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Notre Dame Football: Leading to Win

Head Coach Brian Kelly talks with Dr. Amber Selking about ‘Building Championship Mindsets’

Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly coaching his Fighting Irish squad to a Citrus Bowl win over LSU
Lisa Kelly

If you’re anything like me, you do everything you can to keep up with the latest and greatest Notre Dame Fighting Irish football developments. For me, this includes reading everything I can possibly get my hands on and listening to a wide variety of both Notre Dame and college football podcasts. This week I found our head coach, Brian Kelly, on a different kind of podcast. Dr. Amber Selking, founder of Selking Performance Group and Notre Dame Alumnae, has a weekly podcast on ‘Building Championship Mindsets;’ and her guest on the podcast this week was none other than Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly.

I find Brian Kelly very intriguing. (I know, you may have some different adjectives to describe Coach Kelly, but bear with me.) If you’ve watched his evolution as a head coach at Notre Dame, from purple-faced, losing his mind screaming Brian Kelly during the Notre Dame vs. Tulsa game, to the Brian Kelly of this past season, his coaching style has evolved quite a bit.

In this week’s podcast, Dr. Selking started out by talking to Coach Kelly about the Modeling Effect; the importance of a leader being the model and the example. Dr. Selking opened the interview by asking Coach Kelly, who has served as a role model in his life, and what impact have they had on him personally and professionally. He began his answer listing the names of coaches that people might think would be the role model for a successful head coach such as himself: Vince Lombardi, Bill Belichick; but those are not his role models. It was my formative years growing up, my school years at St. John’s Prep, going to college at Assumption College, and my parents ... they were very formative for me in terms of growing as a person. And then I was a head coach at 28 years old, so it wasn’t as if I was being mentored by any one person. It was the real life experiences (and making mistakes along the way) that I was learning from, recognizing my strengths and weaknesses, and soliciting help and advice from others to assist me with my weaknesses.

When you focus on the why, you give power the right things.

Next, Dr. Selking talked about when she and Coach Kelly began working together, and how when she first sat down with coach, one of her first questions for him was why? Why do you do what you do? Why do you coach? Why do you coach at the college level? The why for me is the development of young men. I didn’t have a particular mentor, but I had many people who positively influenced me along the way. I want to be one of those who influences the young men in my care in a positive manner. I want them to come back in five years and tell me, I may not have seen what you were doing back then, as far as laying down the process or the traits that were needed, but I can see it now. Thank you.

Brian Kelly is currently the most winningest active coach in college football. As a coach who has achieved so much success, Dr. Selking asked him, why is the leadership principle of ‘be the example’ so important? Not only to him, but to leaders of any domain? When you open up a book, and start reading that novel or that non-fiction piece, you want to get a vision of what that book is, or what it’s going to be. What am I reading here? So as a leader, it is important to have a vision for what your program will be and what you stand for. It goes back to the adage, if you’re going to talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. It starts out with me laying out the vision for our football program on a day-to-day basis.

A year ago, Coach Kelly and his Fighting Irish squad were coming off a 4-8 season, unknowingly heading into a 10-3 season, culminating with a Citrus Bowl win over LSU. Looking back on the ups and downs of the last twelve months, Dr. Selking asked Coach Kelly, how have you grown/evolved/changed over the last 12 months? The vision was always there, but detracting from the mission was what got us into some trouble. We probably didn’t follow our process, and our process wasn’t articulated in the manner that it needed to be. We probably put more emphasis on talent over traits ... instead of developing those traits, which all comes back to our mission. We were focusing on trying to get to the finish line too quickly, and in the end we learned that it’s hard, and it takes time to get there. That was one of the biggest lessons I learned.

I’m not going to give you the play-by-play of this entire podcast, but this one is a gem you’re definitely going to want to listen to from start to finish. You can listen to this podcast and all three seasons of Dr. Selking’s “Building Championship Mindset” podcasts at:

So, what say you? Is Coach Kelly Leading the Fighting Irish to Win?

Cheers & GO IRISH!