Brian Kelly met the media on Monday morning to talk Alabama, update injuries and look at the big picture of Irish football. Read the full transcript from Kelly’s 30-minute press conference.
Brian Kelly: Morning. It's great to have the media here today. Usually as a football coach it’s on your first day on the job that you get this kind of media attention. For us here at Notre Dame, we're not announcing anything that relates to the coaching, but certainly about our football team and our team earning the opportunity to play for a National Championship.
I assume that's what we want to talk about. I'll begin by saying that after our last game, the No. 1 challenge that we had was to prepare our football team for this game. We didn't talk about the long layoff. We just talked about what we needed to do to win this football game and be the best football team on Jan. 7.
There are a lot of pieces that go into that, and I think it began for us with getting our football team back in the weight room and really looking at this as a preparation for a one‑game series. That means our guys have to get back to conditioning element. We have to find our timing as it relates to practicing. And also be smart enough to know that we certainly want to peak at the right time.
So a lot of our preparation leading up to today was the balancing of academics, athletics, conditioning, weight training, as we move forward. Our staff has been recruiting as well, and so that balancing has taken place up to this week. We're done with exams. This week we'll be doing some community service work couple times this week and we'll practice a couple times. Then we'll let our guys go home for the holidays, bring them back, and then two full weeks of preparation for Alabama and the National Championship.
So for me as the head coach standing before you, it's the preparation after the last game. We finished up, as you know, the last week in November. Leading up to a Jan. 7 game, there is a lot of work in between.I think our guys have made some good progress and we've got some more work to do.
Along the way, we've worked on any potential injury situations. We had a couple guys that had surgery to repair some issues. One, Ronnie Stanley, offensive lineman had surgery on his elbow to repair a ligament, so he'll be lost for the bowl game. That was a condition that he had going into the season. And Matt Hegarty had a procedure as well, which will put him out of any practice or bowl opportunities. But we're very optimistic that he'll be back with us come spring. So those two in particular, they will not be available for us in the National Championship game.
On the other side, couple of guys that give us some good news moving forward. Zack Martin has announced to me that he will come back for his last season of competition. He will not wait for the NFL to give him a draft status. As you know, he is our most outstanding offensive lineman, and to have him back, along with Chris Watt and Christian Lombard give us three very veteran offensive linemen returning for next year. Also not waiting for the NFL draft evaluation is Louis Nix. Louis will be coming back for his third season next year. We're excited about getting Louis back. And then Cierre, Cierre Wood, is going to wait for his evaluation before he makes his decision. Those are really the guys that were putting together what they needed to do to make the best decision for themselves. So bit of good news on that end as well.
Other than that, our coaches are back off the road, we were in a dead period right now. I know from my standpoint as well as our coaches, we got of the circuit of the Manti award ceremonies that went on cost to coast, deservedly so, on a number of awards that he won.
And our coaches recruiting, we're all back here and working on our football team. So it's a good and exciting time for us.
Q: Looking at these two teams statistically, very even in just about every category. The biggest difference is red zone and their productivity there, and then their scoring average because of that. What kind of thing can you work on between now and then? You've also talked about the quarterback and his decision making and how important that is in the red zone. Talk about specifics as to what you want Everett Golson to do in that area.
BK: Well, if you just look at the start of the year to the end of the year, it's been a progression for Everett, especially in those areas where you put points on the board. So when you're trying to look at an A.J. McCarron who's an experienced player coming back versus Golson, you're going to give A.J., early in the season, obviously the edge because he's been there.
Everett obviously was learning along the season, and he's gotten better as we've gotten closer. So we think we've addressed those through just maturity and understanding. We'll continue to work on our red zone efficiencies and specifically spend more time in practice so he becomes more comfortable in that area of the field.
Q: In terms of Alabama's success in red zone scoring touchdowns, how much of it is them just physically overpowering opponents?
BK: Oh, I think that has a lot to do with it. They're certainly in a position where they can run the football effectively; play‑action pass; they've got a guy that can go one‑on‑one and match up if you go man. So they have a lot of the elements that you need to be successful. And we think we do, too. We feel we've been there and just haven't made the plays necessary. Again, you could use the USC game as an example. A number of field goals that needed to be touchdowns.We're going to need to score touchdowns when we get in that area against Alabama.
Q: And where are you with the health of DaVaris Daniels?
BK: Yeah, we're in the fifth week now, so he was involved in all of our drill work. He was noncontract last week; he's be in a contact situation next week. So he looks really good. He's going to be able to be a key contributor for us.
Q: Going in a different direction. Has your past in politics helped you prepare for this, the biggest game of your career? And also, if you might win, might you consider running for governor?
BK: Yeah, governor of South Bend. Is there a governor of South Bend? (Laughter.) I was driving up to a location just north and at a muffler place they said, ‘Long live Brian Kelly.’ So I think I got one vote from the guy from the muffler place. Pretty good there.
I don't think in those terms as much as I think my experience in politics gave me an opportunity to work with the media and know that you guys are normal people. I know people don't think that way, but you're pretty normal, for the most part. You've got jobs to do. I think it just allowed me to understand the job that the media has to do when I was working in politics. I think it prepared me for that more than anything else.
Q: I know you're looking forward to the game, but if I could have look back for just a moment. When you first got here and you were trying to identify leaders on this football team - I'm guessing Manti Te’o was probably one of them - what did you see when you first encountered him as a person and a player, and how has he grown to where he's at right now?
BK: Well, I think for a lot of our guys I believe that they had leadership qualities. It's still not enough to just point at somebody and say, ‘He's going to be a leader.’ You still have to draw that out of them. I think what we were able to draw out of Manti was that he had himself in order in terms of what he did on a day‑to‑day basis.What we wanted him to do was impact others. Accountability, if you will, to all players on our team at the highest level. So I think where his growth came from was that he started to hold others to the same level that he held himself. I think that's where it starts to spread. There is no question in my mind that there are other players that took hold of accountability for others, and that's why we have such a dynamic group of leaders with this team.
Q: Bit of a big picture question. How instrumental has Paul Longo been over the last three years with the work that he's done with this team?
BK: We certainly wouldn't be the football team that we are today without our strength and conditioning program, and in particular the leadership that Paul brings us. He's been with me the last three stops, knows exactly what I'm looking forward in terms of developing our players, not just in the weight room, but outside the weight room.
You've got to understand, one of the huge dynamics of a strength and conditioning team is that when the coaches are away for three months and they're not able to have interaction with your football team, that has to be the biggest jump that a football team makes. Has to be during those three months.
Understand there are 105 players out there and we have three strength and conditioning coaches. So you can imagine how important he is to the development not only as it relates to their strength, but conditioning and their ability to go above and beyond. So he's an integral part. I consider him a leadership part of our entire operation. He's been instrumental in getting us to where we are today.
Q: What would you say has impressed you the most about Theo Riddick’s versatility?
BK: Well, for me there has been always that love of playing the game. He loves to play. He comes to practice with that same kind of attitude every single day. I think he needed to get more comfortable as a player. At times he was not as comfortable at the wide receiver position. I think when we got him back with the ball in his hand as a running back he really, really blossomed as a complete player. I think the stages that he went through this year were that he exerted his will; he played physical; he had a determination; he made a number big plays during the year. I'll go back to Purdue; I'll go back to Pittsburgh; I'll go back to games where he exerted his presence on the field.
So it's one thing to go back to a position where you feel comfortable. But when he went back there, he impacted our games with a senior's kind of resolve that, I'm going to find a way to win this game.
Q: Can you just talk about Stephon Tuitt and kind of the anchor that he's providing for your defense right now. He was a big-time recruit when you got him. Has he developed maybe even a little bit faster than you would have expected in terms of being a first team All‑American in some publications?
BK: Yeah, I don't give much stock to the All‑American status. We respect that and we are happy that he's an All‑American, but we look at it a whole lot differently. So how we evaluate our players, there's no recognition that changes the way we look at them. Stephon's process in terms developing into the player that he is today has been one where he had to be unselfish first and foremost. He had to be a guy that was committed to being solid against the run and not just, ‘I want to be an edge player.’ He's seen, by the number sacks that he has this year, that he can be both. So the transformation for Stephon Tuitt for us is that he's embraced his role of being a guy that will play the four technique and be a two‑gapper were against the run and also be able to rush the passer and do both.
That's the transformation that we've seen that we're most pleased with as relates it Stephon. And he's only going to continue to get better as we move forward. This is really, truly his first full year of playing the game. And he went through some ups and downs. You know, playing in a 12‑game schedule was a little different. There were some areas where we had to get him through week eight or nine or ten.So we saw a guy really maturing and developing, but more than anything else, accepting the role on defense is what we, as coaches, most appreciate.
Q: We've asked you a dozen different ways about Everett Golson's development, whether it be red zone or leadership. I'm just curious about handling the spotlight of the championship game. Are you confident he can handle this, that this isn't going to be too big of a stage for him or too bright of lights?
BK: I don't know if you can say for certain that there won't be some nervousness there, but he's been on some big stages. I mean, the USC game was a pretty big stage, to go undefeated, to be on national television. Heck, the kid started I think three or four games that were on national television, and in pretty hostile environments. At USC, at Oklahoma, at Michigan State. He's got enough seasoning. I would be very, very surprised if he can't handle the moment. I think he's got enough experience this year that he can go in there and play the game. He'll be like anybody else. The nerves will have to settle down. I think as he gets into the flow of the game, once you start seeing him smile a little bit, I think everyone that watches him knows that's when he plays his best.
Q: Just following up on the Golson question, with all these extra practices and no games in the middle to have to deal with, what are you looking for from Everett? What do you want to see improvement‑wise as you move towards this bowl game?
BK: There are a lot of things that we want to see. I think in this preparation sometimes you have to be careful that when you're practicing you don't slip up and start to create bad habits. Going out there and trying to make plays without staying in the realm of the offense because you know it's your guys you're going against. They're not going to hit you. You're not going to get a penalty on this play.
So really trying to keep them focused on playing 11-on-11 football even though it's against your teammates and still being disciplined in everything you do. That's the huge challenge that we have with the young quarterback that wants to do more and more. We almost have to make certain that we do less and less but we do it better and better.
That's the biggest challenge as it relates to Everett. Then the fun part is taking some of the things that we know that we have to work on and really focusing strictly on those things, whether it be red zone, whether it be quarterback runs, or third down and long, we can now focus on his development in those areas.
But by and far, the most concerning thing for me is to make sure that we don't develop bad habits in this time when there is a lot half speed, three‑quarter speed action going on.
Q: I know a lot of the way your coaching staff works is how the pieces fit together. Can you talk about Bobby Elliott.
BK: Well, first of all, it's staff chemistry, and we've got an incredibly strong group on the defensive side of the ball. Bobby Elliott coached Kerry Cooks, our co‑coordinator, and Bob Diaco.He's somebody that has a great deal of experience as a coordinator on the BCS level, incredible amount of experience, and he doesn't have an ego. He wants to just fit into the staff dynamics. For us, that's one of our key ingredients to success is to have a staff that puts their egos aside and really works on the development of their players.
He's done an incredible job.
Q: I guess it's an Everett day. You talked about the stages that he's been on. I believe it was after the Oklahoma game he said to us very openly that he didn't think he could win that kind of a game just three weeks prior. What are you seeing though in practices, the subtle things that we're not seeing that you haven't talked about that lead you to believe that the moment won't overwhelm him?
BK: There are a lot of things. I think those comments that he made at that time had a lot to do with him not finishing some games leading up to that. As you know, we had to take him out on a couple occasions. Now, we did that to win the games. If you think of it just from an Everett Golson standpoint, there had to have been, at times, questions about, ‘Does coach Kelly want me to be the guy here? Is this my job or Tommy Rees' job?’ Even though we told him it was his, those actions probably weren't clear enough for him.
I think once he knew after the Oklahoma game that he was the guy, the confidence level and the trust builds and builds and builds. I think that's why I'm confident that the moment won't be too big for him, because he knows that we've got 100 percent confidence and trust in him that he can go in and win us a National Championship.
Q: Do you believe he's going to have to make a couple plays in the passing game considering how good Alabama is against the run? They have been somewhat susceptible to the pass.
BK: Oh, there is no question. We're not going to be able to run it at will against the defense that we're going to see in Alabama. We're going to have to throw the football. We're going to have to find some big‑chunk plays. He's going have to be integral in that. He knows that and we know that. I think Alabama knows that, too.He's got to be a guy this creates some plays for us at the quarterback position.
Q: Coming into your tenure here and then coming into this season, there were questions about Notre Dame's seat at the table in the big picture. Can you talk about how this season has sort of reaffirmed Notre Dame in that top echelon, and obviously the way the BCS is realigned now your place there being secure?
BK: Well, two things stand out. Before the season started, before we had won one football game, we were able to gain access to the final four. So I think everything that led up to this season still made it clear this Notre Dame had a seat at that table. After winning this year and showing that we can win nationally against perennially great programs, I think it just secured our philosophy of being an independent and being part of the national landscape.
So two things came together:One, that we had that seat before the season started, and then we strengthened that decision by going undefeated. I think those are the two things that came together for us this year.
Q: I'm going to piggyback on question about Bob Elliott. I think going into this season it would have been fair to say that your secondary was considered a weakness or an area of question, especially after you have the critical injury early on to Jamoris Slaughter. How has Bob Elliott's sort of veteran hand helped sort of guide a young, inexperienced secondary, and specifically the safeties, to a point where it's probably become one of your strengths?
BK: Yeah, three wide receivers recruited as wide receivers that are playing for the top defense in the country. Bob Elliott and Kerry Cooks have done an incredible job back there in developing those players. I would also say you know, it's ease to talk about Matthias Farley moving over there and KeiVarae Russell is a true freshman. Bennett Jackson hasn't played a lot, and more importantly Zeke Motta has played incredible football.
So if you take a true freshman and you take a senior and they're both playing their best football at the end of the year, that says a lot about the coaching and development that they had under Kerry and Bob. They've done an incredible job. We would not be where we are without those coaches developing those players to the level they are today.
Q: Two questions:This is a unique job, Notre Dame, in many ways. How have you evolved in the three years you've been here, Xs and Os, philosophy, maybe how you deal with people? How that is Notre Dame changed you?
BK: Well, I had 19 years of head coaching experience when I got here. I thought that would prepare me. I think it did in a lot of areas, but not in all the areas necessary to be the head coach at Notre Dame. I think the job tends to distract you. There are a lot of things that pull you away from the primary reason why you want to be head coach of Notre Dame, and that is graduate your players and play for a National Championship.
Now, to do that you have to have the pulse of your football team and you've got to have relationships with your players. If you're already going around the country doing other things other than working with your football team, it's hard to have the pulse of your team.
So I made it a point that I was going to spend more time with our team this year. That's why I got into this. I want to develop 18-to-21 year olds. My development as the head coach at Notre Dame this year has been about getting back to why you would want to coach college players. You want to learn about them; you want to know their strengths and weaknesses; you want to help them with leadership skills; you want to help them when they're not feeling confident in their ability.
For me, that is why it's been the most enjoyable year as the head coach at Notre Dame, is that I got a chance to spend more time with my team.
Q: With this game, in the past Urban Meyer, for example, made no bones about the fact that he used the fact that Florida was an underdog against Ohio State to try and motivate his team. I don't know if you can quantify why underdogs have done well in this game, but Notre Dame is the underdog. Are you the type of coach that would use, ‘Hey, nobody respects you,’ as a way to sort of fire up your team? Do you think there is an advantage to that?
BK: I mean, I've used that technique before in my time as a head coach. I don't know if that's as pertinent because it's a one‑game deal. It's all or nothing. Both teams have different dynamics to deal with a long layoff. Preparation is more important than any kind of fire and brimstone speech I can bring them.The preparation is really where this is going to be at, and getting your football to be at its peak on Jan. 7.
Although I don't disregard that can 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.
Q: Talk about this team and just how far you guys have come. To start the season unranked and to be where you are now ranked No. 1 in the country, first of all has to make you smile, but has to make you proud as well?
BK: Oh, no question. I'm very proud of my staff and all the players. And when you talk about pride, you talk about pride from within. In other words, all of our players know, as well as our coaches, what we had to sacrifice to get to this point.
I've said this a number of times: what we have done this year more than anything else is our guys care about each other. I'm not going to say they hang out together every one of them and they love each other, but they really care about each other. When you care about each other you have a chance to be a good football team.
That came together this year. They care about each other in the locker room, and then they learned how to play the game the right way. So there is a lot of pride because there is a lot of work behind the scenes that go to those two things in particular, those guys caring about each other and playing the game the right way.
Q: Talk about Manti and everything that he went through the past couple weeks, and now coming into this game just where his mind frame will be and the hunger he's going to have to play football and get all that behind.
BK: I thought he did a tremendous job of handling the incredible process that he went through. He respected every night where he was being awarded something. All those awards were significant to him and his family. He was approachable. He was great with people. For me it was an amazing thing to see this young man go from city to city and treat each one of those awards as they were individually as important nights.Now, I also saw him probably as tired as I've ever seen him before, because that takes a lot of your energy, a lot of your time. I would tell you that when he got back here last week, he was excited about staying up late to work on exams. He was excited about being a college student. He was excited about getting back to practice. That's the amazing thing about this young man, is that he can be so professional and so keyed in on how important each one of those events are. He did not blow off anything. He didn't not show up for a signing. He didn't blow off the dinner. He was at everything. Then to come back and just being a college guy this week, that's what makes that young man special.
Q: Self‑scout for a minute. Just how your play‑calling ability had to change this year, how you got to this point in your career, nursing Everett through to this point, brining Tommy in at the right time, versus maybe the year when you had to use five quarterbacks. It's almost all over the map.
BK: Yeah. I think central to that was that we were going to play an inexperienced freshman quarterback. So let's start with that decision first. Then 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.
So we had two things going on there. We had, We're going to play a freshman quarterback, and we're not going to say, It's a transition year. We're going to give him experience, take our lumps, and move forward. I've just never operated that way.So with those two things coming together, you have to find a way to win those games, manage those games, limit possessions, hold on to the football. So because those were the two immediate factors, then you have to adapt to the way you run those games. That's how we came up with the formula this year to play the way we've played.Next year might different depending on what those key factors are.
Q: You won't say this, but did you sense there were those that thought '13 was the year, '14 was the year? Like you said, you didn't want this to be a transition year.
BK: That was brought up to me. Those words were clearly in my ear. But I have not done a good job my entire career of listening to other people's expectations. I had set my own expectations for what we wanted to accomplish, and we went about it that way.
Q: You talked briefly about your coaching career: Grand Valley, BCS bowl appearances in Cincinnati. Obviously this is the biggest stage that you're at. What have those other experiences done for you in the past?
BK: Oh, all of those experiences have made me who I am today, good and bad. I mean, there's learning on the job at Grand Valley at 28 years old. I thought I knew what I was doing but I really didn't. I was kind of learning as I went.
Being able to put together staffs along the way. When you're transitioning from job to job, you have to go out and put together staffs and coach your coaches along the way. So all those experiences.
Getting out in the commitment in Cincinnati and trying to build momentum for a football program. All of those experiences helped me get where I was here at Notre Dame.
And then, there is no job like Notre Dame. So all of those experiences were great, and then you get here and you have to ready understand the job here.No amount have amount of preparation gets you ready for the job at Notre Dame.