(Notre Dame Football News) – COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. I can tell you for the first time probably in my 20 years of being a head football coach at this time, I generally am asked, Are you ready to go? I’ll respond by saying, you know, I could use a couple more days.
That’s not the case this year. I think we were ready to go about two weeks ago. Three weeks ago probably would be even better. So I can honestly tell you as I stand before you today, our players, coaches, everybody associated with our program are very, very excited to get to work.
We’ve got some work to do, but the 2010 season is upon us. Again, from my perspective, there’s been enough talk. We’ve analyzed. We’ve looked at the roster. We’ve talked about the expectations. Now it’s about doing. It’s about getting the job done. It’s about being challenged every single week on our schedule and passing that challenge. That’s why there’s not a better game to be involved in because you get challenged each and every week.
That’s really, from my perspective, relative to an opening statement, truly excited to get to work with this football team because they so badly want to be successful.
Any time you have an audience like that, it couldn’t be a better opportunity as coaches to go in and get some work done.
We have strengths. We have some vulnerabilities, and we probably have some question marks. I know all three of those are probably alive in every program in the country.
Strengths I would say coming out would be the depth of this football team. I believe that we have on the offensive line 10 that can play championship football. I believe that we have great depth at the running back position, that they all have unique styles, but great depth at that position.
I believe that from a defensive standpoint we have play-makers on the perimeter that can do some great things for us. And I think we have some vulnerabilities. Those vulnerabilities will be experience at the quarterback position, depth at the defensive line position.
Then we have some question marks: consistency and performance in the back end of our defensive and our kicking game.
Strengths coming in, I see them clearly in the depth of our football team. You’re going to see a lot of players. I would not get too married to a two-deep right now. I think you’re probably premature if you look in the media guide and see a two-deep. That’s a starting point only. This is going to be, as I said, because of the strength of this football team in terms of numbers, one and two is 1A, 1B, and in some instances 1C. I think that’s important to know.
We’re going to try to give you an opportunity to learn about our football team. It is not going to be a closed practice situation, although we’ll be very concerned with security for our football team given the current topics that are out there today. We want to keep our kids closely in eye’s view. We haven’t had them with us for very long, so we want to control some things from that standpoint. But we think we’re going to give you enough of an opportunity to get to get a chance to know the football going into Purdue as well.
Our coaches need to do a great job this year. I’m putting a lot of pressure on our staff because we have players that, in my opinion, are ready. They’ve had a great off-season. I’ve gotten a chance to see a number of them as they’ve checked in today. They’re in great condition, great shape. We’ve increased their workload.
I will tell you this: this is a different football team from April already, and we have not had our first practice.
Having said that, I’ll open it up to questions.
Q. Coach, we’re going to ask you hundreds and thousands of football-related questions coming up. The question I’d like to ask you today, since you became head coach, what have been some of the things you’ve done in your attempt to get to know the Notre Dame community, the Notre Dame constituency, and what were your priorities off the field in that area?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think the head football coach at Notre Dame is not just the football coach, he’s an ambassador for the university. I think I knew that coming in. But that’s as my personality. I want to be involved in the community, make sure we reach out to our alums that go from the East to the West Coast. I think we did 150, 160 appearances, public relations opportunities. I think that’s what’s required of the head football coach at Notre Dame.
But that’s not the only thing. The other thing is win football games. One component I thought we made great progress with. I also on campus, which I think is very important, is make certain that our football program, where we’re housed in the Gug, became more accessible. We are part of this university. We are not the part of the university, we are one of the great parts of this university. So opening up our end of things was very important as well.
Q. Do you enjoy those opportunities?
COACH KELLY: I do. I do. You know, I think any time you have such a passionate following, you know, there’s going to be the pluses and the minuses with it. But as a football coach and what I do being involved with college-aged students, to have the support and following, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Q. Coach, have you talked about specific goals with the team and can you spell those out for us if you have?
COACH KELLY: No, we have not gotten into any specifics relative to what our goals are other than we’re here to win championships. We’ve talked about working on winning every day.
We’re here to win and they know that. But to get to the specifics, when we get into unit meetings, we’ll talk about some specifics relative to, you know, turnovers and takeaways, hidden yardage, special teams. We’ll certainly have goals that allow us to evaluate the jobs that are being done.
But really the big picture here still is about at the end of the day winning. That’s really the only goal that they know of right now.
Q. Third time in seven years you’ve taken over a new program. What in the last two experiences can you pull from as you take on this challenge?
COACH KELLY: Well, first, this one is totally different than any of the other jobs that I’ve had. It’s unique in every facet. But the one consistency here are the players. The players are the same in terms of what they want to achieve under my leadership, and that is they want to be successful. So we’ve got the same thing we had at Cincinnati. We’ve got a bunch of kids that want to win.
Now, we’re going to do the same things that we did. This job is different, but we’re going to do the same things behind the scenes we did everywhere along the way.
Q. Coach, can you just talk a little bit about the development of Dayne since the spring game.
COACH KELLY: I think a lot of it had to do with the fundamentals more than anything else. One thing that we wanted to certainly see him improve on day to day was taking over that offense in a leadership position. Obviously he did that this summer with our seven-on-sevens and our workouts. It was Dayne that was running it. We developed that end.
But from a skill standpoint, it was from the spring the detail work, his footwork, his drops, consistency in throwing the football. So that will be work in progress for Dayne.
I’ve heard great reports from the summer relative to his leadership, which is great that we’ve gotten that developed. Now I think as we get into camp, we’ll be really focused on his skill development at the quarterback position.
Q. It didn’t sound like you were particularly pleased with the receivers this spring. What do they need to show you in the fall you didn’t see in the spring?
COACH KELLY: Well, pleased relative to where they need to go is really what my response to how they played overall. They have a big goal in front of them, and that is when you’re in a spread offense, no-huddle, you’ve got to have a great work volume. And we lack that. I know Coach Longo has done a great job of working with our players in the summer to get to that work volume. I’m certain by the time we’re ready to play Purdue I’m going to be a lot more pleased with our wide receivers.
Q. Coach, obviously you can’t watch the guys in the summer, but I’m sure Paul Longo gives you some good reports. Was there anybody he reported that took a surprise or huge leap over the summer that stood out?
COACH KELLY: Well, I’ll give you a couple of examples from testing results. Chris Stewart, for example, here is a young man when he came in could only do about three or four chin-ups. He did 23 chin-ups at 362 pounds. His body fat composition went down almost 4%. You know, those are the kind of stories.
I’ll give you another example of somebody. Ian Williams, a very, very dynamic player for us. He’s a 600-pound squat now. He was 485. Here is a guy that’s going to play on the center and is now a 600-pound squat. He went from 302 to 313 and dropped his body fat composition.
Those are examples of the big guys losing body fat, not losing weight, and gaining strength. That trickles down through the entire roster as we go through here.
I think the last thing I would put out there that was very, very impressive for us was Ethan Johnson, who is a 395 squat who is now 550.
What is the applicability there? They’re not on the ground. They won’t be on the ground. They have a stronger base and core that’s going to allow them to be on their feet, pursuing the football, playing the kind of football we need to play.
Q. Among the freshmen that came in June, is there anybody you have your eye on other than the two quarterbacks that you want to look at real close about the two-deeps?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, you know, I think there’s a couple. Bennett Jackson has impressed in terms of his workouts, his work volume. Austin Collinsworth has been impressive in his workouts. Certainly both the quarterbacks are going to have to be in the mix in some fashion giving them a real good eye.
I think that other than that, we’re in a developmental kind of mode with the offensive linemen and the defensive linemen. But a couple of skill guys. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either one of those guys, Jackson, Collinsworth, in the mix to get on the bus.
Q. You lost Spencer Boyd to a transfer, then it looks like you have a young man that’s going to take a Mormon mission.
COACH KELLY: He went to Ecuador.
Q. Have you pondered moving offensive people over, and if so who?
COACH KELLY: I think we’re in a position where we’re going to evaluate a couple of players on our roster. I don’t want to get into those specific names right now until I get a chance to talk to ‘em. They’re busy getting the fan in the room right now and their pillow. If I also had to move their position, they may not show up. We’ll wait till I get a chance to meet with them.
You could probably be safe to say that there will be some flexibility with a couple of players looking at defensive back positions.
Q. Coach, you mentioned the workload can increase since April. Does that include possibility installation of offense? You mentioned they were kind of getting the preliminaries in April.
COACH KELLY: You know, that’s still yet to be determined. We’ll have an installation package, but it will be thin. We’ll lay down kind of the basic things that we need to beat Purdue.
As we move forward through camp, we’ll decide, I like the way we look, let’s focus on more run game, let’s add, you know, a little bit more run game, or I like this kind of matchup that we could get at the tight end position, let’s ad-lib there.
The base will be laid down for us to be successful against Purdue. We’ll add, based upon what I see on a day-to-day basis, their ability, what our strengths eventually will be.
Q. Coach, you’re excited about getting going here, moving forward. I’m curious, how are you going to use Notre Dame history to your advantage with your team?
COACH KELLY: That’s a very good question. I think one of the areas that I was a bit surprised that we lacked as a team was an understanding of who we were and who we want to be. So the idea of the Fighting Irish, the idea of playing hard for four quarters, the idea of playing anywhere against anyone at any time has been a constant conversation, quite frankly, with our football team.
So I believe it to be a benefit. And so if I believe it to be a benefit of who we are, we better talk about it every day. We’ll continue to talk about who we are, what our tradition is. I think that’s going to allow us to shape our identity as we move through our camp.
Q. Coach, was that your idea on the cover for the media guide?
COACH KELLY: Yeah. I think that is the pervasive theme here: let’s get back to understanding the great tradition, who we are, how we play the game. We won’t go as far as no facemasks, but I will tell you that toughness, that ‘Fighting Irish’ is certainly the theme that we want to continue to advance forward.
Q. Since the middle of spring, you’ve been fairly complimentary about the progress. Even as mentioned, you’ve been a little surprised by the defense and the talent level there. Even though you’re a head coach, you’re probably known as an offensive mind. How much time are you going to devote to the defense on the field, during the practice time there? The offense ranked in the top 10 in a lot of categories. Is that the area that you feel has to take you to that higher level?
COACH KELLY: Well, I believe fundamentally that you can’t be a championship football team unless you play good defense. Can you make up for it in some games where you shoot the ball from the three-point line a little bit better? Yeah, possibly.
But as the head football coach, I’m concerned with our defense every day. I’ll meet with Coach Diaco on a day-to-day basis. We will discuss the practice schedule. I’m not coaching tackling. I have assistant coaches that are going to coach tackling and they’re going to coach it well.
I am really responsible for making sure our players have the coaches necessary and they are developed in the manner they need to be to be coached and taught the fundamentals of playing good defense.
I think what I was excited about more than anything else is that we have some players on that side of the ball with the scheme that we’re implementing that fit what their strengths are. So that I think was where my excitement at its roots, was that I like Darius Fleming as an outside linebacker without having his hand down all the time. I think it fits him very well.
Q. You’ve been here eight months, been able to learn about the university. Why are you the right guy for the job now?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think the jury’s still out. I mean, I think I haven’t won a football game here. That’s a huge part of this. Clearly it’s graduate your players. We’re off to a good start there. We won the academic achievement award. I didn’t have much to do with that.
What I’ve had a lot to do with is really getting out and being an ambassador for the university. I think I’ve done well in that respect. But the reason that we’re having a press conference with everybody here today is about winning football games and doing it the right way. The jury’s still out on that one.
Q. Coach, I know going back to the history you recently had the plane ride with Ara back from Tucson. Can you talk about that a little bit, what that experience was like, what you learned from him and Coach Holtz in your conversations with them?
COACH KELLY: I’ve learned a lot more from Ara outside of that plane ride. I’ve learned about how special Notre Dame is to him and his family. So I think I would start with how Ara regards Notre Dame and what it means to him and his family.
Then the remarkable thing about him at his age in particular, not being actually on the field and coaching, he still has a keen sense of the game, understands what’s going on in the spread, no-huddle, the communication system.
Just a remarkable man that he carries such a love and passion for Notre Dame, recognizes its uniqueness. Then if he was up to it, he certainly could coach today because he’s got a great understanding of offense, defense and special teams.
Q. The defense you mentioned strengths, weaknesses and question marks all in that one unit. What do you want to see from them to convince you that they’re ready this August?
COACH KELLY: It will be a process. This won’t end on the 3rd of September and say, We’re ready. This is an evolving process.
I think what we need to see more than anything else from our defense is the ability to stop the run on a consistent basis. Physically inside playing the 3-4 defense. Your inside backers have got to be able to press guards, they’ve got to do a great job there. I think what I’m looking for is that physicalness, that short tackling. I think when we start to see those components, I think we’re going to be very pleased because I know we can bring pressure from the edge with our athletes. We’ve got to be able to hold up inside out. We’ve got to be able to do a great job of tackling.
I’ll be able to see that and sense that as we work our way through camp.
Q. I know you said not to get married to a two-deep. Are there a few key battles in August that are important to what you want to do that you have to see reconciled that you’re looking forward to?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think there are. McDonald, Posluszny, Paskorz. That’s going to be an interesting one. I think the one that really you have to look at is the offensive line. I really believe there’s 10 guys in there that can compete for a starting position. We’ll have some guys that will have a little bit of an edge going in.
But if there’s going to be a fluctuation on the charts, it’s going to be on that offensive line because it’s such a competitive environment. Then the safety position. McCarthy, Motta, Slaughter, Harrison Smith. There’s four guys there, there’s only two spots for them. I think that would be the other area.
Q. You mentioned the vulnerability being the defensive line. You mentioned there’s 10 guys that can start on the offensive line. Is there a chance some of those people may be moving to defense by the end of August?
COACH KELLY: No. Very slim. Very slim chance. That’s why there’s that vulnerability. We have to develop some of the players that are over there. Sean Cwynar has got to come up big for us, Hafis Williams has got to come up big for us, Brandon Newman has to come up big for us. Those are the guys we have to develop. It becomes a vulnerability. Hopefully it turns into a pleasant surprise for us more than anything else.
Q. When you were at a practice, the practice is set, you know the players, where they’re going to be, what do you want out of yourself while you’re at practice every day? What are you planning to do every day?
COACH KELLY: Attention to detail. I don’t want to let anything slip during the day of practice. I want to make sure that the communication is there every day, communicate precisely what we want to accomplish on this particular day. Not let’s just try to get through it, it’s hot out today, but there’s a purpose to everything that we do out there.
If we keep that in mind, I feel good at the end of the day. There’s always going to be better days than others. As the head coach, I can never be happy at the end of the scrimmage because somebody usually looks better, the offense or the defense. That doesn’t mean it’s a good day. But if it’s communicated well and there’s an attention to detail, I can walk away satisfied that we got good work done.
Q. You talked about the tradition of Notre Dame, how important that is. You’re also someone that is not going to accept the statement, But we’ve always done it this way here. You’re looking to change and innovate. What are parts of the program you feel can still be pushed forward and improved from when you came in here?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think you’re always looking for how you can provide your players with a competitive advantage legally. A competitive advantage obviously is allowing them to recuperate quickly, the ability to be well-hydrated, nutrition. A lot of it has to do with the medical end of things. The sports training, nutrition, weight training, all of those things are absolutely crucial. I will always be pushing the envelope, Bill Scholl and Jack know that because they hear it from me every day. They’ve been wonderful.
But we’ll keep pushing that envelope because it’s so crucial for our players and their development.
Q. Do you feel there’s room to push still?
COACH KELLY: I think we’ve made great progress and I think it hasn’t been quite like what I would have expected, and that is, Well, that’s the way we do it here at Notre Dame.
To the contrary, I haven’t been hit with that. I’ve been hit with, Well, we’ve never done it that way, let’s give it a shot. That’s been good for me as a head coach because I know I’m getting met at the other end with not resistance, but, We haven’t done it that way, but coach you’ve done a pretty good job, let’s give it a shot.
Q. During spring, there was a lot of you need to improve here, get better here, this guy isn’t very good here. Today it seems a lot more optimistic, a lot of potential. You’re talking about the safeties, outside backers. Is that by design to get these guys built up more than maybe in the spring was tearing them down and then you had to build them back up?
COACH KELLY: I think we always are looking as we move into different segments in the development of a football team, that segment, which I consider segment three, which is spring, that’s an area where you’re going to tell it like it is. Not that I’m going to sugarcoat anything for the rest of the year, but this is a start.
They’ve had a great summer. They’re essentially starting new and I want to be able to start with that fresh approach to it, as well.
I feel good about what happened this summer based upon what I’ve been given, then I’m going to be very positive with everybody that they’ve made great strides going into camp.
Q. Last couple coaches have come in here and had really good first years and haven’t been able to maintain success. Do you see certain things that need to be done to not only have a great first year but get this thing up long-term?
COACH KELLY: No, I think we’re doing those in day one. I’m not waiting till after the first year to implement the things that need to be here for the long-term. We took this job over with the idea that we’re not going anywhere. I’m staying here for the rest of my life and going to coach the Notre Dame. It’s not like there’s the next part that has to be implemented, let’s get off to the good start here and next year we’ll do this.
This is all about getting this program nationally in the top echelon immediately and then continue to work on that every single day.
So, no, there’s nothing that we’re holding back in that. We’re going at it right away and expect to continue that each and every year.
Q. A lot of people talk about better talent at defensive line, defensive tackle. Is that something you see going forward that really needs to improve?
COACH KELLY: You know, I still think recruiting is the lifeblood of any program relative to the personnel you put out there. Certainly the recruiting efforts are going to be something we address based upon who I want. I got to recruit the guys that I want in my program. The players that are here, largely I did not recruit. But we’re going to develop ‘em, we’re going to get ‘em to play the kind of football I want ‘em to play.
Moving forward, it will be the recruiting that if there’s any kind of difference in the program, it would be from a recruiting standpoint.
Q. You talked about the runningbacks, how happy you are with the depth there. Could you talk about the role you see in their offense, how you plan to use them?
COACH KELLY: Again, I think the runningback is a guy that needs to run the football first. So we talk ad nauseam, You’re in the spread offense, you run the ball. You can’t win unless you run the ball. If you just throw it, you’re not going to win all your games.
We’re here to win all our games. I don’t know if anybody knew that. We’re here to win them all. And to win your games, you have to run the ball.
Each one of them starts with a unique ability to run the daylight. Some are faster than others, some are stronger than others. Each one of them can do things in our offense and complement what we do. We will try to insert those players when we’re obviously running schemes that we think that fit them best.
But we’ve got, you know, really four different styles at the runningback position. But they’ve got to run the ball first.
Q. I wanted to back up on Dayne Crist a little bit. How far has he come since you first got your hands on him till now?
COACH KELLY: I think his development by and large has been, you know, taking away any of the uncertainties in his mind about his knee, so I think that’s not even a topic for conversation anymore, that’s not even part of it. So it’s allowed us to really focus on the skill development, the consistency of footwork, release, and then the offense, the system. ‘Cause really what he had, and I didn’t need to do a lot, was great innate leadership capabilities. His parents did a great job there.
Once we were able to get him over the knee, as you know, one of the ways to do that was he took every snap in the spring. He played in the spring game. So we’re past that. He went through the summer without a knee brace. It will be used only in precautionary manners for him. Now it’s, Let’s get to work on the specific fundamentals. That’s what we’ll work on come camp.
Q. When you get the guys out there for the first time, what is the first message you want to tell them? What do you want to get across to them immediately out here at practice?
COACH KELLY: I think I’ve already got the message across to them, and that is, you know, We’re here for our lady. We’re here to play for Notre Dame. There’s only one way to play this game: with great passion and spirit, to play for your teammates, to play for our university. That message we will talk about every single day. The rest takes care of itself. It takes care of itself in your practicing. It takes care of itself in the kind of kids we recruit here. But that has to be stressed every day.
Q. Some of the young men got themselves into some trouble not too long ago. When it becomes your turn, how will you handle that situation with those guys?
COACH KELLY: We’ve already handled it internally. We’ve already addressed it.
Q. Brian, you talked about Dayne and stabilizing his knee, getting that uncertainty out of the way for him. But you do have uncertainty behind him. Because of that, does that impact how much you can use Dayne and the offense, i.e., in running the ball? What you do in terms of your play calling offensively because of the uncertainty behind him at quarterback?
COACH KELLY: I suppose you could draw that conclusion. I probably would be at this point right now standing in front of you lying if I didn’t tell you that we got to protect him, you know. But we can’t run into a game going, Oh, my God, we can’t do this.
I’ve never coached scared. We’re going to be aggressive on offense. But we got to be smart with him as well. We probably can’t run him 22 to 23 times in a game. If we do, you know, we probably got some issues because he’s running around for his life.
So I think it’s important that we don’t play scared but we have to be really cognizant of the fact that we’re inexperienced at that next man in.
Not that I don’t feel good about our kicking and punting game, but right now we’re working on three kickers. Obviously from a punting standpoint, we feel pretty good about Ben Turk having that position. But I think Tausch and Ruffer, you know, we may see one on field goals, one on kickoffs. So we’re dealing with three quick kickers right now. That is work in progress for us but I think they’re all talented and can do the job.