(The Rock Report) – The last time Notre Dame was in this rarified air, the season hadn’t even started. In 2006 the Irish were the consensus #1 choice in pre-season rags, 2nd in the AP and 3rd in the coaches’ poll. The only problem was that the team hadn’t played a game and achieved that ranking based on hype alone (hence my caution of the Irrational exuberance that built up around the program.) In contrast, it is a wholly rational exuberance we’re experiencing in 2012. Notre Dame built its ranking game by game and point by point, overcoming what most thought was the toughest schedule in the country to climb from the depths of the unranked in the AP Poll and 24th in the coaches poll to #1.
ND built its case with goal line stands, last second heroics, unheralded players, heart and daily determination. This team deserves all the accolades thrown its way to this point; they have been earned on the field.
The coaching staff deserves praise for keeping the team focused throughout a very tough opening 8 games culminating with the hardest three game slate on the schedule. It doesn’t take much, as Kansas State found out, to lose when every team views you as their national title game. That’s why you have to focus on the day-to- day.
When I wrote about Weis lacking the Secret Sauce (the ability to motivate) I noted how great coaches consistently found a way to get their teams focused. Lou’s stories are legendary from one-on- one talks to sandbagging reporters to visualization sessions. Ara’s ploys ranged from coming out to practice in rags to dupe the competition ( as he did at Miami (Ohio)) to the famed Phantom letters at ND.
Consistently great coaches have to find a way to keep kids focused and motivated. Doing it week in and week out is a massive chore, which is why I like how Kelly’s staff has made it simply part of what they do every week. He gets the team focused on the smaller parts of the puzzle rather than get caught up in the big implications of the game. Each game the staff focuses on a different message, this last week it was understanding the difference between enthusiasm and emotion so that players wouldn’t come out full of emotion only to run out of energy.
“It went very well for us. I think our seniors really understood the difference between enthusiasm and emotion,” Kelly said after the game to NBC’s Alex Flanagan. “They played with great enthusiasm. They had fun. This is the way you should play college football.”
You can tell they get through because the players often perfectly repeat the message pushed by the staff in their pre and post-game interviews. And more importantly, it worked at Cincinnati and it’s working at Notre Dame.
Different weeks have different gameday messages, but each day of the week has the same message. Every Monday Kelly gets the team to move past the last game by focusing on the mental aspects of the upcoming game. On Tuesday, practice is about physical intensity. Wednesday is about getting quality repetitions and then on Thursday they strive for practice perfection. One day’s message builds on the next until they reach focus Friday and the things they’re going to focus to win on Saturday.
It’s the day to day focus that leads to the week to week success that leads to undefeated seasons.
Said his former advisor, Jeff Genyk:
“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.”
In the end, the secret is pretty simple.