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What to think of the loud voice on the sidelines

Oct 4, 2010, 2:16 PM EDT

Possibly the biggest surprise of the Brian Kelly era thus far has been Brian Kelly himself. Who’d have thought that such a nice man would be so grumpy on the sidelines? After fourteen years of Bob Davie’s tepid enthusiasm, Tyrone Willingham’s stoicism, and Charlie Weis’ controlled brashness, the bombastic nature of Kelly the coach — such a diametric opposition from the suit-wearing orator that looks the part of CEO Sunday through Friday — has plenty of people worried that the Fighting Irish football players might develop a complex.

For all those worried that their quarterback or receivers might develop a low self-esteem after being dressed down by the man-in-charge, fear not. This is football. That means coaches raising their voices to get a point across. Even using a few words you might not hear a professor utter.

Nineteen years ago, Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz led a player off the field by grabbing him by the facemask. He then proceeded to unload on freshman Huntley Bakich for mixing it up with an opposing player. Andy Staples of dug back into the archives of the Chicago Tribune and found a whopping three paragraphs buried at the bottom of page C-14 in the days following Holtz’s outburst, and a small note in a round-up column after Holtz apologized.

Needless to say Holtz didn’t coach in the internet era, where user-comments, message boards, and pop psychologists openly wonder about the effects of a tongue-lashing in the heat of battle.

Many have floated the idea that Kelly lost his poise on the sideline against Boston College. I couldn’t disagree more with that premise. (For those looking for an example of lost composure, click here.) Since 1997, Notre Dame has had 93 wins and 71 losses, winning at a clip of 56 percent. The Irish have been even worse against ranked opponents — winning only 32 percent of games against ranked teams under Davie, Willingham, and Weis. If Brian Kelly feels like he needs to use salty language and high-intensity to get through to his players, so be it. While Notre Dame fans vividly recall the glory days of yesteryear, Dayne Crist was seven years old the last time Lou Holtz roamed the Notre Dame sidelines. There is no latent memory of greatness in this generation of Irish football player. It’s up to Kelly to mold these players into a championship team.

Veteran Irish scribe and ND alum Tim Prister over at Irish Illustrated took the strongest position I’ve seen on the subject of Kelly’s fiery sideline disposition:

Kelly has to be careful about straddling that fine line
with his players. A players’ coach he is not. One can’t help but wonder
if the players will reach a point where they begin to tune him out.

In most instances, it won’t happen this season.
They’re trying to please their head coach. They want to win. They’re
sick of losing. Most players will hop on board and stay on board, no
matter how rocky the waters or how loud the yelling.

But one gets the feeling that some players, say
Michael Floyd for example, won’t leave after this season because he’s
ready to move on to the NFL as much as he’ll look forward to not being
berated every time he makes a mistake.

The Notre Dame football player is different than most other college
football players. They aren’t, speaking in broad terms, completely
comfortable with extreme amounts of verbal abuse. They consider
themselves to be a cut above intellectually. Their initial response is
to do whatever it takes to please the head coach. There’s likely a limit
to being verbally humiliated in front of millions of viewers, but it
worked well enough Saturday night.

There are plenty of risky assumptions in these paragraphs, including the hypothesis that Michael Floyd would flee South Bend for the NFL because he’s berated every time he makes a mistake. Kelly’s certainly been tough on Floyd and challenged him to become a complete player. He’s also paid Floyd some of his most effusive compliments.

On a macro level, Prister’s most dangerous presumption is that Notre Dame football players are different than most college football players. Prister has certainly spent more time around the program than I have, but his contention that, in broad terms, Irish players aren’t comfortable with extreme amounts of verbal abuse seems to be completely off-base, and more importantly, a misrepresentation of what Kelly’s program is all about.

Having spent time with this coaching staff, one of the key tenets of this staff is dealing with every player with respect, and never humiliating or dehumanizing them. (If anything, this team is still dealing with the negativity that was reaped on it by the previous regime, though not in front of national TV cameras.) Lip-readers out there may have had a good idea of what was actually being said on the sidelines against Boston College, but I believe firmly that there’s a rhyme and reason for these outbursts, and a team letting their foot off the gas after jumping to a 21-point lead against a hated rival certainly seems to qualify.

Prister is right on with one of his main contentions. It’s true that Notre Dame football players are different than elite college football players. They’re not as good at playing football — or at least they haven’t been over the last fourteen years.

Any belief that student-athletes wearing the blue and gold of Notre Dame need treatment different than that of players under Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, or Bob Stoops merely feeds into the institutional arrogance that Brian Kelly spoke of when arriving in South Bend. The scoreboard doesn’t care what your SAT scores are. Your opponent likely wants to beat you more because he doesn’t match up intellectually.

Brian Kelly has spent 19 years atop college football programs, and likely won’t bat an eye at the outsiders that challenge his treatment of a football team desperately in need of an identity change. Good thing. This is the coach that Jack Swarbrick hired to transform the Fighting Irish. And while a few egos might get bruised in the process, his players — and all Notre Dame fans — will likely thank him in the end.

  1. domerdad - Oct 6, 2010 at 11:32 AM

    Just watched the Nick Saban clips on YouTube. I never liked the Crimson Tide but after listening to Coach Saban, you can’t help but get fired up for the Tide. He’s honest, he’s salty, he’s confident in his players but doesn’t put them on a pedestal. I think we have those qualities in Coach Kelly. Yell all you want BK! I’m mad as hell and not gonna take it (losing)anymore!

  2. Indy Domer - Oct 6, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    Finally, a pulse. Some bravado. Cahones. You gotta’ love Brian Kelly, man on a mission. It’s Lou Holtz reincarnate (and thank God). And I couldn’t agree more with the ND Nation’s plea for all the wussies to shut up… this IS Notre Dame football, so either get on board or tune in to another sport, like tennis or golf.
    Also, I think it’s hilarious that some of you are bothered that a majority of game-attending ND fans are ‘pansies’ because we choose to sit down for a majority of the game. That’s typical logic for a neanderthal attendee who has no concept of respect or decorum at an ND game. I’ve been attending ND games for over 30 years… but not once have I questioned my enthusiasm for the Irish. I too love to stand and celebrate great plays, the Victory March, the 1812, 3rd downs, and goal-line stands. But not once have I considered myself a ‘lousy fan’ because I choose to respect those around me, and sit down during much of the (nearly 3 hour) game.
    So go ahead, continue to stand up. But don’t be surprised when us ‘soft’ fans ask you to sit down… voluntarily or unvoluntarily.

  3. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 7, 2010 at 11:21 PM

    That’s funny man liked that!!

  4. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 7, 2010 at 11:34 PM

    NEW RULE for Notre Dame fans……………DON’T ASK……??????Yep you guessed it DO NOT TELL ya bunch of pansies!! So in other words put your purse down ladies and cheer on your team like ya got a pair!!

  5. ndcritic - Oct 8, 2010 at 9:49 PM

    i really don’t know how to put this, but lately that Prister guy has really turned into one narcissistic p*ssy.

  6. ND1990Alum - Oct 9, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    I guess the only thing I can add is that fortunately I don’t hear actual everyday ND fans actually complaining about it. Seems like an isolated opinion written in an article. I read through a couple different message boards and have not seen a post negative about how Kelly treats his players. Maybe I am reading the wrong (or right) ones. Personally I loved seeing all 100 pounds of Lou Holtz grabbing kids 2 1/2 times his size and screaming in their face when they did something stupid. And I never saw any of the kids he did it to break down and cry.
    Don’t confuse a journalist (even if he is an alum) with ND fans.

  7. Nick - Oct 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    The truth is, ND has to be better than its opponent just to stay even. The ND game is the Biggest Game of the year for every one of our opponents. I said everyone. There are no exceptions. Every team is at its best when they play us. Being as good as the other team doesn’t cut it. We have to be a touchdown better just to win. Every game ND plays is the game of the year–for the other school. There are no breathers. I know Coach Kelly understands that. He just wants his players to.

  8. domer - Oct 10, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    He should have an outburst at himself for the horrific way he handled the last series. To steal a phrase from Coach Kelly “he himself is a work in progress” if he’s calling a pass play on 2nd and 4 when we should be buttoning up the game. Then another pass on 3rd and 4. Ugh!!
    The next time I hear 19 or 20 years as a successful head coach, I’m going to gag. A smart coach doesn’t foolishly play with fire at the end of a game we had to have.

  9. NDFAN4EVER - Oct 10, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    Fans complaining about Brian Kelly drive me nuts. Re. “domer” who wants to gag the next time he hers “…19 or 20 years as a successful head coach…”, here’s the thing: In 20 years he has indeed produced winning teams wherever he’s been. So, yes, he’s been a successful head coach for 20 years and he will be here at ND, too. Kelly has only 6 games under his belt here at ND. Let’s give him a chance. You can see it a feel it that he is turning things around. It just takes time.

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