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  • Brian Kelly and the Secret Sauce

    by SEE

    (The Rock Report ) -

    “Every victory is won before the game is played.” ~ Lou Holtz

    I was out having some drinks and ran into a player on the 1988 team who recounted the back story that led to the Irish’s inspirational thumping of Rodney Peete and the Trojans that year (pardon any lack of clarity here, we were a few pints deep.) A game that, to this day, remains one of my favorite Irish victories because the Irish simply beat the crap out of the Trojans.

    To set the scene, USC was number two in the country, but still a favorite over the number one ranked Irish. Before the game Holtz asked the team to assemble, waited until the entire team had joined and then walked in. He announced that Ricky Watters and Tony Brooks had been continually late to meetings and that he could suspend them, but that it was up to the players to decide what to do with them (to suspend them or let them play.) Holtz walked out and put the decision in their hands.

    A debate ensued and one of the players stood up and said that this was the game that would define their lifetimes, that they couldn’t let the opportunity slip away and that they should let Watters and Brooks play. But as the debate continued and while players agreed that it was too important an opportunity to lose… they also started thinking that if they believed enough, they didn’t need Watters and Brooks, that they could win without them.

    They voted to leave them behind (Holtz later admitted he had made the decision already.)*

    The result was a physical ass kicking of the Trojans that was the last real hurdle to the 1988 championship. Holtz found a way to turn a negative into a positive just as he had done when he led Arkansas to their memorable Orange Bowl demolition of the Sooners.

    “Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated” ~ Lou Holtz

    Every good coach has specific strengths, but the one thing all great coaches have is the ability to lead other coaches and players… and make them believe. Schematics are important. Recruiting is vitally important. Player management at the college level is critical. Coaching management at the highest level is equally critical.

    What makes great coaches successful is not the just the ability to sell an idea but to lead their organizations through the tough times to get there. It’s easy to forget that the criticism of Holtz was ear-splitting at times during his career, yet Holtz led through adversity and won.

    “As a leader your attitude has a powerful impact on others. You have an obligation to develop a positive attitude, one that inspires the people around you to achieve the impossible” – Lou Holtz

    What struck me about Brian Kelly at Cincinnati is that he had a horrible QB situation, actually worse than Notre Dame had in 2007, and he was able to work through it, make the players believe and turn in a very impressive BCS season for Cincinnati.

    Was the quarterback situation a real and dire problem? They played five different quarterbacks during the season, of course it was real.

    Just like talent was a real problem and coaching changes are problems. But Kelly was able to not just sell the idea that success was probable/inevitable, but lead them through the tough times. Kelly said,

    “We lied and lied and lied… we tried to tell them everything was OK, and we’ll be fine, but obviously, we were quite nervous because we didn’t know how it was going to play out. A lot if it was just making certain the coaches showed a good front.”

    Bearcat QB Tony Pike wasn’t even on the depth chart to start the season, but he said that Kelly made him believe he could and would win. His replacement at Grand Valley State described him this way:

    “He’s a salesman, is what he is,” says Grand Valley State coach Chuck Martin, who was Kelly’s defensive coordinator at the school. “Whether it’s Grand Valley State or Central Michigan or Cincinnati, he has kids believing they can move mountains. His No. 1 strength is offense. His No. 2 strength is how good he is politically at getting people to believe in his program. He sells it door to door, which not a lot of coaches will do. “I remember at Central Michigan, somebody asked him how long the rebuilding cycle would be. He said, ‘About 10 seconds.’”

    What many are forgetting about Cincinnati is that this was supposed to be down year for the Bearcats. They lost 10 defensive starters. For comparison, Pete Carroll lost nine defensive starters and USC stumbled to their worst season since Carroll’s first.

    Here’s the story line on the two defenses:

    USC 12 20.4 342.8 vs. Cincinnati 12 20.8 350.3

    Not only did Cincinnati lose 10 defensive starters, Tony Pike, the Bearcats starting quarterback went down again this year. When Oklahoma lost Bradford, the Sooners went into their worst tailspin since Stoops’ first year. Kelly plugged Zach Collaros in and he recorded a passing efficiency rating of 195 (for comparison Clausen finished with passing efficiency rating of 161.)

    Only an idiot would argue that Kelly has is a better coach than Carroll or Stoops at this point, but facing some of the same challenges, Kelly improved his team’s relative position from a predicted 3rd in the Big East and out of the Top 25 to first in the Big East and number 3 in the country. This comes against a much easier schedule. Still, the Bearcats own three victories over top 20 teams and their defense performed much better against Oregon State than did USC’s.

    “Yes, I know that you feel you are not strong enough. That’s what the enemy thinks too. But we’re gonna fool them.” – Knute Rockne

    Urban Meyer is an asshole. Some of his players hated him even at Notre Dame, but he gets them to play at a high level. Charlie can be an asshole too, but his secret sauce didn’t worked with either his assistants or the players. In 2006, his second year, we had players dogging it on the field in what was supposed to be a possible National Championship run.

    One of our posters talked to a former CMU player about Kelly, who seems more Meyer than Weis:

    “Kelly was demanding beyond belief, obsessive about winning, and extremely hard on both players and assistants. He grew up a die-hard Michigan fan and remains one. He hates Notre Dame. He told me this news was his “worst nightmare.” He is convinced Kelly will win a national title at Notre Dame. He said Kelly is a “winning is everything” type of coach, and he’d do what it takes — from adjusting schemes to treating players like shit — to win.] He thinks Kelly will recruit very well at ND. He said Kelly is a politician, not afraid of anyone, and tireless.”

    That, to me, sums up many of the major building blocks of success of college coaches. Looking at Kelly’s own playing career, you have to like that he was an undersized, less talented player who became a two-time captain. That’s work ethic and a little Holtz, IMO.

    “Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you’re willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.” ~ Lou Holtz

    To be successful, you have be able to make everyone around you believe and that’s not a trait normally found in nature. A top level college coach needs that leadership intangible. Some guys are brought up that way in their families, others have an intuitive sense and pick it up, some have mentors and still others work at it and eventually get it or are thrust into circumstances that somehow draw it out of them. Charlie had a mentor in Bill Belichick, but I’m not sure Belichick would win in college and Charlie doesn’t have that innate ability. Kelly, by all accounts to date, does.

    Here’s a clip of Kelly on motivation (ignore the sleeping guy.)

    He’s also a perfectionist. Here’s how one poster who’s followed Kelly described him:

    ”He puts his players in a position to succeed every single play, every single game, every single season, on both sides of the ball.Now his methods of doing so are very tough on his players, as he uses fear to motivate. If you have a single mis-step in practice, he’ll basically tell you that you’re the worst player who ever played the game, in no uncertain terms. And if you do it again, you’ll hear it again. He’s a tyrant, but what he does is make practice a mental grind, but it serves to make everyone a believer in him, and the games on Saturday are a piece of cake compared to practice.”

    Here’s another player:

    “I think he would win a National Title. I played for him at GVSU and he was a tough, demanding, no excuses kind of guy that gets the most out of his players and coaches or they are out.’

    Micah Staley played for two years under Kelly and told eTruth this:

    “He was a great coach and I really liked him, but he scares the piss out of you, that’s for sure,” Staley said, adding, “You played just so you didn’t get yelled at. It was a good thing, because everyone would step up to the level that he expected because of his expectations… I was walking back to the locker room and he passed me and he grabs me by the shirt and kind of pulls me up to him so we were eye to eye, and he said, ‘Staley, I want you to remember one thing.’ He goes, ‘You have four touchdowns. You could have 10 if I wanted you to.’ And then he walked away. “I was like, ‘What the heck?’ He wanted to make sure that every player knew he was in control. That’s really what it comes down to. And everybody knew that and everybody had respect for him and he was a phenomenal coach.”

    Now, like at a funeral, everyone says nice things about you at this point, but the difference between Kelly and Weis is obvious when you listen to Demetrius Jones, a bit of a problem player at ND. Kelly told Jones he had a simple choice, you can move to linebacker or play another sport. Jones bought into it:

    “You can definitely tell that he’s a politician…It’s a no-brainer. He’s like a motivational speaker.”

    Here’s another story from USA Today as recounted by his offensive coordinator, Jeff Quinn:

    In Cincinnati’s final practice before Christmas break, Kelly stopped a scrimmage on a fourth-and-3 play. He screamed for Terrill Byrd, the 290-pound nose guard, to switch to the offensive side of the ball.

    “I want you to run the inside zone,” Kelly screamed at Byrd, essentially giving a play designed for a shifty tailback to a lumbering lineman.

    “Guess what?” said Jeff Quinn, the team’s offensive coordinator. “He got the first down. The team was just going bonkers. It was awesome. Those are the things you want to do with a team. The kids loved it.”

    Kelly ended practice on that emotional high, and Quinn said the moment epitomized his magnetism.

    “He’s a special person,” Quinn said. “That’s why there’s only so many that walk this beautiful earth that have the ability to do the things that we’ve been able to do over the last few years, like winning a couple of national championships.

    “People always ask me, ‘How did you do it?’ Well, you do it every day. You work on winning every day. But that’s the thing Bria
    n does best, get those kids ready.”

    Brandon Underwood, a Packers defensive back who played for Kelly at Cincinnati said he had a close relationship with Tressel, whom he characterized as a players’ coach. But he said he marveled at Kelly’s ability to connect.

    “He’s a great politician. He could sell you water when it’s raining. It could be a monsoon out there, but he could make you believe this water that he’s selling, you have to have it.”

    After his USA Today article, Underwood had a polite request.

    “Could you mention that I’d like to thank Coach Kelly for giving me the opportunity to be part of the team?” Underwood said. “I’m very grateful. I’ve been blessed to be put in this situation. I just want to say thank you. He made a believer out of me.”

    Former Concord running back Spencer Calhoun, who arrived at Grand Valley in 1991 — the same year Kelly did — agreed.

    “You want him to be up front and honest with you, no matter what the circumstances are,” Calhoun said. “You’ll appreciate that when it’s all said and done, regardless of whatever happens, because you know you can count on someone always telling you the truth whether you like to hear it or not.”

    “He really challenges you to perform,” Calhoun added. “He encourages you enough, but at the same time, he’s challenging you to step your game up to the level that he sees the potential at, and the coaching staff saw the potential in you to play.”

    “I think I was (a better player), and I think more importantly, I was a much better person,” Calhoun said.

    “I think he really helped complete me as a man, with being a tough-minded individual. That’s one thing he always talked about, was mental toughness and being able to see things and not get down after one little mistake or one bad play, anything like that.

    “You could always tell, deep down in his veins, that he was going to turn out to be a good coach — or a great coach, which is what he’s turning out to be.”

    Central Michigan athletic director Dave Heeke on Kelly turning around a moribund Chippewas program:

    “He did that with some magic dust and with some smoke and mirrors, and some good coaching as well.”

    Jeff Genyk, former head coach at Eastern Michigan:

    “Here’s Brian’s secret: He gets his players able to execute at a high level in Tuesday and Wednesday practice, and in their mind, it’s just like the fourth quarter of the game. He gets his teams to be unconsciously competent. What that means, to me, is to be able to execute at a high level when pressure and adversity comes.”

    Grand Valley State athletic director Tim Selgo:

    “You’re going to get a highly intelligent head coach who is great at dealing with people. When you have that, along with someone who has proven he can win football games and get his players to compete at a high level, it’s a pretty good mix. A friend of mine commented a couple of weeks ago while the regular season was going on that Brian’s players play like they’re on fire. They’re going at a fast, high level. That’s something you can expect out of his teams… Brian has a great personality. I think that would serve him very well. The last three head coaches they’ve had since Lou Holtz have not exactly been charismatic personalities. In my humble opinion, I think they need that now for recruiting purposes.”

    One of the most persuasive arguments for Kelly’s success, outside of his motivational ability, is his philosophy of execution over schemes. Here’s what Dr. Saturday said about him:

    “Ultimately, this is basic stuff — the Bearcats have added plenty of rollouts and play-action looks for the shorter, nimbler Collaros — and the focus on Kelly (as with just about all other coaches) shouldn’t be on whether he’s a genius who has a chalkboard answer for everything you draw up, but instead on whether he gets the most from their players. Just about every guy who has lined up for Kelly in recent years has had success, and his teams have won consistently… and while he’s a bright guy when it comes to Xs and Os, it has more to do with his ability to coach players and prepare teams in the details.”

    Kelly, at least, has the building blocks for success:

    • He focuses on motivating the kids.
    • He focuses on execution.
    • He focuses on out-working the opponent.
    • He focuses on getting kids to play above their perceptions.
    • He focuses on getting everyone to buy in.
    • He focuses on putting kids in the right positions.
    • He focuses on playing harder/longer (the viagra theory)
    • He wins.

    When we were evaluating coaches… seemed those are the things that all great coaches focus on. I realize Kelly has significant risk.

    The key questions about Kelly are:

    • Will he emphasize controlling the line of scrimmage?
    • Will his pass first offense fly against a higher level of competition?
    • Can he handle the pressure cooker of Notre Dame without turning defensive?
    • Will his assistants be up to the task?
    • Can he recruit?
    • Will he be able to motivate prima donnas?
    • Can he have as much success when he’s the target every week?

    It is the greatest and hardest job in sports.

    I’m not guaranteeing Kelly will take a seat in the pantheon of great Irish coaches, I do feel we’ve taken a big step beyond Charlie and Davieham. I doubt you will see teams dogging it on the field or in the weight room.

    The building blocks are there… greatness has been thrust upon Kelly.

    Irish faithful will watch closely to see if he’s up to the challenge.

    ** I was a few pints deep
    into the evening… the historical recounting of the USC game likely reflects that.


    “I read this book when it first came out and it had a very powerful impact on me. Recently my daughter was going through a rough time and I thought this book would be just the ticket to help her and guess what? She called and thanked me after she read it and passed it to her sister who also got a lot out of it and she just gave it to her husband to read. It can have a pretty powerful impact on the young and the not so young.”


    “As a son, a father and now a grandfather I found ten secrets a truly inspiring book. I read it cover to cover within an hour. My only regret is that the book was much too short.”:


    “”This book is one of the best that I have read. It is simple, meaningful and life changing. It was recommended to me by a priest as one of the best books that he has read. Not a religious book- but many positive, powerful thoughts.

    33 Responses to “Brian Kelly and the Secret Sauce”

    1. I thought I remembered a story that someone on the team said something along the lines, we can't suspend them because I'm not sure we can win this game without Waters and Brooks.

      In return Smagala or someone said, no way, and if you don't like that I KNOW we can without you.

    2. viagra theory. lol.

    3. I was the first person to champion Brian Kelly on this blog and I trumpeted the guy loudly and often.
      Now you have him.

      Your welcome.

      Get ready for the greatest run of success in Notre Dame history.

      I can't wait to see how fast all of you Weis apologists and folks who variously urged the Irish to hire Tommy Tupperware, Jim Harbaugh, Chuckie, Pat FitzGerald, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, Barry Alvarez, Jim Tressel, etc. jump on the bandwagon and assert that you really wanted Kelly all along.

    4. I love when anonymous posts, he's brilliant. Good article.

    5. The Brian Kelly ship has brought the breeze of hope back to the Irish fleet. Here's to smooth sailing!

    6. I was sad when it became apparent that Weis wasn't going to succeed (Navy game). I had no clear choice personally who should be the new coach, but I always liked the idea of a "Kelly" coaching Notre Dame. Irish Catholic from Boston…it doesn't get any better!

    7. GREAT article. I really enjoyed it.

    8. I am tired of hearing about Brian Kelly's college playing days. He played football at Assumption College, a club football team at the time. No one is undersized on a club football team! He might be a good coach, time will tell. He has obviously learned the game and has learnt how to teach it. If he can recruit and motivate the Irish will have done well.

    9. Interesting article and all the best to coach Kelly and his family. He sounds and looks like he will do OK. No wonder Cincinnati is mad. I like Cincinnati the town. I'm sure the Kellys will miss Cincinnati. But once he has success at ND, that will all pass. Chicago isn't Cincy, but there are a lot of great things to do and see in Chitown.

    10. GamecockTony says:

      I'm ready to play for Brian Kelly after reading this.

    11. As usual, this is a terrific article. However, I am still waiting on an explanation of the supposed failed attempt to get Bob Stoops. I, for one, feel this never happened and believe this type of nonsense to be the reason no established coach of a top ten program would leave the comfort of his current position. Love the hire. Go Kelly! Go Irish!

    12. Thank you so much……anonymous?

    13. Appreciate the extra details brought to light, a consistent pattern on this site.

      I don't see anything in the expose of Kelly that tells me he will lead the Irish to a national title. If he brings over the same gang of assistants from CINN, I question whether 9-3 is a big year. ND remains and will remain THE game on the calendar of every team on ND's schedule and he will sneak up on no one.

      Weis had a number of shortcomings, exacerbated by his poor decision making at hiring his coaching staff. I think Kelly needs to cut his ties and leave his 'posse' at CINN. The pro connection is critical to attracting top talent and Kelly was never close to the kind of athlete that his players are, just as Weis was not either.

      Probably too much to ask, but I would love Tom Clements to take the OC job. Great work at Green Bay, Aaron Rogers looks like the real deal, which is not a slam dunk after Draft Day.

      More importantly, CINN couldn't stop anyone when it mattered, so a repeat of Weis with enthusiasm will not be exciting. Who he brings as DC is probably the most important decision defining his career, as legendary ND teams and great defense seemed to go hand in hand.

    14. "I don't see anything in the expose of Kelly that tells me he will lead the Irish to a national title. If he brings over the same gang of assistants from CINN, I question whether 9-3 is a big year. ND remains and will remain THE game on the calendar of every team on ND's schedule and he will sneak up on no one."

      That's an embarrassing post. Kelly won a National Championship at Grand Valley State and EVERYONE who watched the Cornhuskers gift wrap the Texas game for the Longhorns know its the Bearcats, not Texas, who should be playing the National Championship. Kelly's assistants deserve a lot of credit for the Bearcats success. There's no reason to switch anyone out.

      "More importantly, CINN couldn't stop anyone when it mattered, so a repeat of Weis with enthusiasm will not be exciting."

      Again, you embarrass yourself. The Bearcats are undefeated!!! They stopped EVERYONE when it mattered. In fact, in the most important game of the year, the Pittsburgh game, they gave up 31 points in the first half, made adjustments at the half, and played really well in the second half, giving up only 13 points the rest of the game, allowing the Bearcats' explosive offense time to catch up.

    15. Chilly Willy says:

      Fact is that there are many of us that are convinced he's a better fit for ND than any of the "tier I" guys as you describe em.

      Fact is that he's a hungry sum'btch, and THIS will be his legacy, not like another coach who's legacy could already be what he did at Oklahoma last decade.

      Fact is that he's turned around 2 moribund programs.

      And he's done it using his recruits.
      And he's done it using somebody else's recruits.

      And he's done it in a BCS conference.
      And he's done it in a non-BCS conference.

      And he's done it in D1.
      And he's done it in D2.

      Are we sure this is the same "higher risk" pick that El Kabong described? I tend to believe not.

      I tend to believe that Kelly is set up for greatness, and that Swarbrick and Jenkins are no fools. And did their work, and this isn't "settling for Kelly."

    16. I am just wondering whether or not Kelly's success will be defined by national championships alone. I keep hearing repetetive comments that point to that mind set.
      Please ND fans, let us not forget the past 15 years of mediocrity. While being in contention "regularly" for a national title is top priority, it cannot be the only measuring stick.
      I could be wrong but I believe Tressel has 1, Stoops 1, Beemer O, national championship trophy. Yet these programs are considered teir 1 by this site and I agree. If kelly even comes close to these standards he will be a huge success story.
      C'mon we lost to Navy twice, Syracuse, and UCONN. Set the bar high. But please keep it realistic.

    17. Jack McGee says:

      As a former high school football coach for many years, I believe the recipe for winning is manical defense and shrewd, methodical offense. It must be both.The coach needs to be a bit of the mad genius. Instill this in your players and the opponents will cringe at your arrival. Kelly sounds about right.

    18. It is just me…or was that the first time I've seen energy, emotion and confidence in our coach since Lou Left.

      I'm sorry, I truly dont mean this as a negative post…Lord knows we had our fair share of negativity in this forum…

      But I truly feel like this man, this coach..GETS college players, GETS the fact that these aren't NFL player, but kids with passion…and GETS the fact that the coach is the LEADER of this team..

      I think what surprised me most about this season..was how THE WHEELS COME off so quickly…after the navy game…wow…It happened so fast..but to all the DOMERS and believe me..I live is SC land..southern cal..and I get a lot of grief for my love of the Irish…but I truly believe that there was a higher purpose…it led us to Coach Kelly..and I think he is our next Coach Holtz..I'm ready to send a donation to ND right now :D

      It's like a whole new feeling..almost like a Nirvana…I believe this is our guy..

      so lets all wish him our best and IF YOU ARE NOT AN ND FAN…then I have one request…GET OUT OF OUR HOUSE!!!!

      GO IRISHHHHHHHHHHHH

      IRISH MIKE

    19. Well said Mike. Well said.

    20. Irish Sting says:

      So they egged BK's house to show their love for the new ND coach. Maybe they should use that passion against Florida in their bowl game. There are always a few bad eggs in the crowd. Some said he left for the money, they do not have a clue. It will be interesting to see if UC returns to it's past level of football sports. UC lacks tradition and an alumni who will back them win or lose. The students and the alumni give true meaning to the fair weather fan.
      Welcome Brian Kelly to Ireland away from Ireland. Where the green is greener and the fans are starved for your "Secret Sauce".

    21. I have every confidence in Brian Kelly. He has only been successful. As for Cinci's defense this year: (1) Diaco was a brand new coordinator (2) implementing a 3-4 when they had been running a 4-3 and (3) he was working with 10 new starters (4) including a journeyman quarterback at linebacker. Moreover that defense played well enough to win every single game. The above quotes make it seems as though Kelly and his crew will bring the intensity and and discipline we need. At the very least we will block, tackle, and play intense physical football for all four quarters – an infinite improvement over the last coach. Welcome Coach Kelly! Go Irish!

    22. Here we go again. I guess the Bob Stoops hangover did not last that long. The only thing missing in this article is "Robotgenius", second coming of Lou makes up for that I guess. To quote our former president "twice bitten shame on me" I am not falling for this. I will not deify or villify until three years have past. Then only I will judge. In the meantime no thanks to your coolade.

    23. What Bob Stoops hangover are you referring to? The fictional attempt to lure him away from his cushy position in Norman only to fail miserably?
      Please get over it. Urban Meyer said NO to ND when he was available. These guys do not have to face the acedemic standards that coaches at ND do.
      Not to say ND can't recruit great student athletes but it is much easier to do it at the schools who do not put a great deal of pressure on their kids to graduate. Which they should, as these are HIGHER LEARNING institutions.
      You wanted a big name coach? You got him. And his name is Coach Kelly. Win or lose. He was the right man at the right time. Get over it! Go IRISH!

    24. It will be interesting to see how our current QB plays in an option spread attack since he was a drop back pro style passer in HS. Also, the O lineman need to be very fast and not as big for this offense and you need a bunch of burner receivers to make it work. Watch Oregon on New Years day to see how it is done.

    25. BK: Here's what I know about winning for sure: You can't start winning until you stop losing. Anything that takes away from the team and the team concept MUST be eradicated.

      Love it. Go Irish!

    26. "Anonymous" is actually Ted Danson.

    27. LOL. why Ted Dansen?

    28. My wife is a Psychologist and diagnosed Charlie Weis as an obviously depressed individual by watching him closely his first season. Her diagnosis, and his performance,never changed. This video of Brian Kelly shows that he is at the opposite end of that spectrum. An upbeat individual who positively impacts anyone who comes into contact with him. The sky is the limit for the IRISH in the future. GO IRISH!

      A68Domer

    29. In reference to the diagnosis of one Charlie Weiss. My 9 year old daughter, not a psychologist, noted regularly that Charlie appeared "very sad". Maybe a future ND Psych major here. Not sure if that confirms the diagnosis but the irony is comical to say the least.

    30. "It will be interesting to see how our current QB plays in an option spread attack since he was a drop back pro style passer in HS."

      I predict that Notre Dame's QB in 2010 is not currently on the team.
      I don't know if Andrew Hendrix has the right stuff. He's a possibility, the starting QB next year will not be Dayne Christ.
      No way.

      Kelly will want his own guy and I assure you he's in the process of recruiting that kid as we speak.

    31. Um, it's Dayne Crist, not Dayne Christ. Crist has the arm, skills and smarts to run any offense and he can run a bit too. Given health he will no doubt be the QB in 2010 and will do very well.

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