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What to think of the loud voice on the sidelines

Oct 4, 2010, 2:16 PM EST

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 SI.com 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. TLNDMA - Oct 4, 2010 at 6:36 PM

    Keith, I agree. Maybe Prister’s the one selling these kids short. I think they understand their coach’s attitude well. As they improve in carrying out their assignments the yelling will go away. I think they realize time is precious if they want to win now. Thick skin may be needed.
    If you watch the video of the team’s post game celebration on UND.com, one scene is telling. Kelly is talking and the team starts to cheer. He barks “listen”, cue the pin drop, not another peep. They understood he had a teaching moment for them. They are hardly tuning him out.

  2. brendan_g - Oct 4, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    i respect tim prister but i think lately he’s just trying to take the opposing view no matter how trivial. everyone knows there’s yelling in football. no need for prister to write an article about it except to say we haven’t seen that in 15 years.

  3. jarious - Oct 4, 2010 at 8:09 PM

    Ah yes, the Alton Maiden facemask grab. Nice one Lou.
    Keith, great points here, especially penultimate paragraph. While I agree with Prister that a coach/teacher can only go to the well so many times when berating a player/student, the idea that student-athletes at ND need a different approach than other programs is a joke.

  4. #1 IRISHFAN - Oct 4, 2010 at 9:22 PM

    http://ncaafootball.fanhouse.com/2010/10/04/barry-sanders-jr-narrows-list-of-possible-schools-to-four/
    This guy comin home would be like winning the lottery!!!!!!!!

  5. liamg19 - Oct 4, 2010 at 9:49 PM

    I wondered when this “story” would become a “story.” Anyone who watched more than 5 minutes of a Cincy game saw Kelly do this. I wondered if NBC didn’t show him as much to avoid this or if he just toned it down early. Regardless, this isn’t a big deal. Things will happen to these young men in their lives, as with anyone, that are worse than being yelled at. I was always told in athletics that if a Coach isn’t yelling at you, he doesn’t believe that you can better and you’re not worth the effort. Prister, like the rest of the talking heads, are trying to sell subscriptions and gain eyeballs. Go Irish.

  6. tjak - Oct 4, 2010 at 11:22 PM

    Keith, I appreciate that you are addressing an issue that is on the airwaves, but this thing is over the top. No one is ripping Saban et al for doing the same thing.
    Irish fans were as giddy as kids in a candy store when Weis said the Irish would be nasty and tough, and now that we actually have a tough coach the babies are out in full force. He does not hit these kids and when he asks “what were you thinking?”, it is not to humiliate, but to get the kid to think about what the f#$##$K he was thinking. He wants the player to see the big picture.
    Prister please in the name of all that is good and holy….get a life. Kelly did this at Cincy and they were 34-6. Is this not what we wanted at ND. I am actually getting puking sick of Irish fans…damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
    It seems no coach can ever win with Irish fans. If Kelly went 121-0 with 5 National Championships over the rest of his career at Notre Dame, he would be derided for and ridiculed for coming to work only at 6am and not 5am.
    Enough already!!!!

  7. tjak - Oct 4, 2010 at 11:23 PM

    Keith, I appreciate that you are addressing an issue that is on the airwaves, but this thing is over the top. No one is ripping Saban et al for doing the same thing.
    Irish fans were as giddy as kids in a candy store when Weis said the Irish would be nasty and tough, and now that we actually have a tough coach the babies are out in full force. He does not hit these kids and when he asks “what were you thinking?”, it is not to humiliate, but to get the kid to think about what the f#$##$K he was thinking. He wants the player to see the big picture.
    Prister please in the name of all that is good and holy….get a life. Kelly did this at Cincy and they were 34-6. Is this not what we wanted at ND. I am actually getting puking sick of Irish fans…damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
    It seems no coach can ever win with Irish fans. If Kelly went 121-0 with 5 National Championships over the rest of his career at Notre Dame, he would be derided for and ridiculed for coming to work only at 6am and not 5am.
    Enough already!!!!

  8. Nate - Oct 4, 2010 at 11:41 PM

    Its football, coaches yell..some people need to get over that. Saban was up 53 points the other week and was still yelling, its the way a lot of great coaches teach and motivate their players, if a player can’t take it then they should go play baseball.

  9. jan - Oct 5, 2010 at 1:25 AM

    Totally agree with your puking sick reaction to so called Irish fans. Reminds me of the people who complained that Ara didn’t win big or “good” enough (even the ’66 National Championship wasn’t good enough because it included the 10-10 MSU tie) and criticized Lou for not winning pretty enough. No small wonder that ND seems to burn out our coaches relatively quickly.
    I’m glad to hear/see that Coach Kelly doesn’t read these negative blog comments.
    I invite the Irish fans to review the words to our fight song. It’s a call for the FANS to wake up the echos cheering (and supporting) her name – not expecting the team and coaches to do so. The team owes you nothing, you’re not entitled to have your expectations fulfilled and to be properly entertained.
    I was fortunate enough to attend the ND-BC game and could not be happier with the Q1 intensity and glimpse of what consistency looks like now and what’s in store for the future. Let’s enjoy watching the team progress and stop looking for things to complain about.

  10. dom - Oct 5, 2010 at 5:13 AM

    I’ve known this for some time but I really do think that many ND fans are simply soft ( I will spare using a vulgar term as this is a family friendly posting). I learned this while attending the Fiesta Bowl in 05′ and last years Stanford game when I constantly being told to sit down when I would stand up and cheer. The guy behind me at the Fiesta Bowl even tried to force me to sit down and I told him to look around at every single OSU fan in the stadium and tell me when they sat down and then I would sit. The thing is they never did. The whole game they stood and were twice as loud as ND Fans. I’m telling you ND fans are more like tennis or polo people, they don’t have the heart to stand up and cheer on every single play. They think its the frickin opera or something. ND stadium should be rocking on EVERY single defensive play not just important third down. ND stadium hasn’t been intimidating to play at in years, partly because of the weak fans. Believe me I’ve been to plenty of NFL games where people are dropping F bombs left and right, getting into fights, and just plain obscene but there is a healthy medium between that and the prissy fans ND has. I swear I think the team for the last 15 years has taken on the mentality of its fans and some of the reactions to BK God forbid raising his voice at some of the players just proves that.

  11. steve - Oct 5, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    It is way worse than people even realize. I heard that Kelly uses ALL CAPS when he emails the players. This has to stop. ND players need to be treated with proper sensitivity toward capitalization.

  12. mrrandolph - Oct 5, 2010 at 7:49 AM

    This might be the only fan base to complain about a kid getting yelled out. The only possible problem would be that it was on national TV so all could see. If BK was left with more talent, he wouldn’t have to yell as much. Then again, he wouldn’t be here either.

  13. brendan_g - Oct 5, 2010 at 8:01 AM

    amen. it’s as if the fans expect to be entertained without realizing they are an integral part of that entertainment. i swear that stadium is a nursing home sometimes (not because of the age as much as the lack of energy and enthusiasm). i’ve even been to a game once where after a big play all the fans just sat there and watched (with amusement) the student section going crazy and didn’t participate themselves.

  14. Doug - Oct 5, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    Steve – that was great!
    I’ve been to several games at ND Stadium and every time I’ve been told to sit down. I ususally sit directly behind the student section where you have to stand in order to see, but the people behind me always want me to sit down. The students will even yell at them to stand up and cheer, but they won’t. ND Stadium is not intimidating. It’s more like The Friendly Confinds.
    As to the original topic… It’s football! Coaches will yell. Get over it!!!

  15. Danno27 - Oct 5, 2010 at 9:23 AM

    Agree with most of the comments above. While I respect Mr. Prister’s position(and you’re probably right Brendan that he’s taking a contrarian view), saying that ND is “different” and “special” is not the same as saying that ND football players are somehow less amenable to a tough love approach from their coach. In fact, saying that really does seem to be saying in other words that ND players can’t take as much heat as other players. In essence, they’re too soft for such hard knocks. Like Keith says, that’s a dangerous presumption.
    btw Keith, I thought this was one of your best written pieces I’ve read so far – well done.

  16. Mark - Oct 5, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    Dang, it’s nice to finally read through a blog where the comments all point in one, positive, supportive, team-focused direction.
    ND fans: Get behind and stand up for your team. ND footballers ARE different from most others in the country. But the difference is – or should be – in the expectations on and of them, not, as has been the case, in kit-glove teatment because they are somehow special – as by implication are we – simply because they made it to ND.
    Being Special is not a destination, it’s a journey and a constant and continuing process.

  17. Mark - Oct 5, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    Thank you, Keith. Now I wish someone would chew out our fanbase.

  18. Mike - Oct 5, 2010 at 10:40 AM

    I agree with Steve, I was at the Michigan State game last year and standing up and these 2 20 something year old kids asked me to sit down because they could not see. This was towards the end of the game when MSU was trying to come back. I told them that I would not sit and they texted the usher to come over because I was causing problems. Nothing happenned from it, but I see how our fans can be arrogant sometimes.

  19. Irishone - Oct 5, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    As a life long Domer Homer I don’t see anything wrong with the tongue lashings or the facemask grabbing of Lou Holtz. Brian Kelly needs their 100% undivided attention in getting points across. Do you think he yells at Michael Floyd because he stinks? No, he yells at him because he knows Floyd is one of the best receivers in the country and he shouldn’t make mistakes. There’s a saying in sports. “If the coach isn’t yelling at you, then you need to start to worry”.
    “GO IRISH”

  20. irishfan_wv - Oct 5, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    As an fan of the Irish, I remember when the writing was on wall that Charlie Weiss would not be returning as the head coach and I was watching a Kelly coached Cincy team. His team was not playing well and he was not afraid to get into the faces of his players. They were penalized for having too many players on the field, and he was not afraid to get into the faces of his assistant coaches. From that moment on, I prayed that Kelly would become the head coach of the Fighting Irish. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and there is NO guessing what he thinks or what he expects from his players. As a player, knowing that I was not getting the job done or executing properly and knowing that I would be told about it is the dream of a player. He knows and is taught EXACTLY what has to be done to become a WINNER. Kelly was not brought into Notre Dame to sugar coat things, he was brought in to turn them into winners. He has a proven track record, let him do it HIS way regardless of what Tim Priester may think.

  21. Buck - Oct 5, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    Anyone that has played in any sport at any level has had a coach tear you down. But it was to build you up, or get a response from you that you should have had after the mistake.
    I played football from organized football from 6yrs of age and can still remember being ripped by my coach but I responded.
    ND athletes are a cut above intellectually but have also been athletes their hole lives and to think they have not been yelled at before is a just crazy.

  22. Jim Kress - Oct 5, 2010 at 12:20 PM

    Great article.
    ND FB players are young MEN, not pansies. They must be tough, aggressive, even nasty at times, in order to suceed.
    Every team takes on the character and attitude of its coach. BK has the correct character and attitude to mold a winning FB team. As a matter of fact (showing my age here) go back and look at Rockne and Leahy. They were just 20th century versions of Brian Kelly.
    If you want a nice-nice coach, join the chess team. If you want to win, then emulate Brian Kelly.

  23. Dutch - Oct 5, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    Re: the “yelling” . . . I’ve seen a number of comments about Kelly yelling at players on the sidelines, but none acknowledging that we’re likely not getting the full picture.
    For example: in the first quarter, Ben Turk kicked a punt that was not good and Kelly let him know it. Later in the game, Ben Turk responded with a 50+ yarder from his own end zone – high enough that it did not allow for a return. This was a critical play at that point in the game. As Turk is running off the field, you can see Kelly “yelling” atta-boy comments at his punter; additionally, Kelly singled out the punt game for praise during his post-game comments.
    So we have one “yell” (in reality a harsh correction), a player responds with better performance, that player is later singled out twice for praise … Unless you just believe that higher volume + curse words are inherently bad, regardless of context (which most reasonable fans would likely find absurd) – where is the problem?

  24. Gary - Oct 5, 2010 at 1:01 PM

    How petty Priester !!…

  25. Gary - Oct 5, 2010 at 1:03 PM

    How petty Prister !!…

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