Brian Kelly has re-invented himself entering a crucial eighth season as Notre Dame head football coach.
The changes are obvious.
Kelly said he’s more involved with the day-to-day activities of the team, having listened to the 93 exit interviews with from the players after last year’s 4-8 finish. From those conversations Kelly learned that his players want to have a deeper relationship with their head coach.
A coach who has been criticized as not being “cool,” “fun,” and one needing an appointment to meet with is now attending 5:45 a.m. winter conditioning workouts with the team, he said.
Meet Brian Kelly: player's coach.
“It allows me to clearly spend and develop a deeper relationship with all of the players, not just offensive players, but all players,” Kelly said at his pre-spring press conference Tuesday. “Secondly, a better understanding of who needs certain time with me at certain times of the day. So I'm able to touch so many more players in the program by being accessible to them in that fashion.”
“It's pretty clear that my players want me to be more involved with the entire football team,” “They like it when I'm there in the morning. They like when I'm around. They like when I'm having breakfast with them. They like when I'm available to them. So I want to be able to do the things that help our football team win in any way that I can.
“So it's pretty clear to me after the last eight weeks that if I'm available to them, if I'm there to be able to talk with them, help them through whatever I need to help them with, that's the best way for us to win, then that's what I'm going to do.”
That raises the logical question: why was Kelly not already doing those things?
“There weren't enough hours in the day,” he said. “It became a situation where I was involved in the offense. I was worried about raising money for our new facility. I was not focused on the traits that I needed to build in this football team. And I'm not worried about that anymore. I'm going to let other people take care of that.”
He’s handed the offense off to new offensive coordinator Chip Long, giving Kelly an ability to spend time with all three phases of the game.
Kelly said he’s now more involved in team meetings with players, rather than remain in the staff room with the offense. He’s in study hall with the players.
Yes, Kelly even compared his current role to when he was at Division II Grand Valley State, where the stakes are lower and the head coach wears many different hats.
“I love it. You can't get up at 4:30 in the morning if you don't like it,” Kelly said. “If you don't love getting up and spending time with your players and are not energized to do that, you can't do this job.
“But I can't wait to get in here in the morning. I can't wait to spend time with our guys. They're incredible to work with. There's such a desire to want to be great. That's the only way you can continually, five days a week, get up early and get in here, because there is an incredible passion by our guys to want to be great.”