Like nearly every Irish fan, I tuned in to Brian Kelly's Tuesday press conference this afternoon hoping to hear Notre Dame's head coach provide an update on the fate of the 5 student athletes currently held out of football activities. Sadly, in his opening question and answer, the Irish head coach confirmed status quo - nothing has changed. The players are still being held out of practices, meetings, and competition until further notice, and no timetable was given.
Since we didn't get what we wanted out of the nattily-attired head coach, let's use this excess energy to go all the way back to the close of Saturday's game and check the coach's message tracks as he closes down Rice and begins preparations for the Michigan game.
Here's a great example of Kelly gaining some experience in the program and learning from the past. After a few lackluster home openers Kelly revealed that his focus was to get the young talent out on the field playing fast. With so many young and inexperienced guys being asked to contribute, Kelly didn't want his team suffering from analysis paralysis, so he exhorted them to simply play fast and play football. "Don't overthink it," was a clear theme from the head coach, and it worked well in a game where he knew he had a clear advantage over his opponent's overall athleticism.
If you listen closely, you can also see evidence of Kelly starting to gear up with his week 2 message when he indicates that playing fast is important, but at some point, you also have to layer in the smarts. Kelly used Rice and his "play fast" message track to build confidence among the younger guys. As his "(un)conscious/(in)competence" framework suggests, Kelly is a student of how young men react to being thrust in to new competitive situations, and he read his team well leading up to week 1. They produced a performance that delivered the desired result.
Kelly also laid out two additional message tracks that I think we'll see more of this week and beyond:
- The new playing surface is producing a competitive advantage. He said after the game he saw guys make more decisive and valuable cuts on the better surface.
- With this schedule, there's very little time to get caught up in rivalry talk or single-game hype. You have to stay focused on the preparation and execution for each difficult opponent and take each as they come.
For those who enjoy BK at his trolling finest, he'll pull out #1 more than a few times in the coming weeks. He also pulled out the trademark wink-and-smile technique when calling the busted play Everett Golson scored on a "new trick play" and refusing to blame either Golson or Greg Bryant for the confusion.
No video on Sunday, but the transcript is on UND.com. The crux of Sunday's message was confidence in his defensive players and where they're placed on the depth chart. The Irish head coach is always going to be subjected to second guessing from fans and the media, and Kelly emphasized staying the course as he was peppered with suggestions/questions about moving guys like Cody Riggs and Matthias Farley to safety while Austin Collinsworth heals his injured knee. He's happy with the combination of Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate in the back, and he wants them there for the athletic talents and skills they bring. Kelly blamed the struggles versus Rice on the very short amount of time those two had to establish communication at the back during their preparation for Rice. The defensive staff is clearly doing everything they can to have these two guys ready to communicate on Saturday vs. Michigan.
Kelly also made an interesting observation about Jaylon Smith. The coaching staff graded Smith out with some mental mistakes that Kelly attributed to learning a new position. Kelly was quick to praise Smith's effort and enthusiasm and assured the media that they'd see a much improved Smith. This quote may cause a few people in Ann Arbor to pause: "... when it comes to Jaylon, he takes his work very seriously. I would expect that you're going to see significant improvement from Jaylon from week one to week two." Yes please.
Tuesday Press Conference
Let's get the big news out of the way first... wow, that sport coat! What? Was there something else important you were expecting? The Twitterverse surely noted Kelly's fashion sense.
I'm the last person to knock someone for getting some golf in and showing off the spoils of his victory in the Plaid Open. Good on you BK.
In recapping the Rice game, Kelly hit on his talking points of playing free and fast while reminding all that his team needs to work on a few things - communication primary among them. He pulled out some key stats that indicated why the Irish found success vs. the Owls:
- Field position: +11
- +2 in turnover ratio
- Good red zone success (six trips, 4TD, 2FG)
- 9.0 YPP
Kelly transitioned into a Holtz-ian review of the Wolverines and started with a Gardner/Funchess evaluation. He pointed out that Gardner has "played great against us." How many Michigan fans wish he could drop the "against us" part of that?
Unfortunately for all involved, Kelly did not have an update on the five young men living through the challenges of this academic honesty investigation. Both Phil Daniels, father of suspended Davaris, and Tom Mendoza, of the Mendoza School of Business, took to Twitter to express frustration.
Really would like to know why the delay by #NotreDame. Our kids are enrolled in school but are not allowed to practice. Hard to understand!
— Phillip Daniels (@PhillipDaniels) September 2, 2014
BK says no change on suspended 5. Hard to understand why they can't deliver decision by now.
— Tom Mendoza (@TomMendozaTalks) September 2, 2014
Don't like the delay by ND. Extending does not appear fair, rather acting in a rational manner quickly given the data does.
— Tom Mendoza (@TomMendozaTalks) September 2, 2014
I feel that once the investigation ended speed and fairness is what they owed these students.
— Tom Mendoza (@TomMendozaTalks) September 2, 2014
As Keith Arnold was quick to point out, the overall Honor Code process could explain the delay,
and as many have pointed out before, it is unlikely we'll ever learn more about how/why it has come to this. Privacy provisions in the Honor Code, and in the laws that protect student privacy, will continue to cast a shroud over proceedings. Here's to hoping Kelly doesn't have to start future press conferences with this question still hanging over his team.
Aside from the very aggressive fashion choice of the Irish head coach, the other highly entertaining moment in this press conference was the result of some classic coaching double-speak. When asked if he would use the end of this Michigan series as a motivational ploy with his charges, Kelly was quick to answer no, he wasn't using that as a motivational speech. In the following sentence, he goes on to describe how he'll ask his men to "relish the opportunity" to face them. Kelly has been wisely coached to tamp down the political ramifications of discontinuing this series, but at the same time, he's associated with Notre Dame. I can assure you that anyone with even the slightest affinity for or association with Notre Dame burns to send Michigan on their merry way with a rousing Irish victory.
Kelly also used the Michigan hype questions to start to lay down another important message track. He pointed out that the Notre Dame schedule is far too difficult to allow himself or his team to get overly caught up in a single game. "If it was Michigan and a bunch of 1-AA schools, you'd be fine," to allow you to get too far up for a single opponent. In addition to sending a message to his team, it is incredibly important for Kelly to lay the groundwork on this point. If the Irish sit on the bubble for a playoff spot, reminding the world how challenging the Irish schedule is this year is critical. With 6 opponents currently in the AP rankings, Kelly is doing his best to ensure the selection committee, poll voters, pundits and fans have plenty of sound bites validating the challenging schedule in front of Notre Dame.
Comedian BK was able to use the Michigan series to end the session on an up note. Responding to ESPN's Matt Fortuna, Kelly managed to avoid putting out any locker room material as he characterized the end of the regular match ups between ND and Michigan. After a politically astute answer, Kelly asked the assembled media if he had handled it well and got a few chuckles out of the group.
Couple of interesting tidbits for discussion:
- Golson hasn't let week 1 success get to his head yet. His head coach believes the Irish QB is driven to be perfect and is excited to get in to practice this week to eliminate the few errors he made on Saturday.
- Kelly drew a comparison of facing Greg Mattison's defense with his own Brian Van Gorder led defense. Kelly said that Mattison tends to keep you off balance by giving you "a little bit of everything." Like VanGorder, Mattison makes you have answers to different pressure situations.
- The WR's aren't just playing sandlot ball when Golson gets outside the pocket. They have specific rules and Kelly instructs Golson to occasionally get outside the pocket in practice to fine tune the execution like what resulted in several exciting TD's on Saturday. When discussing this, Kelly has to remind the receiving corps that, "There's no part of the field Everett can't get to."
- While someone like me is going to scream "BLOCKING SOMEONE!" as the answer to why the punt return situation has improved dramatically in this one-game sample set, Kelly was once again quick to credit the new playing surface. Thanks Field Turf!
- For fans of stern coaching, Kelly indicated that Defensive Coordinator Brian Van Gorder made it clear how he expects his safeties to communicate going forward, and was able to attest to that because he could hear it from the QB meeting room.
- On the injury front, Torii Hunter Jr. is at 4 weeks on his groin injury, and is well ahead of the typical 6 week schedule for his injury. Jarrett Grace is still progressing, but still isn't ready to get on the field. While not at 100%, he's getting better every day and still a few weeks away. Corey Robinson's thumb is sore, but he's up to the challenge of continuing to contribute.