Interview With Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly

July 17, 2017 Lou Somogyi, Senior Editor

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Brian Kelly blamed his lack of vigilance as a main reason for the 4-8 meltdown in 2016.
Photo by Joe Raymond

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In our half-hour, one-on-one interview with eighth year Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly for the 2017 Football Preview, numerous items were addressed, including six new on-field staff changes, play-calling, mental preparation, leadership...

Here are a couple of excerpts:

The obvious question is whether Kelly was loyal to a fault with the staff prior to the 2016 meltdown.

“I would look at it the other way,” he replied. “I would look at it that I did a less-than-stellar job of really articulating what the needs were for the program.

“The leader still has to be able to clearly paint the picture and the path that everybody follows. I look at it as I didn’t do a very good job of leading the three individuals in the leadership positions.”

The problems with the strength and conditioning were the most baffling. How could he have not noticed the malaise? Kelly said the roots began with too much concession.

“We changed the lenses, and the lenses we were looking through were faulty in the sense that we were trying to make things easier for our players because their day is so long and stressful,” he said.

“We tried to make it easier for them in the weight room, where in fact what we needed to do was make it harder. Our players want to be challenged in the weight room. They want that structure, and they want to see themselves getting better every single day. They don’t want to be in a situation where they can work out as their schedule sees it. That was part and parcel my mistake and trying to accommodate our players’ very difficult schedules.”

In Kelly’s exit interviews last December with nearly 100 players, the consensus feedback was that the structure in the strength and conditioning needed to be intensified.

“The days of the singular headed strength coach running the program on his own — one man — those days are over,” Kelly said of the new structure. “This program has [new strength and conditioning coach] Matt Balis at the top, but is functioning with five strength coaches that have an integral role.

“The synergy of the five creates an incredibly different environment. It’s a totally different structure than was in there and that had been part of what strength and conditioning looked like over the last 10 years.


Play-Calling Duties

One of the more surprising moments in the offseason occurred when Kelly announced that Memphis’ Chip Long, who had been an offensive coordinator for the first time in 2016 for the Tigers, would be solely entrusted with the play-calling duties.

In 2016, it was a “too many cooks in the kitchen” collaboration with Mike Denbrock (now the offensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati), quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford (now the head coach at Western Kentucky) and Kelly.

The job could have been turned over to longtime associate Denbrock, but Kelly opted for a different direction.

“There is a difference between play calling and coordinating,” Kelly said. “Play calling is more art, and Chip has got a sense and a feel for the art of play calling. I’m less concerned with that.”

However, don’t expect any play caller to have carte blanche.

“I’m going to be involved in the offense,” Kelly said. “If I don’t like the fact that we’re not fanning out to an overhang [on defense], that’s going to change. If I don’t like the fact that we’re not pulling a guard on our outside play — we’re pulling the guard.

“We have to be careful about turning the offense over and just walking away, versus play calling. I’m not going to have any problems with Chip’s ability to call plays and how he calls them. I think he has a great sense and intuitiveness to him that I won’t be looking to take over play calling.

“But I will stay involved in the structure of the offense and what I like, and how I believe we need to protect the football and how the football moves down the field.”


Mind Games/Leadership

While a revamping in strength and conditioning was necessary from the physical standpoint, Kelly said the mental aspects last season — most notably losing five games after taking a fourth-quarter lead, and a sixth when it was tied — were the bigger story and where he was most disappointed in himself.

“If you watched our football team play last year, you would be the first to admit there weren’t that many physical limitations when you jump up by 17 points and you’re scoring enough points,” Kelly said.

“There were a lot of things outside the physical that put us in a position we were in, and that falls a lot more on the head coach.

“The mental preparation of our football team — which is 365 days out of the year — was lacking. … There were mental breakdowns, which means they were not prepared in the manner they should have been.

“…We lost six juniors that were scheduled to take leadership positions within the program, and I did a poor job of cultivating the leadership that that vacuum created. I needed to be more hands on. I needed to be more vigilant.”

To read more about those topics and get the rest of the interview be sure to get the 2017 Football Preview.

To order a hard copy of the magazine through the mail CLICK HERE.

For a digital version that will arrive in your email immediately, CLICK HERE.

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