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Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly: “I Led This Team Poorly”

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Irish head coach talks new hires, accepts responsibility for disastrous 4-8 season

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Southern California Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Kelly says he doesn’t like to be reminded of the past. But on a day where the head football coach announced eight new hires, it was impossible not to dwell on what had caused great turnover on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish staff.

In a moment of introspection, Kelly echoed many fans’ sentiments over the past year: The unacceptable 4-8 season was primarily his fault.

“There are no bad football teams,” he told reporters who gathered for a news conference today. “There’s just poorly-led football teams. And I think I led this team poorly. And I think that’s what probably what I learned more than anything else.”

Kelly said he was “energized” and “more focused” coming off a season in which pre-season expectations - a playoff run - were extinguished by Week 3.

“We did our due diligence - got great support from Jack Swarbrick, allowing us to go out and find the very best,” said the coach. “We didn’t settle on any one of these three positions for anything but the best candidates in the country.”

Kelly said former Wake Forest coordinator Mike Elko’s name routinely surfaced when he asked about someone who “would take the football away.”

What stood out to me was his ability to kind of dissect an offense, its strengths and weaknesses (and) how he went and attacked them from their weaknesses to their strengths. Take away their strengths and attack their weaknesses. Extremely thorough in understanding those things. And then, eliminating the big plays.

On the offensive side, Kelly said he learned through “exit interviews” that a chief complaint among defensive players is that their head coach wasn’t engaged enough with that side of the ball.

“It really sent a message to me that I needed to be more involved in both sides - offensive, defensive and special teams,” said Kelly. “The only way to do that is to have somebody calling plays.”

Kelly said there was only a few candidates who both called plays and ran an offense “the way I like our offense to look.” Former Memphis offensive coordinator Chip Long stood out.

He was able to use the running game late in games. Didn’t rely heavily on a passing game when he was forced to make up ground late in games. Utilized two tight ends, which was going to be a mode that we have to move towards with the great depth we have at that position.

Kelly said Long would not be running any entirely new offense, but “you’re going to see some things that you’ve never seen from this offense before.” The coach said a priority would be to lessen the verbiage on play-calling to both simplify the offense for a quarterback and speed things up.

The final component was for the weight room, where the players will spend a majority of their time between December and September. Kelly said Paul Longo “cannot fulfill the duties” of strength and conditioning coach anymore, due to a “long-term disability.”

[The players] really, really liked Coach Longo, but it was clear that he couldn’t function in the manner he could in the first few years. He couldn’t get down in the trenches with them.

Kelly turned to Matt Balis, a Chicagoland native, to assume Longo’s role. The coach said Balis, who most recently worked with Bob Diaco at UConn, “has already made a very big impact on our football team.”

Finally, Kelly shared some other tidbits during the news conference:

  • Tom(my) Rees is officially a graduate assistant, but “fully empowered” to coach quarterbacks on a day-to-day basis. “I have great confidence in his ability to do so,” said Kelly. “Not many guys tat have walked out on that field with the score tied and with the game on the line, and with the pressure on and have turned it around to victories for Notre Dame.”
  • Jeff Quinn will return as a senior analyst, focusing primarily on offense.
  • Greg Hudson, the analyst-turned-interim-defensive-coordinator, does not have a position within the organization. “Greg still, I think, would like to have a role. ... Obviously, he is somebody that we think very, very highly of. But as you know, we’re running out of slots.”
  • Dave Ballou, formerly of IMG Academy, will assist Balis in the strength and conditioning department. However, Kelly has decided against taking his team to the Bradenton, Fla. high school for spring break. “I just feel like with that (NCAA) rule now officially on the books, it doesn’t make any sense for us to do something that they have now legislated out,” the coach said.
  • Kelly plans to hire one more offensive graduate assistant and “a couple more” analysts.

For the complete transcript of Kelly’s comments, go here.