Kelly to give keynote speech, receive award

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With a bit of time to breath between the end of recruiting and spring practice, Brian Kelly has decided to fill his social calendar.

Kelly will deliver the keynote address at the grand opening of the Eddie Robinson Museum in Grambling, Louisiana this weekend.

This from the official release:

“Everybody knows about the incredible number of games that Coach
Robinson won, but it’s how he did it that always impressed me,” Kelly
said. “The class he consistently displayed and his integrity are only a
couple items I was always impressed with.

“As the head coach at Notre Dame, I was only too excited to be
invited to be part of an event that we believe recognizes one of the
finest men in our coaching professions’ history. We like to think the
values he instilled in his players are cornerstones of our program as

Notre Dame’s first-year head coach ranks as the
sixth-winningest active coach in the NCAA football bowl subdivision in
terms of winning percentage and only three coaches have won more games
over the past three seasons than Kelly’s 33 victories. He helped
Cincinnati earn consecutive BIG EAST titles in 2008 and 2009 and led
Grand Valley State to NCAA Division II national championships in 2002
and 2003.

“We are extremely honored to have Coach Kelly join us in opening the
Eddie G. Robinson Museum,” said John Belton, Chairman of the Louisiana
governor-appointed Eddie G. Robinson Museum Commission. “Coach Kelly is
someone of whom Coach Robinson would have been extremely proud, knowing
the hard work, dedication, and commitment it takes to move up the
coaching ranks from a small Division II school to his dream job at
Notre Dame.”

I’m struggling to find the connection between Brian Kelly and Eddie Robinson, but it’s an incredible honor to be joined alongside Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Tomlin as one of two keynote speakers for the grand opening.

Meanwhile, the Columbus Dispatch has named Kelly the Ohio College Football Coach of the Year for the second straight year (presumably the last for a while), recognizing his undefeated record and his job guiding the Bearcats to the Sugar Bowl.

Kelly received 10 of the 20 first place votes for the award, more than doubling Jim Tressel at Ohio State.

It’s always interesting reading a different perspective on a coach or football program, and with Kelly’s departure such a acrimonious affair, it’s pretty telling that Ohio media would still find him head and shoulders above the rest of his contemporaries. The Sunday feature on Kelly portrayed the coach as a beat-the-odds type, paralleling his unlikely college football career at D-III Assumption to his ascension from graduate assistant to head coach of Grand Valley State in four quick years, at the young age of 28.

Running backs coach Tim Hinton even supplies a quote that describes Kelly as having the ultimate “players mentality.”

“The energy comes from someone who is so competitive,” Hinton said. “He understands when it’s
time to push, push and push. What he did at Cincinnati was unparalleled. Brian had a concise and
clear plan and doesn’t have a lot of buyer’s remorse. He knows the environment, recognizes his
strength and weaknesses and gets the job done.”

While the award probably won’t get equal billing on the Kelly family mantel with other national awards he took home, it gives another unique insight into the man tapped to lead the Irish back to greatness. 

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”