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  • Kelly and Leadership Part I: Developing Players from the Inside Out

    by SEE

    (The Rock Report) – One of the key building blocks behind Brian Kelly’s success (despite not having a recruiting class finish in the top 50 in the country at Cincinnati ) is his emphasis and structured approach to developing players physically and mentally. It’s a philosophy that goes back to his days at Grand Valley State where he not only coached offense and defense at different stages, but oversaw the Strength and Conditioning program.

    When you’re starting out with less raw material than other teams, you have to be better than your competition at developing the players you do have and Cincinnati had less talent than all but two teams on their schedule this past year.

    Think about all of the talent on USC’s defense, but the Bearcats played better defense against Oregon State than USC did. You can only do that through effective player development, but Kelly’s focus, taking a page from Holtz, is on developing the mind as well as the body. When I was evaluating Kelly as a candidate, the thing that stood out (besides his success on the field) was his ability to develop and motivate players to push beyond their limits.

    Said Kelly, “You can move them to a level that they can’t get to by themselves. That’s player development. That’s at the core of what I mean, to get people to do things that they normally wouldn’t do on their own. “

    And that’s exactly where ND has failed recently. Only Michigan, among traditional powers, has done less with the talent they’ve had. If you look at where Notre Dame’s talent level was (and this is based on stars so it’s just a relative assessment), Notre Dame had more recruited talent than Michigan this year and even more than Florida did when they won the national championship (Florida is that orange line on the left, ND is the blue line.)

    What was missing was player development. Kelly spoke at the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association clinic last February and outlined his holistic approach to development, of mind, body and skill. Kelly’s philosophy is to develop players along five parameters:

    * Intellectual Development
    * Spiritual Development
    * Social Development
    * Skill Development
    * Physical Development

    Does anyone think Weis even had a philosophy for developing players? Kelly has put together a systematic approach that Kelly describes as going far beyond what fans normally think of as development. “It’s not just about being bigger, faster, stronger, it’s getting your players to trust. It’s getting your players to be accountable on a day to day basis. It’s developing them as young men, and you have to do that through relationships…”

    Kelly’s philosophy centers around the coaches getting to know his players intimately and transforming them across all five development areas. When people say he sounds like Lou, it’s because Kelly’s literally taken a page out of Lou’s book. In “Winning Every Day”, Lou states that he every player needs to know the answers to three questions about his coaches and his peers: 1. Can I trust you? 2. Are you committed to excellence? 3. Do you care about me?

    That’s Lou, here’s Kelly describing his success (see a parallel?), “We did it by working on winning every single day. If I wait till Saturday to work on winning we’d win as many as we lose. The very first day we worked on winning… and what do you now know about winning you can’t start winning until you stop losing (getting rid of bad habits) and you can build that every single day… our kids cared about each other, they trusted each other, they were committed.”

    Trust, commitment to excellence and caring. The reason people see a lot of Holtz in Kelly, is because they share not only the same philosophy, but the same words to describe it.

    Here’s Kelly describing his philosophy in a little more depth, “I want those that understand how important it is to be committed, how important it is to trust how important it is to respect others… and if those sound like traditional values they are… and they can be espoused on a day to day basis… and working on winning every day allows you to do that and it creates the atmosphere that you’re not just punching the clock. When you start caring about each… and I’m not saying you have to sing Kumbaya at 5 o’clock before you go home or have campfires together. But ya got to care about each other, that you’re all in it for the same reason. that you all want to work on winning every single day… and guess what happens, one of the greatest things starts to rise to the top… it’s called pride in what you do.”

    Here are the two coaches talking about their philosophies:

    They also share two other attributes in their styles, attention to detail and a focus on accountability. When Holtz first walked into the Notre Dame locker room, he kicked a player’s feet off a chair and sent the entire team a clear message that things would be different. Kelly walked into the locker room and immediately noticed what a mess the lockers were in. He thought that sent a terrible signal to the team about attention to detail and respect and gave every player a diagram showing them how their lockers should look. That’s signal value. Now, every day when a player arrives for practice his locker will remind him about attention to detail.

    In his pres
    s conference, Kelly talked about what attention to detail and being purposeful means on a practical level:

    “Eating at Burger King at 3:00 in the morning is not going to make you the best for your 8:00 workouts. Not being on time, not paying attention to detail, not being purposeful in what you do on a day to day basis. Attention to detail is absolutely crucial in this process of winning, and so when I talk about working on winning, I mean you do that from the first day you step on this campus if you want to win. You don’t win on Saturdays with Xs and Os. You win on Saturdays because you’ve been working on it all week, and so it’s that attention to detail. It’s morale, it’s camaraderie, it’s one voice. ”

    The final thing they both focus on is accountability. As Lou says, “you can’t have ten people be outstanding and have one person foul up.” Kelly says, “you can’t do it unless everyone in the organization understands they’re an important piece of the puzzle.”

    What impresses me about both coaches is their ability to motivate their players to play above their own expectations. Former Grand Valley State player Spencer Calhoun described it this way,”He really challenges you to perform… 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… 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.”

    Kelly believes in mental development, but he’s also put a premium on physical development and has given Strength and Conditioning coach Paul Longo coordinator level influence. Longo is intimately involved in player development, which he calls half art and half science, but you can’t practice the art if you don’t constantly evaluate players, and not just watching them in the gym, but watching them them practice and play. From many accounts Notre Dame’s players were allowed to cakewalk through workouts under Weis. That won’t be the case with Longo. It’s a philosophy Kelly developed years ago, “At Grand Valley State I understood the absolute necessity to be involved as the head coach with strength training and conditioning. So I did it. It was part of my hat that I wore.”

    I read Lou Somogyi’s recent column, Conditioned to Hear the Same Rhetoric, on how we hear the same thing every coaching change, but I think Lou’s missing the fact that Kelly has a fundamentally different approach to Strength and Conditioning that has been tested over years. This isn’t “words” (rhetoric,) but deeds. (I do think Lou is the best writer covering ND football and has been for a long time.)

    Here’s how Kelly thinks of Strength and Conditioning from a development perspective, “ The third leadership position I want to talk about is our strength and conditioning coach, Paul Longo. And is absolutely crucial to the development of our student athletes here. I think we all have heard the need for student development and player development. Paul has already hit the ground running. We began our workouts yesterday and we are in the process now of implementing our off-season conditioning program, which is absolutely crucial to our success. Though it’s not just about offense and defense and special teams, it’s about developing your players. And those are three key leadership positions within the program. Paul Longo has been an integral part of the success we’ve experienced over the last six seasons… He has done an incredible job of not only developing our players and getting them ready to play championship football in our program, but also helping prepare them for the NFL. Paul joins our offensive and defensive coordinators as leaders of this program. He cuts across the traditional strength and conditioning coach mold because he builds relationships with all players and coaches and serves as a leader, not just in the weight room, but throughout the program. Paul is a critical addition to our program because, arguably, no coach will have more contact with our players throughout the whole year than our strength and conditioning coach. Based on his track record and what I have personally witnessed, I can’t wait to see how he’ll make our team better moving forward.”

    Here’s how Longo describes their unique player development model:

    ”I believe the biggest key has been Coach Kelly’s philosophy for how I fit into the program. I call it the third coordinator model. Too often, the strength coach is seen as a member of the support staff — an athletic department employee like the sports information director or equipment manager. But in reality, every strength coach knows we actually play a much larger role than that. Football player development, especially at the NCAA Division I level, is a year-round process, and the football coaching staff has only limited access to the players in the off-season. Strength coaches spend far more hours with the football team than anyone else throughout the year. I take a special leadership role in our football players’ development. Under Coach Kelly’s direction, they see me right next to the offensive and defensive coordinators on our program’s totem pole. What does this really mean? On a daily basis, it means I’m not just a guy in the weight room who tells them how to lift. I follow the football team closely and build personal relationships with the players, so I fully understand the team dynamics and the buttons to push to get individual players motivated. I know who the team leaders are, and the players know that I communicate regularly with the coaching staff about their performance during our strength and conditioning sessions. For instance, if a second stringer works his tail off in the weight room because he wants to challenge for a starting spot, he knows he’s not toiling in obscurity. And if a player is slacking off, he knows I have the authority to hold him accountable. I see who our hardest workers are, and my input to Coach Kelly and his assistants is reflected in playing time decisions. Everything we do in our football strength program is colored by that approach. Because the players see me as a leader and not just a lifting coach, they buy into every activity I put them through and understand that my primary goal is the same as theirs: to win football games. Coach Kelly’s third coordinator model gives me the credibility I need, and our success on the field speaks for itself.”

    One of Longo’s success stories is Joe Staley, a first round pick. “NFL scouts said he gave the best workout of any offensive tackle they had ever seen. He went from 235 his first year to 265 his second year to 285 as a junior to 305 last year. It didn’t happen over night, bu
    t he developed in the program. Ross Verba was just like that at Iowa. He was a 235 pound average, slow tight end that liked to catch balls, but he ended up having a good career in the pros after we moved him to tackle. He’s the only rookie left tackle to start in the Super Bowl.”

    In the end, Longo says it’s about developing every player on the team.

    “We want to raise the average not just the guys that end up being drafted into the NFL. You have to develop the rank and file, and the way they get better is through my department. I think Coach Kelly and this staff have a great feel for where a kid can develop.”

    All of this focus on development of the mind and the body is about winning, but winning in a Kelly program depends on a program commitment to developing every player on the team. Ultimately, all of that work came down a simple equation to Kelly, “we played harder and longer than every team we played.”

    The open question for Notre Dame fans is whether Kelly will recruit enough raw material to beat the best teams in the country. Development is key, but if Florida is successfully developing five-stars and Kelly is successfully developing three-stars, who would you put your money on?

    In Meyer’s mind it ultimately it comes down to the Jimmy and the Joes, “If you know me, you know I think any offense can work if you have the right personnel back. Offenses are overrated. People are not… Again, it’s based on people. I keep going back to that, but if you have really good players, it’s really easy. If you don’t, it’s really hard. Is the West Coast offense easy to teach? If Joe Montana is throwing to Jerry Rice, yeah, Daffy Duck can teach it. I don’t want to de-value teaching. It’s absolutely critical, but I’m still going to go back to personnel.”

    In part II, I’m going to focus on Kelly’s unique approach to building a coaching staff to support this development. As Kelly said, he’s looking for, “ great teachers, great educators, great communicators. So I think I put a premium on that first and foremost.”

    16 Responses to “Kelly and Leadership Part I: Developing Players from the Inside Out”

    1. Anonymous says:

      I wish we would stop measuring the talent we recruited over the last few years simply based on the number of "stars" as labeled by bogus ratings sites like Rivals. I'm tired of looking at these pie charts with average recruiting ratings and getting told how much talent we have versus other programs and whether we over/underperformed. That entirely misses the point.

      Yes, Charlie failed to develop players, but he also failed miserably as a recruiter, a point mentioned by few "experts". Any avid ND fan over the last few years understands that we lost football games because we failed to recruit talent at the most important positions on the field. Simply put, the best college teams are those that: 1) successfully protect the QB, 2) successfully dominate the line on defense, and 3) have leadership at the QB position.

      ND failed miserably regarding items 1 and 2 and it wasn't until Jimmy's junior year that he emerged as a leader. The result was a 6-6 season. If you truly want to analyze the talent recruited, you should weight the talent based on position. In other words, offensive/defensive linemen and QBs should carry the greatest weight, with positions like TE and WR carrying the least weight.

      It's very clear that all the 4 and 5-star WRs recruited by Charlie skewed the overall ranking of his recruiting efforts. WR is the least important position on the field. If you don't have a line to protect your QB, or a QB talented enough to make the reads and throws, you'll never utilize your WRs to the fullest of their ability. Even when that finally starts to come together on the offensive side of the ball, if you can't generate a push off the line, you give up big yards on the ground and can't generate pressure which leaves your DBs hung out to dry. Again, the recipe for mediocrity.

      – Ray

    2. Irish Sting says:

      Have lived in Cincinnati for the last 35 years and Brian Kelly was the best football coach they have had. What he did here I can only dream he will do at Notre Dame. The development of the human trinity of mind, body and soul is what he is all about. That goes well at Notre Dame with the same goals. For this reason I believe a degree in Sports Development should be offered by all Universities. Some of our best leaders in industry, govt. and society come from our sports fields.

    3. Ray, I'm going to guess you don't follow Notre Dame football closely. Notre Dame had two 5-star quarterbacks on the roster last year. No position was better recruited.

      No quarterback showed better leadership and Clausen who brought the Irish back game after game.

      He was sacked less than Tebow and McCoy, twice a game to be exact.

    4. Anonymous says:

      Mr. Anonymous –

      Your analysis is typical of a flawed and delusional football fan. Like Weis, you seem to believe that you can win with offense alone, but last I checked defensive linemen are crucial to winning football games. You point out Clausen's heroics, but how much did that help? All that did was get ND to 6-6.

      ND couldn't close games because the defensive line couldn't create pressure. They couldn't even get pressure when bringing 6 or 7 players in blitz packages. If you truly watched the Xs and Os of the ND games you would understand that there was only ONE player on defense who is capable of playing on Sundays and making a difference and that is T'eo. I understand that the schemes were terrible and didn't give the players the best chance to win, but there was also NO defensive talent to work with. In other words, ND fans overrated Weis's recruiting classes in addition to overrating him as a coach.

      There's a reason why most NFL scouts have limited to no interest in the defensive players from the Weis era. They just weren't very good. If a player is talented, but poorly coached, NFL teams will still give that player a look because teams want the best talent.

      As far as your comparison of our offensive line to Florida and Texas…please stop. Last year, ND played a ridiculously soft schedule in which the toughest opponent was a PAC-10 team that was reloading and got blown out by Oregon and Stanford. Meanwhile, the run game was still non-existent during key drives and even against some creampuff defenses.

      Do you really think that ND's offensive line would've stood up against defenses from Alabama and Florida if ND played in the SEC? No chance my friend. None. So please print out your sack stats and immediately shred them. ALL 5 linemen from Florida and Texas would've started over the 5 guys ND put on the field last year. That's why those guys get drafted in the NFL.

      Regarding leadership, Jimmy didn't come around until his THIRD season at ND, as I noted earlier. Why? Because his growth was stunted from a weak offensive line that couldn't keep him upright in his first 2 years at ND.


    5. Ray,

      Get a life.

    6. Anonymous says:

      Anonymous –

      If "get a life" translates into toiling in ignorance like yourself, no thanks! It's because of posts like yours that "Bud Light: Real Men of Genius – Hopeless Notre Dame Fan" was created on You Tube. You should check out the video. It speaks your language!!!


    7. Anonymous says:

      Ray, Get off the liquor. No one's arguing the point about ND dominating the line of defense, so you're ranting against yourself. That's a lot of typing for an unchallenged point.

      It's your point about the quarterback position that's so far off. ND did not fail miserably protecting the quarterback the last two years nor did ND lack leadership at the QB position.

      On those points, you're just blowing hot air… turn the blower off, watch more, write less.

    8. Anonymous says:

      Ray, do realize how ironic your Real Men of Genius comment is?

    9. Anonymous says:

      First, I want to thank NDNation for posting my comments. As usual, I don't agree with the herd mentality of some, but I respect this site for allowing me to show a differing opinion.

      I jokingly posted "Real Men of Genius" because I'm tired of ridiculous expectations and the people who think that being a realist means you're not a fan. Before the '09 season, I came onto this site to find a good number of people declaring that we'd go 12-0 (see the probability poll), while giving Navy a ZERO PERCENT chance of beating us.

      When someone like a Holtz says we're going to finish 12-0, realize that it's done in the context of being the "anti-May" on ESPN. Thankfully, someone takes that position, even if Holtz swings too far the other way sometimes…

      It's just SHOCKING for someone to tell me that we had great offensive line and QB play over the last TWO YEARS. There are comments like this all time on here. When it takes 4 quarters to get your first 1st down or you get shutout against BC in that same season, that's not elite play any way you slice it. Sorry, but drinking the Kool-Aid doesn't make someone a better fan.

      While it's hard to find positives in losing, especially in lopsided defeats, at least it resulted in the firing of Weis and the hiring of Kelly. Kelly has his work cut out for him, but I look forward to rejoining the BCS discussion in year 2, with a serious title run by year 3. With a schedule that's not as an insanely tough as in years past, ND has a chance to bounce back sooner than later if the students buy into Kelly's plan.

      As far as the people who have a tough time accepting the facts of the last few years, the good news is that it's about to get a whole lot better. I'll look forward to talking about hitting, blocking, fundamentals, and winning…instead of all the reasons why "5-star guys" like Demetrius Jones didn't pan out.


    10. Anonymous says:

      You are 100% correct. Our offensive and defensive line play were horrible the last three years. Sam Young was a five star and was a bust. Not his fault, he was never developed. When the Navy coach tells the media he out schemed ND, that pretty much sums it up. Any team that can not control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball will be mediocre, regardless of the other talent on the team. Anyone who doesn't believe this needs to follow another sport or maybe take up pinochle.


    11. Matthew (James) and Luke (Massa) commit to Notre Dame. Can John and Mark be far behind? Go Irish!!!

    12. 1. I vote that Ray is completely off his rocker. Coach Kelly is lucky that he enters ND with every position being 3 deep with the exception of Safety. When Weis entered, that was not the case. Ray is just not in touch with reality.

      Yes, Weis failed to recruit DL his 1rst two recruiting seasons, but after that, he recruited DL pretty damn well. Coach Kelly should be thankful that guys like Ethan Johnson and the rest of the DL will mature to upper classman and most likely play like it next season (regardless of coaching regime).

      In 2009, ND had a sophomore lead front 7. That's not a winning formula. However, that wont be the case in 2010.

      2. I agree with Lou Somogyi. Listening to the Coach Kelly/Coach Longo comments feels like I'm listening to corporate speak about "synergizing" team energy. Its just the latest buzz speak.

      Somehow, I don't think the Weis ND coached team, didn't "Care" for each other. For example, Dayne Crist's recruiting class was one of the tightest I've ever heard of, in spite of ND's 3-9 season. Heck, the 2010 class predominantly stayed together IN SPITE of a complete coaching change. Weis deserves credit for appropriately selling these kids on ND and not just his staff.

      Essentially, I don't think this set of coach's speak really guarantees success. However, the foundation with which the current regime will build on, definitely earns a healthy dose of optimism.

      Its not like Kelly is walking into a gunfight without any bullets. he's got 80+ kids on scholarship. That's a lot better than only having 60+ kids on scholarship.

      The coaching speak is all fine and dandy. Its a standard part of the environment. However, this time, I'm not going to get optimistic just based on coach's speak.

      Instead . . . Just win baby. Show me the money.

    13. Anonymous says:

      Here's all we really know about what Kelly's inheriting:

      (1) A defense that: (a) couldn't stop anyone last year when it really mattered, (b) failed to generate a consistent pass rush, (c) tackled poorly, (d) had no one who consistently laid a lick, and (e) put the offense in the unenviable position of having to consistently score a ton of points to win. (The only difference, by the way, between the Bearcats and the Irish in this regard is (a), the Cats were able to get three-and-outs when it mattered, such as in the second half of the Pitt game, which Cincy won despite being down 31-10 at one point, and 31-17 at the half).

      (2) A team that, despite its core talent, failed to execute at critical times in almost every imaginable way (dropped passes, bad penalties, poor coverage, losses in composure, turnovers, etc.) prompting the administration to appropriately, albeit belatedly, show Coach Weis the door.

      That's about it. Discussions about how deep a team Kelly is inheriting at various positions are about as objective and empirically resolveable as the global warming debate and really, they are beside the point.

      Look, Notre Dame is unlikely to ever hit the recruiting motherlode like USC and Florida hit yesterday for a variety of reasons. Kelly got the job mainly because of his lengthy record of building highly successful programs at places that don't necessarily get the most talented kids. He'll coach up what's here, instill the appropriate attitude and achieve a stellar W-L record. I can't promise the Irish will win the National Championship, but let's be honest, if Texas loses to the Huskers (some say they actually did), the Bearcats – rightly or wrongly – play Bama for all the marbles. If Kelly can pull that off at Cincinnati, he can surely get Notre Dame to the football promised land.

    14. Irish Sting says:

      To be or not to be a well coached team that does the fundamentals like they should be. A team in all four quarters working well. A team late in the season with stamina to get the job done. That is what Coach BK brings with his staff. The strength coach will be a key to the big difference. As winter bites our ars, the Irish get ready for a new kind of season. A season to be proud of.

    15. Anonymous says:

      Wow, I wish I were as articulate as some of these posts. Well I'm not. But like Ray, I too am a realist. Charlie's recruits were typically highly skilled guys with very high ceilings. Ceilings that were unattainable with the Weiss staff. Kelly will at least bring the hope back to ND. Something only felt sparingly over the last decade. Weiss did a poor job in too many areas to list. Kelly will bring back the glory…
      … I hope.

      P.S. Please don't waste space correcting my grammar. I'm aware it's subpar. I'm a realist. Remember?


    16. Anonymous says:

      I think it's really interesting to read all these posts calling for Ray's head just because he draws attention to the problems at Notre Dame during the Weis era.

      I'm not sure why anyone is left trying to defend Weis or his recruiting classes or his ability to draw the team together. There were some highly touted players, yes that's true. Jimmy Clausen was an incredible coup for the Irish when he came out of high school as the number one ranked player. I think he's a tremendous talent and think he'll have a great NFL career, but as a Junior he was only able to come up with 6 wins. You can talk about Weis' ability to recruit all day, but it never translated to wins.

      Kelly isn't just talk. He's transformed under-performing teams to winners everywhere he's been. His philosophy isn't just talk or buzzwords, it translates into success.