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December 17, 2012
When it comes to doing things his way and not giving in to popular themes and notions, Brian Kelly is a bit stubborn.
Okay, he's a lot stubborn.
"I have not done a good job my entire career of listening to other people's expectations," said Kelly late Monday morning when asked about his decision to tab red-shirt freshman quarterback Everett Golson as the starting quarterback for the 2012 season instead of veteran signalcaller Tommy Rees.
"So I had set my expectations for what we wanted to accomplish, and we went about it that way."
Kelly was determined to go with the rookie while still trying to win every game during the regular season. Those notions often are diametrically opposed to one another.
The end result is a best-of-both-worlds scenario with Golson coming out on the back end as a dynamic, getting-better-all-the-time signalcaller while propelling the Irish - supported by the top scoring defense in the country - to the national championship game against Alabama on Jan. 7.
"We were going to play an inexperienced freshman quarterback, so let's start with that decision first," explained Kelly, who tabbed Golson over Andrew Hendrix to start the opener against Navy in Ireland as Rees served a one-game suspension.
"(But) I didn't believe nor did I want to use this year as a bridge year, a transition year. I wanted to win this year. I wanted to win not only for Notre Dame, but for the seniors and everybody associated with the program."
Kelly has used the quarterback position in a more fluid manner than most, and he did it again in 2012. While he wasn't willing to stick with Tommy Rees and his physical shortcomings over the long haul in '12, he also wasn't willing to sink or swim with Golson every step of the way.
So at various intervals - the Purdue, Michigan, Stanford and Pittsburgh games - Kelly turned to Rees to bail the Irish out. He even kept Golson sidelined for the entire BYU game to make sure his young signalcaller was completely recovered from a concussion suffered against Stanford.
But he always returned to Golson, eventually developing enough confidence in his young quarterback to allow him to play through his miscues over the final one-quarter of the regular season.
"You have to find a way to win those games, manage those games, limit possessions, hold on to the football," said Kelly of his 2012 approach. "You have to adapt to the way you run those games, and that's how we came up with the formula this year to play the way we played. Next year might be different, depending upon what those key factors are."
Kelly admitted that he heard the whispers along the way to play for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, thus sacrificing a win or three in 2012 so as to develop the young quarterback who he knew would be good - in time. But he just couldn't do that to seniors like Manti Te'o, Braxston Cave, Tyler Eifert, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Zeke Motta, et al. He owed them more than that.
In addition to not wanting to sacrifice a season for the future, Kelly also isn't one to lean on the us-against-the-world philosophy as they prepare to play Alabama - a prohibitive favorite. Perhaps the Irish head coach doesn't believe the Crimson Tide has a decided edge in the national championship game.
"I've used that technique before in my time as a head coach," Kelly said. "I don't know that that is as pertinent because it's a one-game deal. It's all or nothing, and both teams have different dynamics to deal with (in light of) the long layoff.
"Preparation is more important than any kind of fire and brimstone speech that I could give to them. Preparation is really where this is going to be at. Getting your football team to be at its peak on Jan. 7.
"Although I don't disregard that that could have influences on other situations, I don't see that as primary to what I'm spending my time on, and that is making sure over this month that our football team is peaking for a one-game winner-take-all."
Kelly took his chances in 2012. He took some in 2010 and 2011 that didn't work out as well. But a man of his convictions with a proven track record usually finds a way to succeed. Twenty-two years of head coaching experience plays a role in those successes.
"We were going to play a freshman quarterback (but) we weren't going to say, 'It's a transition year. We're going to give him experience and we're going to take our lumps and we're going to move forward,'" Kelly said.
"I've just never operated that way."
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