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  • What’s all this “Process” talk about?

    by SEE

    (The Rock Report | Notre Dame Football News) – Seemingly every word out of Kelly’s mouth is about “The Process”. “Trust the process. “ “It’s about the Process”. “We’ve got to avoid the noise and stay disciplined on the process.”

    Let’s get this out of consultant-speak for a second (which can be tough for, uh hum, some of us), a process is simply a way of doing something. It is the determined way for achieving ‘X.’ When a coach talks about “The Process” he’s talking, in sum, about how all of these ways of doing X relate to their long-term goals of achieving success.

    When a coach says “focus on the process, not wins” some think: “He’s trying to dodge accountability for lack of winning”.  And that may be, but I think the way coaches look at it is “this is a change issue and change has to happen at the rate the kids can absorb the process.”

    Someone compared me to Baghdad Bob in my stalwart defense of Kelly’s methods and, while BB had some great lines, I don’t think I would have been in Saddam’s camp. The process was, decidedly, not working in his favor. Kelly’s are.  Many of which I pointed in out in Fixing Notre Dame Football.

    In my mind, Notre Dame, no matter what the “irrelevant” voices say, has to have a coach who gets the minutiae of processes and how they relate to the overall goals of toughness and outworking and out executing the enemy. That’s why I easily weather the Kelly storms. You can see the progress in the process and purple faces mean little next to players like Harrison Smith reaching their potential or seeing problem kids become leaders.  Success is usually the result of diligent focus on smaller things that add up the big one, wins.

    In the coaching world, it’s not just Kelly, Jimbo Fisher is also talking about process at Florida State:

    “If you buy into The Process 100%, The Process will pay dividends in victories, trophies and even in life itself. It will lift this team from ho-hum 7 – 6 seasons (which, ironically, was Saban’s record his first year at Bama) to the promised land.”

    It’s part of the “Sabanization of College Football” Sports Illustrated writes (Fisher worked for Saban.)

    “Nick Saban has a total-control, detail-oriented, evaluation-to-graduation system. Instead of talking about wins and championships, Saban speaks about the Process. In its most basic form, the Process is Saban’s term for concentrating on the steps to success rather than worrying about the end result. .. Then there’s lunch itself. He has it down to a science — another in a series of small efficiency measures.”

    As Fisher said about Saban “the process worked… the question was not if he would turn around, it was just how quick.” The Process ain’t going to be pretty for either coach or player.

    The best analogy I can make about the tension between short term performance and long-term good is when a company is trying to make major strategic changes, but Wall Street holds them accountable for short term performance.  That focus on the short-term often negates their ability to do anything positive with regard to long-term progress. That’s because the short-term results don’t look good and that focus on that under-performance misses the bigger picture of overall improvement and companies “give in to the street” and juice short-term numbers at the expense of longer term goals.

    Success is ultimately the result of commitment, conviction, character and attitude. That comes not from one call on the field, but what happens day to day and week to week. It’s a daily process and commitment to excellence. You need good smart ways of doing things that help lead to a big overall change, rather than getting short term wins at the expense of the long-term. That’s process over results with results as the ultimate goal.

    That focus is clear in his answer with respect to Golson’s improvement.

    “I’m looking for improvement each week. I’ve got to see tangible improvement from him, and it’s not just on Saturday. It’s in practice, how he goes to meetings, film study, taking care of himself?we’re seeing the kind of improvement that I need to see for him to continue to be the starter.”

    Does all this mean I’m 100% sold on Kelly? No. Three wins have me in the exact same place I’ve been since he was hired. He’s going to get this team into the BCS bowls on a consistent basis, but after that, I’m not sure. A 3-0 start means diddily when the goal is Saban and Alabama and I’m not sure Kelly has the chops for that, I think he might, but I’m not sure. He does have the chops to mount a challenge.

    One encouraging note in this regard. Lately the team has focused on the words dominate and dominant.  While words may seem small, those affirmations are  directly from Saban. It’s one of the affirmations they drill into player’s heads. Dominate and dominant are, ultimately,  the only words that matter when you want to win a national championship.


    17 Responses to “What’s all this “Process” talk about?”

    1. Steel_Valley_Irish says:

      Great story, I have been up and down on Kelly but I’ve reserved my final verdict on him because I’ve seen progress in incrimental amounts. More positives than negatives. And I couldn’t agree more on reaching Alabama’s level. Not too too far off that’s who Notre Dame was. Dominate, talked about in reverence. We’re getting there and I hope he’s the guy to do it. It could be Wally beaver and I would be happy.

      Go Irish….

    2. It’s a bit early to proclaim anything., I just like the performance and think long-term, good things are happening. Naysayers have had some good points over the years.

    3. I agree with the Macro vs Minutia distinction. Last year’s negative turnover fiesta was about as indicative of future results as 2002’s positive turnover extravaganza.

      By the way, looks like a brainfart above where you said Fisher worked for Kelly, I’m sure you meant to say he worked for Saban.

    4. For Pete’s sake, See. Do we really need another post from you comparing Kelly to Saban?

      Nothing like beating a dead horse.

      • I’m pretty sure Pete’s okay with it. If you read the article, The point of the article is not compare Kelly to Saban, I’m comparing a specific process approach they both use. As you look at in any comparison I’ve used, I’m looking to compare one aspect, not the coaches in general. Kelly isn’t much like any one coach. He does seem to crib from a lot of them.

        To make sure that was distinction was clear I specifically noted within the article that there’s a big difference between the coaches right now and I’m not sure Kelly’s at Saban’s level. Now that’s a comparison between the coaches and right now it’s not in Kelly’s favor.

        You’re going to hear more and more about the process approach to coaching, and I’m pretty sure that horse hasn’t been ridden much.

        • I enjoyed your story. However, ND’s a different beast than Alabama & Saban. If your going to look at football results then Saban looks great. We all know that just a bad comparison. When it comes to graduating players and having them graduate with a degree of use then I would take Kelly hands down. I understand the goal is winning a national championship. ND won’t make the same type of choices with recruits (RKG’s) that most of the winning teams will. The SE Conference teams not only overlook grades but character as we’ve observed too. Unless the something drastic changes at ND I can’t see them competing year in and out for the NC. I can see them competing for an opportunity for a BCS game. Should ND ever enter the ACC as a full member in football that may change circumstances. Just as the BCS playoff will evolve over time. Again, I always enjoy reading your articles & Go Irish.

    5. Good post. Because of my dislike for Saban and his mercenary ways, I’d just like to point out that Tuscaloosa’s current genius did not invent the notion of focusing on process instead of results. (Nor did you claim that he did, but it’s always fun taking shots at the guy on the top of the pile.) I’m quite certain that countless coaches in countless sports in the B.S. (“Before Saban”) era had a similar focus, but the most famous is, of course, John Wooden.

      I agree with you that if Kelly can inculcate a daily commitment to process within the program, he is likely to achieve long-term success. But as we have seen time and again with recent incarnations of the Irish program, that sort of achievement is far easier to talk about than to accomplish.

    6. ArizonaIrish says:

      As one who uses a lot of very detail processes, and who occassionally rails against such, it is important to remember that the best processes are those who are measureable and who are self improving. The process measures those areas which are deemed accurate measures of both result and the relationship of process to the result, and then can change or improve the process.

      And sometimes, there are other situations which are best handled outside the process.

      • This is a very good point, there has to be accountability “built in” to processes and just having a process is meaningless. Couple of points on that. Kelly and team try to build in accountability and it relates to playing time usually. If Longo reports that they’re not working out or committed, they get docked practice or even playing time. Good processes are ultimately about driving the right behavior. Stale processes generally don’t and aren’t beneficial. The key point about the Kelly processes I’ve looked is that I was impressed with the accountability and reinforcement built in to the process. Not sure if there’s an improvement mechanism built in, I suspect that happens in the coaching meeting.

    7. Excellent article. Jack Swarbrick recently talked about how Brian Kelly is setting and building the foundation. He didn’t mention Xs and Os or Ws and Ls. Those will fall in place if you trust and believe in the Process. No coach since Lou has “gotten this.” We fans are too focused on the short term – many of us talked of firing Kelly after the 2011 season. But even us “Senior Alumns” have to be patient. Absolutely essential that we all take ’em “one game at a time.” GO IRISH !! beat Wolverines !

    8. You make it sound like football is the be-all and end-all in life. I’m not sure ND, and by extension, Kelly, would agree with you. Considering that fewer than one percent of kids playing HS football will earn a living playing football, a degree from a good school is far more important. That QB that graduated from a football factory in Texas, made millions, spent millions, and is now broke, is the most recent example. If Kelly manages to make the Irish BCS-eligible on a consistent basis, he has done his job, and I have no doubt he will accomplish that. If a solid run at the NC comes along every 5-6 years, so much the better. Ara and Lou didn’t do much better. I’m pretty sure Notre Dame’s graduation rate is at least as important to them as their ranking.
      I’ve been a Kelly fan for years and thought he was the perfect choice for ND. His teams have shown consistent improvement from the beginning in terms of conditioning, attitude and player development. That will translate into wins as development continues and recruiting brings in the players Kelly needs. He clearly understands what it takes to build winning college football teams in the modern era.

    9. I’m often critcal of the writing on ND Nation. This is a thoughtful and reasonable article. False starts (no pun intended) in the Willingham and Weis eras had fans unreasonable hopeful that a messianic coach would come in, flip a couple of switches and make it 1988 again. 1988 was preceeded by 1986 and 1987. Those seasons were promising mostly in retrospect. The jury was still out on Holtz. No one really could see the breakout coming.

      Most of us didn’t believe in the Irish last Saturday. Had they lost a close one to a highly ranked team on the road this article would likely have taken a different tone. Next week’s article may have a different tone. The Wolverines aren’t coming to lay down. The point is, as Swarbrick recently said, this is about reversing a slide that occurred over many years for many reasons. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a classic change process.

      I know. I’m a organizational change consultant. 🙂

    10. martinjordan says:

      Ara took a 2 and 7 team and coached it to within a half of a National championship in his first year. He moved players to new postions and took a QB from the fourth team to the Heisman Trophy.

      Divine inherited Montana, Browner, McAfee, Fry, Golic etc…

      Holtz had to completely change the culture but the team was tougher and more disciplined from day one. That first year they played the toughest schedule in the country and were a few bad calls away from pulling off some huge upsets (ie. remember that touchdown to the tight end against Michigan that was called out of the end zone but replay showed he was clearly in and that clip on the kickoff return against Penn State?) While Faust did not leave the cupboard bare team speed was a major issue which Holtz fixed within 2 years.

      Weis did not leave the cupboard bare but Kelly’s first two teams played just a undisciplined and sloppy as they had previously. Most of the talent was on offense but it was for a pro style offense. The talent on defense was from one recruiting year. Kelly had to fix the defense which he appears to have done but the jury is still out on his offense. I felt that last year’s team under acheived badly and was poorly coached.

      When Kelly arrived he wasn’t shy about photo ops with Ara and Lou so fans naturally expected that sort of turn around and when it didn’t happen he caught alot of flak. Most of the doubts about him were weather or not he could recruit. the answer to that is “YES!” The doubts now are about his play calling.

      • You make some very good points. Kelly’s first 2 seasons were underwhelming, to say the least. And. compared to Lou’s trajectory, was not instilling confidence. This year’s team has achieved because of individuals stepping into key roles (F Shumate, J Motta, D line) and pure athleticism bouying this team. That’s a testament to his recruiting. As far as coaching, Kelly’s offense – specifically his handling of QB’s – has been, and continues to be, a real problem going forward. Ironic, since that’s what he used to build his resume. Finally, his glaring weakness IMO, is his inability to inspire these young players. We’ll see if he’s turning that tide when the Stanford/SC games come round, or if they come out flat yet again. I’m all for process, but it’s only as effective as the leader who inspiresit.

    11. You know how you believe in a process? You win and you win consistently. If you want people to believe in your process you have success. 8-5 in back to back seasons are not a process. We beat the teams we expect to beat plus one, MSU, two years in a row. You want people to believe in your process you beat Michigan on Saturday. Now we are 4-0 and the process is working. If you lose Saturday the the chances of you going 8-5 again increases. Ara had a process, Lou had a process. By the third year they had National Championships. Those players bought into the process. Ara won with Kuharich and Devore players who couldnt get out of their own way. Lou won with Gerry’s boys. Never once did either coach say”wait until I get my players into the system.” Kelly has changed this year and I hope they have bought into his process. We find out how much Saturday night.

      • Doug… I don’t expect anyone to “believe” I do expect people to understand that great coaching is less than a purple face on a Saturday and more about what happens in the daily interactions.

        I don’t blame anyone for skepticism… I do blame them for chastising views without merit that simply differ from their own.