What follows are some further responses and elaboration on questions from the interview. The audio of the interview itself can be found at the bottom of this article.
On Brian Kelly’s Impact On The Irish Fan Base And Whether Or Not Notre Dame Settled…
Many fans will never be satisfied, especially after 20-plus years of mediocrity in a football program that defines tradition. As such, some fans will view this hire as a failure.
Other fans will view it as an upgrade. Kelly is a very different coach than Charlie Weis, and this will breath life into those frustrated with Weis’ consistent trumpeting of X’s and O’s.
The reality is somewhere in between.
There are a lot of positives about Kelly. He’s coached in the college game at three levels (Division II at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan in the Mid-American conference, and Cincinnati in the Big East) and has been successful at all three. His 85 percent win rate (34-6 record) at Cincinnati includes 5-3 against teams that finished in the AP top 25 and 16-4 against teams with a winning record. This performance is very impressive, as is his 118-35-2 overall record. Kelly consistently does more with less, and he will certainly have more talent in South Bend than at any of his previous stops.
But a good argument can be made that he doesn’t meet Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s criteria as a coach who has built and sustained a successful program at the highest level of college football. And from that standpoint, his hiring carries a certain amount of risk.
On The Importance Of Defense vs. Recruiting…
This is not an either/or question. It is a both/and proposition.
Recruiting is the bloodline of a program, and a particularly challenging task at Notre Dame. The Irish are not in a talent-rich part of the country and compete with schools that have a strong regional presence.
As such, recruiting must be national, and Kelly has yet to face this challenge. He must continue—if not improve upon—the momentum of Weis. Getting less talented, but passionate, players will not be sufficient to consistently compete in South Bend.
Defense is also important.
Weis’ tenure has been mostly characterized by dynamic passing teams with poor production on the defensive side of the ball. This was never more true than this season when the record-setting production of quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate was undermined by poor defensive play. A respectable defensive unit would have been worth four or five more wins.
A head coach must be well-versed in all aspects of the game, and, in the case of the Irish defense, simplicity and continuity trump everything else. The current defensive players have been through three defensive schemes (4-3, 3-4, and blitz-heavy 4-3) and three defensive coordinators (Rick Minter, Corwin Brown and Jon Tenuta) in four years. They need continuity and simplicity to reach their potential and gain confidence.
On The Cincinnati Players’ Reactions And Handling The Media…
Kelly has yet to coach at a program with a heavy dose of national media attention. The spotlight at Notre Dame is second to none and it is absolutely certain that he will live under a microscope while in South Bend.
This is a unique problem to football programs like Notre Dame, one that he has never dealt with. His responses to questions pertaining to the job weren't handled particularly well, even with a hired public relations consultant, and he doesn’t seem prepared for what is coming.
This is a skill Kelly must learn quickly in order to handle the scrutiny coming his way. As Weis proved, even comments from your opening press conference can become sound bites characterizing your coaching tenure.
On Academic Standards…
The media overstate the extent to which high admission standards limit the success of Notre Dame’s football program. It seems to be a convenient, blanket excuse like “no team speed” given by pundits who haven’t critically evaluated the program.
While it is true that admissions requirements for student-athletes are higher at Notre Dame than at many other schools, it isn’t a limiting factor. The Irish coaching staff has a smaller pool of potential recruits to select from, but that doesn’t mean consistent recruiting at a high level is impossible, it just means there is a smaller margin for error. Hard work and casting a nationwide net can overcome this problem.
Weis certainly proved this.
Over his tenure recruiting was very good and the roster holes weren’t because of admissions problems. Most of the misses were elite players who were admitted, they simply chose to go elsewhere for a variety of reasons. The players that could not gain admission to Notre Dame were few and far between.
There is also the other side of the argument. Academics can be a selling point. A very small percentage of college football players make it to the NFL, and even those who do have very short careers. A degree from Notre Dame is a strong asset if a professional football career isn’t possible, or when a player’s time in the NFL is over. The high graduation rate of Irish players and reputation of Notre Dame as an academic institution all but guarantees a sustainable, lifelong career in a non-football related job.
On Clausen And Tate Departing And The Irish Skill Talent…
Skill talent gets fans excited. Winning the battle in the trenches allows the skill players to succeed.
The Irish will boast a bevy of talent at the running back, tight end and wide receiver positions in 2010, but it matters little if the front five cannot perform adequately or if there is no quarterback capable of distributing the ball.
Provided there is some defensive improvement, Kelly won’t need Dayne Crist or one of the incoming freshman to win games in 2010. Kelly has proven capable of developing quarterbacks and in his offense where this position is primarily one of distribution.
It is really about the defense next season. Notre Dame will have plenty of weapons in the running and passing games, and Kelly’s track record on the offensive side of the ball should produce good results. The real question mark will be a defense that struggled throughout the 2009 campaign.
Due to issues embedding media on this site, please click here to listen to the audio included in this post.
- Under Pressure (Already)
- 670 the Score Radio Interview Audio and Reflections
- Notre Dame Under Charlie Weis—and Beyond
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