checks and formation adjustments and communication.
All of those things which are all going into the knowledge base for him. He's going to be a dynamite player for us. But there's so much knowledge in our system and the way we play, because we are a two deep team.
If we were a close the middle of the field, cover one team, he would probably have been standing back there in week one if that's what we did. But that's not our system. We are a two deep team, and there's a lot going on. He's learned a lot and he's grown a lot, and he's at a position now where he's starting to feel pretty comfortable.
I think it is fair to ask why not fit the scheme to the talent, but Kelly has been pretty consistent that the system is what it is, and if that's what leaves a guy like Redfield on the bench while some less talented guys see time, that's the way he'll play it.
- Nick Martin is done for the year with an MCL
- Kona Schwenke will do his best to give it a go with a high ankle sprain, but will likely be limited.
- Thankfully, no other injuries to report.