Brian Kelly is the new head coach at the University of Notre Dame, and there’s no time to waste. While nearly 60 other college football programs use extra practices and national attention to hype their programs en route to year-end bowl appearances, it’s imperative that the Irish get off to a great start in the Age of King Kelly.
Here’s a five-part plan for Coach Kelly’s first five days. As stated in his introductory press conference, Kelly won’t have five years—he’ll barely have five minutes.
Welcome to South Bend, Coach Kelly. It’s time to go to work.
1. Build a Staff
Kelly must build a top-notch staff, and fast.
Every ND watcher, from the New York subways to the Pacific shores, knows that the Irish defense needs to find a Charlie Strong or Will Muschamp to transform a 2010 group that ranked 82nd in pass defense and 90th in run defense.
After putting a defensive coordinator in place, Kelly must retain Ron Powlus and Bryant Young. Powlus did a fantastic job with Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist over the past two years and helped develop a legitimate Heisman candidate and his heir apparent.
Young is a role model for the developing defensive line. He’s an icon to young men like Ian Williams and Ethan Johnson, who have both lauded his efforts and talked about how much they look up to him as a former NFL player, ND coach, and person of character.
Lastly, get guys who can recruit. Rob Ianello, Tony Alford, and Charlie Weis brought in serious talent over the past five years. Kelly needs to recruit major hot beds from south Florida and central Texas, to California and the Rust Belt.
Find coaches who have a proven track record of major recruiting success and make sure ND remains in the Scout and Rivals top-20 year after year. Keep Young and Powlus, former ND players who understand the unique traditions and pressures of South Bend. Find a new, and highly regarded, D.C. to nurture the potential of the ND defense.
If Kelly can complete this staffing trifecta, he’ll be well on his way to completing his five-minute plan.
2. Keep 18 for 2010
According to Irish Sports Daily , most of the 18 current verbal commitments have expressed excitement over the Kelly hiring. BK must reach out to them quickly, solidify each verbal, and maintain a class that’s already got the potential to finish in the top-25 (they are currently ranked No. 12 by Rivals and No. 15 by Scout).
Four-star quarterback Andrew Hendrix from Cincinnati’s Moeller High has already seen and heard a lot about Kelly.
“Being a Cincinnati guy and watching him coach, and seeing what he’s down with his program, it’s definitely an exciting time for Notre Dame for what he’s been able to do in the past.”
Wide receiver Bennett Jackson, from Hazlet, NJ, was quoted as saying that it “…definitely excites me that he’s going to be my new coach and all."
Two must-keep four-plus star recruits, WR Tai-ler Jones and OT Christian Lombard, have both stated that they’re excited about Kelly. Lombard went a step further; “From the interviews I’ve watched, it looks like he’ll put the crap aside and play football and put his guys in a position to win.”
If Kelly and his new staff can retain the original 18, bring in a few big names like four-star OT Matt James from Cincinnati or west coast uber-athletes like Anthony Barr or Marquis Flowers, he could put together a stellar first class and avoid the pitfalls of a transition year.
3. Build Bonds
Charlie Weis was loved by his players. Kelly can’t worry about that.
He must put them to work quickly, surround them with the best strength and conditioning people he can find, and provide them with the passion and purpose that this all-important off-season requires.
When the players see that Kelly is a man of character who will drive them towards success, they will react.
Players don’t need friends; they need inspiration and instruction.
Men want to be led.
If Brian Kelly is the type of leader he’s been reported to be, he’ll begin to build the bonds with his players that lay the foundation for a successful resurgence in the spring and fall of 2010.
4. Keep Manti, Heal Crist, and Teach Shaq
There may not be three more important players for Notre Dame in 2010 than Manti Te’o, Dayne Crist, and Shaquelle Evans.
If Manti Te’o leaves for his Mormon mission, the Irish defense will lose its best athlete and most dynamic big-play weapon. Te’o’s ability to get into the backfield and play sideline to sideline is irreplaceable.
Dayne Crist, recovering from early November knee surgery, should be a go for non-contact play in the spring. With no other scholarship QB’s on roster, and two new freshmen (Hendrix and Tommy Rees) coming in next summer, Crist must evolve into the unquestioned leader of the ND offense and the orchestrator of Kelly’s new offense.
With WR Michael Floyd on the outside, TE Kyle Rudolph on the inside, and potential double-teams for both, Kelly must develop Shaquelle Evans. The four-star Inglewood, CA product has the speed (4.45 in the 40) and the talent (he turned down USC, Michigan, and others to come to ND) to make an immediate impact next fall.
For Brian Kelly to succeed on the field, he must keep Te’o on campus, make sure a healthy Crist develops in his frenetic spread attack, and tutor Shaq Evans into the type of two-man that Mike Floyd desperately needs.
5. Pay Reparations
Rumors ran rampant, if not sporadically, over the past five years that there was a break between Notre Dame and former players. Whether it was the Linebackers Club, stories of disrespect, or claims that Charlie Weis simply was not approachable by alumni, there did appear to be some damage.
Whether the Weis stories are correct or not, it would behoove Coach Kelly to immediately go to work on re-awakening the echoes of years gone buy. Begin by retaining Young and Powlus, reach out to alums, and make sure Notre Dame is an open and welcoming place for all the men who made it what it is.
Tradition never graduates. Brian Kelly can go a long way by appealing to the great traditions of Notre Dame and the men who made them.
In closing, it’s already crunch time in South Bend. Brian Kelly must act fast, hire a strong staff, add to the recruiting haul, inspire his charges, develop his on-campus talent, and repair relations with the ND faithful.
Welcome to Notre Dame, Brian Kelly. It’s time to go to work.
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