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Brian Kelly: 'I Led This Team Poorly'

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Brian Kelly met with the media Monday for the first time since November.
Corey Bodden

Brian Kelly knows he’ll be reminded of the past, specifically this past season, for months on end.

The Notre Dame head coach, who enters 2017 on the hot seat, said he’s focused on the present, but took one last look at the team’s disappointing 2016 campaign.

“There are no bad football teams,” Kelly said Monday. “There's just poorly-led football teams. And I led this team poorly.”

At his press conference to announce his seven new assistant coaches — which includes new leadership on offense, defense and strength and conditioning — Kelly, in his first interview since a season-ending loss at Southern Cal, touched on a wide range of topics.

The eighth-year coach was asked about his postseason conversation with athletic director Jack Swarbrick. Kelly said his own job status was not discuss, only the plans for the future of the program.

“The great thing about Notre Dame is you're not defined by what happened in the past; it's about what you do in the future,” Kelly said. “And we all know that we did not live up to the expectations. We're here — our mission is a mission of excellence. It's to win championships and to graduate our players. We fell short of that.

“But we didn't sit around talking about what we didn't do. We spent all of our time thinking about what we needed to do to be successful, and that's when you know you have great leaders. And didn't waste time on discussions that were not tangible or specific to how do we get better.”

Kelly’s exit interviews with Notre Dame’s players — he spoke with 96, he said — highlighted a need for sweeping changes. Gone is strength and conditioning coach Paul Long, who Kelly said “cannot fulfill the duties of this position.” Longo was placed on long-term disability, and the Irish brought in Matt Balis from Connecticut to fill the role.

Notre Dame’s top offensive coaches Mike Sanford (head coach at Western Kentucky) and Mike Denbrock (offensive coordinator at Cincinnati) left for other opportunities. Kelly brought in Memphis’ Chip Long as offensive coordinator, handing the 34-year-old play-calling duties.

Former Wake Forest assistant Mike Elko will run the defense, a hire Kelly hopes will generate some pressure and re-energize a porous defense. Former Nevada head coach Brian Polian was brought in to upgrade the special teams.

It all comes back to Kelly, though.

“Change always starts with the top,” Kelly said. “Last year, certainly we didn't live up to those expectations and that falls on me first and foremost. And we needed to make some significant changes. Significant not just in terms of personnel but on how we do things on a day-to-day basis and it starts with me.”

Quick Hits

• Elko will coach the safeties, Kelly said. Mike Elston will work with the defensive line. Long will serve as the tight ends coach in addition to his duties as offensive coordinator.

• New quarterbacks coach Tom Rees, a former Notre Dame QB, is currently in a graduate assistant role until the NCAA passes legislation allowing a 10th assistant coach.

"He will have the room," Kelly said. "He will coach those quarterbacks on a day-to-day basis, and I have great confidence in his ability to do so. Not many guys that have walked out on that field with the score tied and with the game on the line, and with the pressure on and have turned it around to victories for Notre Dame."

Autry Denson (running backs), Harry Hiestand (offensive line) and Todd Lyght (defensive backs) stay in their current roles. Jeff Quinn will return to the team as a "senior analyst," Kelly said. Jeff Burris will again be a defensive analyst.

• Notre Dame's strength and conditioning team will consist of five people, Kelly said. Assisting Balis will be former IMG strength coach Dave Ballou. Jake Flint and David Grimes remain on staff, and the Irish have one hire still to make in that department. Pryce Tracy will be the special teams analyst.

• Notre Dame has also decided not to go to IMG Academy for spring practice, Kelly said.

"Because of the new legislation, we decided not to go to IMG for our spring training," Kelly said. " I just feel like with that rule now officially on the books, it doesn't make any sense for us to do something that they have now legislated out. I don't want to be that team, you know, that jumps in there just before they change the legislation."

Brian Kelly On His New Assistants

Offensive coordinator Chip Long

“Chip just kept coming up on the list. Then I spent some time with him and it was pretty clear that I had found my guy as our next offensive coordinator. So very excited to have Chip as our offensive coordinator.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Elko

“I was looking for something that would take the football away; somebody that has had great success in doing so, as well as a continued success as a coordinator and Mike Elko's name just kept coming up at the top of the list.”

Director of football performance Matt Balis

“We spent equally as much time on interviewing candidates for the strength and conditioning position, and we came up with Matt Balis as our director of football performance; and feel as though he's already made a very big impact on our football team.”

Special teams coordinator Brian Polian

We were able to hit a home run here with Brian Polian. Many of you know Brian from his time here. But obviously as a head coach, he brings such a great perspective on the overall workings on a day-to-day basis in developing players. He'll be charged with developing our entire special teams, and we think that we're going to be able to provide an incredible opportunity for all those that are going to be playing under his guidance.

Linebackers coach Clark Lea

“He’s already done a really fine job in the recruiting efforts. Has built great relationships early on that have come to fruition for us in recruiting. So really pleased to add Clark to our linebackers position.”

Receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander

“What I loved about DelVaughn is his organization skills and his ability to teach the wide receivers, as well as a veteran coach who has built great relationships with his players.”

Quarterbacks coach Tom Rees

“He's got grit, he's got resilience, and he's got all the traits that you want in one of your coaches that has played the position here at Notre Dame that he can bring out of our quarterbacks. There's nobody better to be able to teach that position than somebody who has done it here at Notre Dame, and he'll be able to mentor our quarterback group in a manner and fashion that nobody else in the country can.”

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