Transcript: Brian Kelly, Dec. 27
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Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly addressed the media on Thursday just a couple of days ahead of the Irish's playoff semifinal matchup with the Clemson Tigers.
Check out what he had to say below.
Q: How big of a win will it be to put 2012 to rest?
BRIAN KELLY: “I put that to rest the next day. That's why we're back here, building our football team, to get an opportunity to compete for a national championship. We put that behind us because you can't move forward unless you are building your football team. Our goal has been to win a national championship and get back to that. We are back here now. We've got to win a football game. We got a really good opponent in Clemson.”
Q: Would a win validate Notre Dame to be back on the national scene as permanent power
KELLY: “We are. You wouldn't be here unless we are on the national scene.”
Q: Just like Clemson, you came in with an incumbent starter and you had to make a decision. And when you put Ian into that role, how did you spend time so the team would make his role stand out?
KELLY: “I think there are different circumstances when you make changes at the quarterback, and I have made them in my 28 years as head football coach. Sometimes it's more delicate than others. It was not a delicate situation. Our team trusts whoever is the signal caller. I think that was evidenced in the way we played with Brandon [Wimbush] and the way that we played with Ian.
"I didn't need to do anything behind the scenes, to answer your question. It had been done by the way they handled themselves and the respect they had built with the team itself. For any one of you who knows what that is, is that a tire? Of course, one of our sponsors being Goodyear, let me throw that in.”
Q: How do you view this as a measuring stick for your program going against a quality team, an opponent like Clemson?
KELLY: “I don't. We had a number of games this year. We understand who we are, and our schedule is a measuring stick. If we wanted to measure who we were, you just start with Michigan at the opener. I think that would probably -- if you asked that question after the Michigan game, I would probably say, We're going to be a pretty good team this year. But when you go through and you win week after week, you're past measuring sticks. You're about consistency and performance. You are about complementing your offense and defense and special teams. We are well past that narrative.”
Q: You said after week one, you could tell this was going to be a pretty good football team. Was there any point in the season where you first felt like, to make it to the College Football Playoff was possible?
KELLY: “Yeah, I mean, I think you see remnants of it in your off-season. We came off a pretty good year last year. We felt there were some things last year at 10-3 that we had to address. We had a good bowl win over LSU, but there were things we needed to work on. I thought we worked on them in the off-season. We addressed them.
"Felt like if things continued to move in the right direction in the off-season and then through the spring and summer, we had to really begin with beating our first game against Michigan. And I think things would fall into place. And then there was no other goal in mind but to be back here and to be part of the Playoff conversation.”
Q: Talk about the confidence that the team has in Justin [Yoon] and you have in him as a kicker that he can hit it from just about anywhere.
KELLY: “I think any time you talk about good football teams and consistent football teams, they have to have a kicker that you can rely on in any kind of circumstance. And in particular late in games. Justin has been a very steady player for us, has not gotten the national attention for some reason. I don't know why. He's our all-time leading scorer in Notre Dame, and I don't think you see his name anywhere. But for us, he has been that consistent player at that position that is required from all good football teams.”
Q: You talked about the quarterback situation, the way that Brandon [Wimbush] has handled this season. Certainly the other side, Kelly Bryant at Clemson decided to leave after four games to maintain a redshirt year. How did Brandon handle all of this? Have you talked to him about what his future might be with a potential to transfer and stuff like that down the road?
KELLY: “Yeah, you know, those situations are different, right? Brandon had another year available to him; Kelly didn't. I don't know Kelly Bryant other than, you know, he just seems like a good kid. And he had to preserve a year for himself under those circumstances.
“So Brandon was still in a competitive situation for us, still had another year of eligibility remaining, knew that he could be called upon. And I don't think there was ever a situation where he thought, when he was no longer the starter, about transferring because he knew how important he was to our football team. Having said that, now he knows that last year is his last year of competition, we enter a whole new situation relative to, you know, what's his future.
“He's put his name into the portal for transfer, which I think he should. He should keep all of his options open. He's got his degree from Notre Dame. We've had a number of conversations about what that looks like. No decision has been made whether he is going to come back as a graduate student or a transfer, but he should certainly do what he's doing and keep all of his options open.
“His focus is strictly now on these games in front of us, obviously, Saturday. And we are hopeful that that continues. That's his focus right now, but he needs to keep his options open as well.”
Q: When you guys came into the stadium earlier this week, was there kind of a shock-and-awe factor that you needed to get over?
KELLY: “I think anybody that comes in here for the first time, you know, the first thing that jumps out at you is the scoreboard. All year, we have stayed away from going to the stadium on the road. I've made it a routine to show a video of that stadium and have made it kind of a light-hearted attempt to show the stadium in a manner that is bigger than maybe it is. When you walk in here, it's not bigger than it is. I mean, it hits you.
“However, we've built a routine here now, you know, that we've been here now. This will be our fourth practice. I think our kids feel a lot more comfortable in the environment. We put crowd noise in here yesterday. It was deafening. So I think we've acclimated quite well to it. I think we'll be able to handle the moment as it gets closer to game time.
“I think there are a couple of adjustments. This board, when you get a punt up into that board, to the side of the board, it changes the optics a little bit. But, other than that, I think the routine that we have built here has helped us quite a bit. If it was our first time walking through the doors, you'd be a little bit distracted.
“Tim Collins is audio-visual for Notre Dame, one of the best in the business. That's his entire crew right there. He has more student videographers than anybody in the country. So when you talk about those Alabama staffs being large, we have the largest videographer staff in the country. What are we? 72 now, guys? 60. All on scholarship too, yeah funded through Grand Nave.”
Q: Tom Rinaldi talked about how you've changed as a man in the last couple of years. Can you talk to that, about how you changed some things a couple years ago and your perspective and how you deal with the team?
KELLY: “I don't know if I changed as a man. You'd have to ask my wife that. That's a little personal. I think what Tom might be referring to more than anything else is my approach on a day-to-day basis relative to my relationships with the team and how I spent my time. It's been good. It's healthy for me, it's healthy for our football team that I spend more time and delegate more to our assistant coaches. It's certainly something that it's a healthy kind of me relative to how I go to work every single day.”
Q: Has that manifested in any way on how you approach this game and this week? Have you taken time to enjoy the pampering that goes on, the events that are set up for you guys? KELLY: “Yeah, I mean, I think, for me, eyes wide open, you don't go into these games and not want to win them, right? So the focus has been on being here to win this football game. But the Cotton Bowl and the way they treat you is so different than any other experience that we certainly have felt it. But I think, in terms of the day-to-day approach, my focus, I know our staff, they really appreciate how they have been treated. But it's been so much more of a business trip than any other time before."
Q: Do you know what Brandon Wimbush's plans are beyond this season? Has he told you whether he will be at Notre Dame or not next year?
KELLY: “We've had two discussions, preliminary in nature, about his options. No decision has been made. But I think -- I think he's torn right now. I mean, I think he -- he's always been team first and about the moment, and so his focus has been on these games. But he knows there's an immediacy as well. So that's why he's gone through the proper channels to put his name in the portal to make sure that he leaves that door open. But he also knows that he's got enough time to work the back channels and figure out that, if he does want to transfer, that he can do that.
“But I honestly think he's in a position where he's focused on these games, that he hasn't gone all in on saying "I'm going to X, Y, Z school." So our conversations have been supportive. And I truly would tell you, I'm supportive of whatever his decisions. He's earned the right to transfer and play in his senior year for what he's done for Notre Dame. He's gotten his degree. He's helped our football team.
“But if he's decided to stay, he'll be a leader on this football team, most likely a captain. And we'll make sure that he's involved in our offensive structure. So he's got some decisions to make. He knows it's a short timeline. But we've put himself in a position where, if he's got to make a quick decision, he's laid the groundwork for it.”
Q: How much did him having to play against Florida State help him become a better backup for the rest of the season? In other words, you get to the game where, he's a play away. I might be putting words in his mouth that he felt stale, but he felt like that helped him get back into the mode that he was ready to play.
KELLY: “I don't think we as coaches kind of evaluate that from a perspective of, well, you hadn't played in a long time and then you got to go in there. But you could see that his preparation was a lot more urgent, if you will, after that game and everything that he did. And he has been outstanding in terms of the way he's prepared in a sense that you can see things developing much more than they were when he was not playing. And so I think there was definitely a change in the way he saw things in his own preparation, sometimes that we don't see. And he's ready to play. I mean, if he has to go out here and play, he will play at a high level.”
Q: What has it been like watching Ian Book's journey coming from such a small high school and now he's on this giant stage? What has that been like?
KELLY: “When we recruited him, you know, it was an interesting recruiting kind of journey in that it was one where he was committed somewhere, and then we got involved. And I didn't know Ian very well. Mike Sanford knew him from recruiting, and then I got in kind of late, got out there to meet him and his family, and really felt like he was a great fit at Notre Dame.
“So getting into the process late, getting to know the family, was a different journey for us. We're usually, you know, 12 to 16 months out in the recruiting process where we really get to know them. They're on campus a lot. So this was a little bit different from that perspective, but we knew he was a great fit. He comes to campus and it's really a learning process for him. And he just continues to develop physically.
“And we see kind of a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel last spring -- not this coming spring, the spring before -- that this young man has got a chance. And then he's just continued to progress to the point where now he's a starter. So this is the classic case of under recruitment and somebody that has, you know, blossomed a little bit later than maybe some other high-profile four-, five-star players."
Q: Do you allow yourself to be a fan at all during this? Do you have a moment or two where you're like, wow, this is what I dreamed of my whole life? You've been through this experience before, but do you get moments or two where you can reflect on where you're at? KELLY: “No. This feels pretty comfortable to me, like I've been here before. Maybe I haven't, but I act like I have. Aren't you supposed to fake it until you make it?”
Q. I think that's the rule.
KELLY: “I read that somewhere in a book. Take note of this. If you haven't been there before, fake it till you make it.”
Q: You obviously grew up watching football your whole life. And you've obviously had the experience in 2012 of this. Do you allow yourself to maybe think like, man, where you've been, where you've come to, and where you're going, not to be too clichéd?
KELLY: “You've been around me. I don't seem to wax philosophically very much. I'm really proud of our football team. I'm really proud of our staff and what they've put in, the work to get to this point. I think we deserve to be here. I know we deserve to be here, and we expect to be back here again.”
Q: Not to get too philosophical, but what is the meaning of life?
KELLY: “What is the meaning of life? For me, it's just health, happiness, being around people that are positive on a day-to-day basis. I want to be surrounded with people that are passionate and really bring happiness and life to what you're doing every day. You only get that stuff from Goshen, Indiana, folks.”
Q: Coach, talk about the difference of the BCS era versus now you're in the College Football Playoff in terms of preparation, if any.
KELLY: “Well, you know, I think the preparation for us is that you always have one game in the old BCS; this is two with college football. You're in a playoff bracket structure. It's, you know, the basketball tournament, you're in the final four. So you're thinking about, certainly, this game is the most important, but there's more games to be played. So it's a little bit of a different feeling, where it's not one and done. You got to win to keep playing, so it has a little bit of a different feel.”
Q: I've asked you this before, but I'm curious, now that you're here, when you played Alabama back in 2012, which feels like a million years ago, it was a great learning experience in terms of, hey, we got to go back to the drawing board. Doesn't mean you're a failure, but you've had great success. But to get to that spot, you had to go through a game like that. Now we fast-forward to now, talk about what you learned from a personal standpoint and also putting together a team.
KELLY: “First of all, we needed to have more depth within our program. We were pretty good with our first 44 players. We needed to get down to 85. So we have -- you know, all phases of our football team have been strengthened: offense, defense, special teams. Our front four, linebackers, back end are all really good, offensive line, wide receivers, quarterback. This is a much more balanced football team.
“That was a team that we were winning close games. That team could have been 5-7. This team was 12-0, and it deserved to be 12-0. So much more balance and depth within the program. And, for me, probably just more delegation of responsibility and, for me, spending more time on total preparation of our football team, the mental aspects of going through a schedule like this. So I think, for me, delegation to staff and spending more time on the mental preparation.”
Q: One of the cool things about this game Saturday is the fact that we get old teams. You hear that sometimes in basketball. Now teams like to get old. But you take a look at your roster, Dabo's [Swinney] roster, you got a bunch of dudes that, right now, are seniors, juniors, graduates, in terms of guys who've been there and big games. And you don't see that a whole lot.
KELLY: Again, equating the basketball, our point guards are veterans, right? The guys that are handling the football in this game are going to take care of the football. And I think that's a pretty good thing. And that's why I think it's going to be a pretty exciting football game.”
Q: How tough is it knowing that Drue Tranquill will not be on the roster next year? KELLY: “Yeah, it will be different, certainly, with his impact, not only as a football player, but in all areas. You know, you could list his impact as being as effective off the field in this 12-0 season as it was on the field as a roving leader.
“When I say a roving leader, somebody that is impacting how things go in the training room, how things are going in the meal room, just, on the road, how people are handling, you know, rooming assignments. I mean, just having a 11th coach, if you will. So he will be irreplaceable as it relates to having a sergeant, if you will, that passes on all those orders and makes sure they get done. As you can tell, I speak from my heart with Drue because he meant so much to our football team this year, but last year as well, and he'll be sorely missed.”
Q: His ability to overcome injuries and just adapt so well, we found video from his signing day. And it was you talking about how versatile it is. "we don't know how we'll use him, but we'll find a way.” How satisfied are you with how many different ways you've been able to use him?
KELLY: “I go back to the recruitment of Drue Tranquill. He was going to go to Purdue because we were so smart that we didn't recruit him. And then I saw him in our one-day camp. And I told our staff, ‘We're taking Drue Tranquill.’ Because, when he came to this camp, he had been told no by Notre Dame five times, and he still came to this camp and he was the best player at this camp.
“And in so many other ways, right? The way he competed, every drill, didn't take any time off. I didn't know we were going to play him at any position; I just needed him on our football team. So it was evident when I saw him as a senior in high school that he was going to impact our football team in some fashion. And, five years later, or seven years later -- I don't know how long he's been here, it just seems like that -- he's impacted our football team in three different positions now: safety, rover, and at linebacker.”
Q: Has married life treated Drue [Tranquill] well as a football player?
KELLY: “I think where he has made great strides is where he was able to take his wife to New York and Atlanta and we were able to fly private back to South Bend. And I think he made some real good inroads on his marriage.
“Now, that's going to set him up for failure because that's not going to happen very often. But, yeah, the bar is high. So when she has to fly commercial again with him, I think it's going come back down to a pretty long honey-do list.”
Q: Not sure how much of this you can get into, but how much internal debate was there on the staff maybe after the Ball State game in terms of quarterback and then kind of why you pulled the trigger when you did?
KELLY: “Chip [Long] and I had conversations about the effectiveness of how we were running the offense. I brought Chip in to move the ball around. And we were having some difficulties moving the ball around. So this was more about giving him the tools necessary to be an effective play-caller.
“We had had those conversations. We were trying to fit it and make it work the best we could. It was the realization that I had that we were affecting other parts of the operation that led to a final conversation that we would make a change there. We played 96 snaps on defense. When we have to play that many steps, it started to filter into other parts of the organization. That's when I had to get involved and make the decision."
Q: How soon in the Wake Forest game did you realize Ian [Book] is the right guy here?
KELLY: “I don't know that that really -- obviously, when he hit Alize Mack, we had not gotten the ball to the tight end. I think when he hit Alize Mack two or three times early on some crossing routes, on some high-percentage throws that we had not been effective with, I felt like we were going to be okay there. I don't know that I went into the game with huge doubt. I think I went into the game with more of it'll happen, it's just when is it going to happen?”
Q. How high on the priority list is keeping Ian Book just upright in this game to helping you guys win this one?
KELLY: “Oh, no question protection plays a lot in it. The ball is coming out quick, though, folks. I mean, this is not going to be five- and seven-step drop; the ball is coming out. We got to move the launch point a little bit. We're not going to drop back and sit there. So we've got to find some balance. We're not going to bludgeon them off the line of scrimmage, but we've got to keep them off-balance. We've got to be able to do some things that allow us to get the ball out and have some shots down the field.
“So it's comprehensive. You can't just line up and drop back and expect that you're going to have a field day here. But I think we've got enough of a plan here, and we've been through this before, that, you know, move the launch point a little bit, get the ball out quick, some misdirection, and find a way to run the ball enough to build at least a little uncertainty as to whether it's RPO or whether you're running the football.”
Q: Looking back at Jerry Tillery, he's had tremendous ups, has had some downs too. What have you seen from him this year? And do you feel like this is kind of a coming of age for him?
KELLY: Yeah, really proud of the way he has been as a teammate. Look, he comes back with a degree. He can be one of two ways. He can be all about himself, or he can be about his professional development and take coaching and develop to the level where he can help himself in the draft and still be part of a group. He did it the right way, and that's hard to do.
“I mean -- and that's why I'm really proud of -- Mike Elston has done a great job there of keeping that group together. Jonathan Bonner did the same thing. He came back for a fifth year where he's already had his degree. There's two guys right there that have a degree from Notre Dame that came back and worked their craft and did it for themselves but also did it for the benefit of the entire group. So really proud of both those guys.”
Q. You got the hospital visit coming up later today. How important is that for the team just to keep things in perspective during a really hectic week?
KELLY: “You know, our guys come to Notre Dame because part of their want and desire to come to Notre Dame is that it's about being other-centered. It's about what they can do to help others, and it's important in their spiritual growth. And spiritual growth at Notre Dame doesn't mean that we hold you down and go to Catholic mass. Spiritual growth is the ability to be part of our community service, to give back. And the kids are really looking forward to this hospital visit.”
Q: Obviously, scout team often is the player of the year, and Mick Assaf had a great season. KELLY: “Yes. That's you, isn't it?”
Q: People have been talking about maybe more touches in this game versus Clemson. What are your thoughts on that?
KELLY: “I would say that the only touches you're going to get are on the sideline.”
Q: Not a bad place to get touches.
KELLY: “I don't know who's going to touch you on the sideline, but I think in pregame you'll get a couple of touches.”
Q: Brian, you mentioned going through this process. You mentioned the portal with Brandon [Wimbush]. What do you think of the way this transfer process is changing and kind of what do you expect in this off-season where maybe you have kids exploring a transfer but you're not totally sure if that means it's happening or not?
KELLY: “I mean, in an ideal world, you'd like to keep it under wraps, right? Because then everybody wouldn't be asking Brandon Wimbush about a transfer 48 hours prior to the game. I'm sure he would prefer that; I certainly would prefer that. But it takes it out of the hands of others who haven't handled it quite well, by blocking transfers and not letting kids investigate those kinds of options, which, in this instance, are certainly his prerogative.
“So you'd like a better way to do it; but, for right now, this seems to be the most reasonable way to do it. Maybe if we get a little bit more time, we can think about a better way to do it. But I think this seems to be the best way that we have right now.”
Q: Do you think that because of the way the system is, do you think we'll have more kids exploring transfers this off-season?
KELLY: I don't think the rule really -- I don't know if you're asking that there's a direct correlation to the four-game redshirt to transferring, because they really have nothing to do with each other. I think transferring has always been part of what's happening here. I mean, you're dealing with quarterbacks that -- you know, in this instance with Brandon [Wimbush], I mean, this makes sense that he should investigate it. He's a very, very good quarterback who should look at all of his options.
“If you're a freshman, should you do it? You know, I think that's individual to individual. Some would say, hey, you know, be more gritty, hang in there, fight it out. I mean, I think there's a number of ways to look at that.
“Others would say, hey, you know, you should have the right to go wherever you want to go. I mean, there's a ton of ways to look at it. I think each one of them is so individual that -- I don't know that it opens a Pandora's box per se; I think you're going to see quarterbacks, though, that are looking for opportunities to play.”
Q: Two years ago you won four games, and now you guys are here. What do you think the biggest, most important change is you made to where you guys are right now?
KELLY: “I think we developed better traits within our program. We lost -- I don't know. Of those eight games, I think, what, seven of those eight games we either held the lead or had the lead in the fourth quarter. We made personnel decisions within our program that were difficult. We made some changes there, but we developed the traits necessary to be successful. And those traits have carried us to where we are over the last two years and that is we've won 22 out of our last 25 games.”
Q: Do you feel you tweaked anything personally to where you looked in the mirror and said, "Hey, I have to make this change"?
KELLY: “Absolutely, it starts with me. It always starts with the leader of the organization. We went 4-8 because of my leadership, so I had to make changes. Nobody's going to follow somebody who thinks they know everything. I don't know everything. So I had to make some changes, and we made changes as a group. We made changes as individuals. And then we follow the plan and a process that has worked for us, and we have stuck with it and been consistent with it along the way.”
Q: What were some of the changes you made?
KELLY: “For me personally? Well, I think, first and foremost, we have been consistent with a message and a theme on a day-to-day basis that has allowed us to build a trust that this is who we are. This is who I am. I have delegated responsibility to coaches that allows me to spend more time with my players and spend more time on their preparation in all areas, the mental, the physical, technical, tactical, all of those areas. So building those relationships with players has afforded us I think a better opportunity to be successful.”
Q: Are there any advantages to facing a true freshman quarterback, or is this guy just that poised?
KELLY: “I thought he was suspended? That's the other Trevor. Oh, it's Lawrence. Well, that stinks, we have been preparing for the other guy. I mean, he's poised. He's polished. He's ahead of his years. So what you see is really who he is. He's a guy that is very committed to what he's doing. He doesn't get rattled. He's a really poised quarterback, accurate, athletic, can see the field. He's what you're looking for, and he doesn't play like a freshman.”
Q: How important is just winning the trenches in this game on both sides?
KELLY: “They're all part of it. There's no question. I still think in a lot of ways limiting big plays on both sides of the ball, and then you can start to focus on who's going to control the line of scrimmage. If it's big play after big play, it doesn't really matter what happens up front. So limiting the big plays allows us to get back to who can control the line of scrimmage.”
Q: How rare is it for guys like Ian [Book] and Brandon [Wimbush] to be as close as they are when they are competing every day? I mean, you look at quarterbacks all around the country and maybe those guys aren't as close as these guys.
KELLY: “Yeah. I think it's rare, in my experience. I think you can be cordial. I think you can be respectful. I think that you can know the boundaries and limits as it relates to keeping the team from picking sides. And I think that that's generally what happens in most instances. In other words, it doesn't go the other way where it becomes toxic. Their relationship is unusual.
“And so if it's unusual, it usually means that you have two unique young men that truly transcend normal competitiveness for their position. They're just unique young men in the sense that they really care about each other and they're selfless. So it's rare. I have been doing it a long time; I have not seen it before.”