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Notre Dame Football: A Tangible Change in Culture

The changes made by Brian Kelly this offseason appear to be having a significant effect on this team.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Kelly’s weekly press conference followed a solid performance by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish against a Miami-Ohio Redhawks team led by former Irish coordinator Chuck Martin. Notre Dame’s head coach touched on several topics pertaining to the aforementioned game and the season as a whole thus far. Let’s get right into it.

Culture Shock

Following 2016’s disappointing 4-8 season, Brian Kelly knew that significant changes had to be made.

And boy, did he make them.

Much has been made of the plethora of coordinator fires and hires made by Notre Dame during the offseason, and rightly so. Mike Elko and Matt Balis have played a huge role in turning this football team around in just a year. Chip Long and Brian Polian have not been slouches, either. However the changes haven’t stopped there.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame
Walk-on Chris Finke (10) and 4th string running back Deon McIntosh (38) celebrate together following a touchdown.
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Kelly was able to take an introspective look into the culture he had created, and he saw the need for a change there, too. Kelly conducted his exit interviews, evaluated where his team was at, and made the necessary adjustments.

What a difference it can make.

Something as little as tweaking the workout groups on a day-to-day basis has created a more unified locker room. This approach seems so obvious, but putting a variety of players and position groups together has caused a visible change in this team. Kelly credited these locker room modifications for bringing this football team together: “That's just, you know, those are the underpinnings of how you develop the camaraderie and guys caring about, you know, pulling for each side and we're starting to see that obviously as this football team comes together.”

Kelly added, “But I think when it comes to enjoying it, you still have to create the right atmosphere. You have to create an environment where the kids enjoy coming to play every day and enjoy coming to practice every day and that is a positive coaching environment.”

“And that's the difference between last year and this year. We've got a great environment where our kids enjoyed coming to practice every single day; coupled with the fact that they want to settle up a score and that is to bring Notre Dame football back to where it should be.”

While you certainly can not win a football game with camaraderie and fun alone, it’s a good start. Kelly and Co. have made alterations in order to facilitate growth in this area, and it has paid off by adding an element to this team that his recent Notre Dame teams have lacked.

“You still have to execute, right. You've got to be able to, in practice, work on taking the football away, and be very good in the red zone.” Kelly said, “ That's the execution end of things. But there's no question that there is a tighter group here because of the things that we did in the off-season.”

Let’s hope this esprit de corps can continue to carry this team further.

Other Notes from the Press Conference:

  • First and foremost, the running backs remain generally healthy. For now, we can all breathe a deep and thankful sigh of relief.
  • Another offseason change Kelly made was the move to more high percentage looks in the redzone, which of course has resulted in a 90.3% redzone touchdown percentage. It only took him 7 years to figure it out.
  • When touching on things he likes about this year’s Irish team, Kelly said “ Their ability to play at a high standard that we've set. They are a group that is extremely physical.” With Notre Dame’s rushing numbers, I think it’s safe to say he’s right to like that aspect of this team.
  • Kelly also likes the takeaways this team has been able to force. With 11 turnovers forced already this year - along with 10 touchdowns scores off of them - I would be happy too.
  • Yet another change made this year by Kelly has to do with the weekly self-scouting. That duty is handled by Jeff Quinn.
  • Hot take: Drue Tranquill is good at this whole Rover thing. “Where he goes from here, you know, he's a leader on our football team. I think it just continued leading, and quite frankly, you know, he's still developing even at that rover position.” Wait, he can get better? That’s terrifying.
  • Kelly hit on Nick Watkins's struggles by saying that while he needs to clean up a bit fundamentally, he was put in some positions that would be tough for any corner.