Friend of the blog ESPN senior writer Bruce Feldman is down in Orlando for the AFCA Convention this week. He was able to spend some time with Irish head coach Brian Kelly and had an incredibly interesting conversation with the new head coach.
Here are a few highlights:
On how last year’s team somehow went 6-6?
Oh boy, that’s a long thing. I really think it’s three years if you
look at it. It’s three wins, six wins and six wins to be quite honest
with you. That’s (16 wins) and 22 losses. I don’t think this was just
last year. This was three years of things that needed to be attended to
and that’s why there’s been a change there. Charlie did a really good
job in a lot of areas, especially the academics. We’re here (at AFCA)
today to get the graduation rate award. I don’t think it’s been just
one year. It’s really been a culmination.
On how many players at Cincinnati he could’ve recruited at Notre Dame from an academic standpoint?
I think there’s more players I could’ve recruited academically than I could’ve athletically.
On what he thinks needs to change after a few weeks of assessments?
I sense a bit of entitlement that needs to be rectified. I think a
genuine respect for what you have and how it’s being presented to you
is the opposite end of entitlement and I need to move this program
towards that end.
Kelly hit the nail on the head with just about every answer he gave and even answers that could come across as lip-service seemed to be incredibly succinct and precisely what I’d want to hear if I was a Notre Dame fan. While Kelly downplaying recruiting isn’t something some that gets people excited, turning the focus on internal issues is a key change, especially with all the self-inflicted wounds that killed the Irish last season.
I was able to trade emails with Bruce yesterday afternoon after the interview was posted and he was effusive in his praise for Notre Dame’s new head coach. Feldman, who was one of the last major writers to stay on the Weis wagon, thinks Kelly will do big things in South Bend, and was impressed with how sharp and affable the new coach was — something that can’t hurt when dealing with reporters from ESPN. Feldman has spent 15 years in college football, a lot of time around coaches, and Irish fans should be very happy with the man now in charge.
Feldman was particularly impressed by the candor in Kelly’s answers — especially when talking about some potentially delicate issues — and how smooth the coach was when answering some tricky questions Feldman lobbed his way.
After reading Kelly’s comments a few times yesterday, one of the things I hadn’t thought of before was the idea of entitlement. While many of us have bemoaned the fact that losing Weis means losing a coach that truly understands what Notre Dame means, Kelly tackling the issue of entitled players was a breath of fresh-air.
If there was anything that drove me nuts about the Weis era, it was the lack of fortitude in the players and the worry that a lesser team always had the ability to shock the athletically superior and higher decorated Irish squad. With Kelly — a guy who grew up loving Notre Dame for what it stood for, not necessarily what it was — he’ll be able to remind his players just how lucky they are to be getting an opportunity to play football on one of the largest national stages, at an elite academic institution, for a football team with unrivaled tradition. At the very least, he’ll spend the next nine months ingraining in the heads of the Irish players that just because you’re wearing the blue and gold of the Irish, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed anything.