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CTTCS: Brian Kelly's FSU Week Press Conference

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Brian Kelly tiptoes through the land mines of suspensions, controversy, and playoff positioning as he gets his team prepared for their first true road game of the season.

Jonathan Daniel

When I run down my notes in a Brian Kelly press conference, I tend to produce these CTTCS posts in roughly the order Kelly addresses things in the media session. I'm going to break that rule today to get something out of the way quickly.

Coach Kelly clearly hasn't caught Eric's excellent post on great win's in the 90's yet. When asked about the most incredible sporting event I've attended in person: Notre Dame's 1993 home victory over #1 FSU in the "Game of the Century," the Irish head coach decided to throw a little troll bait out there. Kelly has shown an uncanny ability to walk the fine line of respecting tradition while forging his own path. His insistence that he knew nothing about that game and asking if the Irish won was a clear message to his troops that they are forging their own legend in South Bend and are preparing to create their own history. It certainly rubs old guys like me the wrong way because that game led to one of my favorite college memories, but Kelly has proven masterful in getting his program in the right state of mind for this sort of challenge, and harking back 21 years isn't going to do much for him Saturday, so he dismissed it with a wink and a smile.

Being the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame requires more than just football expertise. You need to understand how to be the CEO of a diverse blue-chip operation, and one of the head coach's duties is handling PR. There's more to it than coaching football, and Kelly's comments about the '93 game were just part of his PR work in this session.

First, Kelly had to address the issues of the individual players who fell under the school's investigation of academic dishonesty. Kelly first confirmed that he had spoken to KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams and that neither will be with the team this year, but both would like to be back. Later, he confirmed that neither will be allowed to finish the current semester at school. He then added that he had not seen any of the DaVaris Daniels or Phillip Daniels tweets regarding the receiver's status. This was the first instance of Kelly avoiding stepping in any doo-doo. The second was his handling of a question about Jameis Winston's status for FSU this weekend:

Q. You guys obviously jumped in front and sat the guys down when they had hearings coming up. Was it frustrating not just because you're playing Florida State, but is it frustrating to know that Winston is still playing given what he's facing both in his autograph deal and possibly with the sexual assault charges?
COACH KELLY: No, I've got so much to worry about in my own program, I can't even fathom to think about other people's issues. I've got to handle what I handle, so that is so far from my radar that I have to really focus on my group. There is enough here for me, trust me, every day. So I really don't get into those kinds of scenarios thinking about what other programs should be thinking about and how they should do their job.

This is a fantastic example of great coaching PR. I'm sure it is tempting to play the "woe is me, my administration is too tough" card, or equally tempting to stand on a high horse and look down at the deplorable behavior in Tallahassee. Rather than wade in, Kelly simply turns the question inward and reminds everyone of his internal focus. It is an obvious thing, but one that makes a big difference. Kelly knows there are going to be more than enough inflated heads on TV squawking about this issue all week. Why put his own picture in the mix while this ugliness is being discussed?

Going back to the topic of the suspended players, Kelly was asked about how they were able to maintain consistency and get to 6-0 with all these distractions. His answer says a lot about how Kelly manages the team.

Well, I just think that we've handled it with the right amount of respect and the right amount of understanding that we all have to attend to our own business. We miss our teammates. We care for them, but yet we have our own lives that we have to move on. Our guys clearly understood that and they're here to get a degree and play football for Notre Dame. So I think we balance that out as a group. We have very good leaders that we're able to continue to move that message forward through the group. And I was really proud of the way they've handled it.

The easiest thing would be for them to be out on social media taking a side. They've stayed away from doing that. They've handled themselves with great maturity in a very difficult situation. I think it's been really the way we've handled it internally that's allowed them to stay focused on themselves and their teammates and doing their job on a day to day basis.

This raises a very interesting point. While Phillip Daniels was out there tweeting away and reporters from all around threw out rampant speculation, Kelly's squad remained focused and relatively silent in social media. Good management by Kelly and his staff.

Like any good PR man, politician or teacher, Kelly also knows the value of repetition and this week saw three of this season's critical themes recycled:

  1. We don't rise to the level of our competition, we fall to the level of our preparation.
  2. We can't afford to get too "up" for any one game because our entire schedule is so demanding.
  3. As a coach, you love when you can win despite having mistakes. The mistakes provide great teaching points.

In addition to serving their consistent purpose, these statements gave Kelly a great jumping-off point for discussing how he hopes his team handles the bright lights and raucous atmosphere on tap for this showdown. It also served as a nice reminder that the 500+ yards and 40+ points scored by North Carolina this past weekend were a useful jolt to his highly touted, yet incredibly young, defense that they still have room to improve.

Quick Hits:

  • Kelly reinforced the "rugged" schedule his team plays and believes a loss this weekend does not "end our quest" for being in the playoff.
  • This is the first true road game for the Irish. The other "road" games were in NFL stadiums that Kelly thought brought enough "glamour and a big time atmosphere" to those games away from Notre Dame Stadium.
  • Cody Riggs is on his 4th time playing FSU. He's "not really scared."
  • I think there's a faction of the ND media and fan base that just want Kelly to open up and somehow disparage Tommy Rees. When asked about the emergence of the Irish screen game, Kelly opened with some wisecracks about having his screen association card revoked, but when pushed he finally did admit that a change in QB has opened up that part of the offense.
  • When asked about the offensive line performance, Kelly was quick to praise Ronnie Stanley and is gaining confidence that Steve Elmer is starting to settle into the guard position.
  • The Irish remain thin at safety as Austin Collinsworth had his MRI delayed a day and the depth chart will remain Max Redfield, Elijah Shumate, Matthias Farley, and Drue Tranquill.
  • Our man Punterbro will have some material to work with as Kelly discussed the need for the kick returner to respect the "green" call put in place to dictate how deep of a kick ND will return vs. take the touchback.
  • I want to give credit to the one reporter who compared this trip to Tallahassee to the 2012 trip to Norman. Others tried to draw comparisons to the NCG vs. Alabama, but this game has far more similarities to that 2012 regular season contest vs. Bob Stoops' crew under the lights in Oklahoma.

Overall, this was a much meatier performance from the Irish head man; with far more to dive in to and digest. I'd encourage you to invest the 40 minutes in watching (and see if you get thirsty for a Gatorade). What jumps out at you? What do you want to discuss?

FIDM Video (transcript here)