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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. lep - Oct 5, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    The real fans are on this site right here.It’s about time someone complains about the panzy fans at Notre Dame.I’ve been saying that for years.

  2. orrsra - Oct 5, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    This is all BS. I have been a ND fan since 1950. I witnessed some great and not so great football coaching. I jumped on Coach K for being J-Faust like earlier and saw a better Coach against BC and said so yesterday. I went to a few ND practices, saw a few games live, have listened to many games on radio and watched many on TV. I have one thing to say GET IN THEIR FACES when they goof-up PAT THEM ON THEIR BACKS when they do well that’s what good coaching is all about. Today every one sees what the camera wants to show, so be careful about judging Coaches. Frank Leahy was not a saint, believe me I witnessed that first hand at a few practices, but he was one heck of a coach. My favorite coach Ara was not always quite. These idiot critics need to grow a pair. Crist is beginning to grow a pair, finally. If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. GO IRISH

  3. Johnny Reb - Oct 5, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    The players I’ve noticed getting berated are obviously the ones who will go on to play at the next level. I think the players who should be concerned are the mediocre ones who don’t get chewed out.

  4. snoweeowl - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    I for one am happy to see Coach Kelly react the way he has. If that’s what it is going to take to instill a killer instinct then so be it. After five games the team still seems to make mistakes they shouldn’t be making at this stage of the game. Errent passes, dropped balls, not pounding out that extra yard. If they are not responding otherwise then it is time to open up on them on or off TV.
    Through the past 4-5 season’s the team never seems to be able to or want to put their oppenent away, a characteristic of most successful teams. There have definitely been signs of improvement especially in the inside linebacker play. Now Manti could have taken Coach Kelly’s early comments about his play the wrong way but he didn’t. He responded in a way where he set out to prove he can play with the best of them. Carlo has accepted the challenge and has responded beautifully.
    There has been a suggestion that the ND player is intellectually above being yelled at. Well I guess we can all accept that reasoning along with another unsuccessful season because it hasn’t worked in the past. I’d like to see these intellectually gifted athletes perform at a level where others fear being on the same field with them, where their oppenent has to not only fear taken a whooping but also being outplayed from start to finish.

  5. Ted Kazmar - Oct 5, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    I’m not against Kelly giving a little “luv” to his players, I just wish he would spread it around a littl more, like to the Big East officials.

  6. Worked - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    Anyone who raises this mean coach issue has a desk job with four walls and a cubicle and is scared shi$$less of being held responsible by their middle aged under sexed boss.

  7. Johnny Adama - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    Michael Floyd will not be drafted nor ever play in the NFL. Sure he can catch a sideline pass or a jump ball in the corner of the end zone, but you need to be a lot tougher than he is to make it in the NFL. Only those with Green glasses (and Michael) will think he has NFL potential without a ton of improvement. I’ll actually be happy if he withdraws at the end of this year, because no player aggravates me more than he does. In fact, if you review film the last two years, you can easily find plays that if he had NFL talent, he would have made (or not fumbled) and the Irish would have won many of those games.

  8. Joe Schulz - Oct 5, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    As a former Ivy League football player I can assure you that every coach was a yeller/screamer. Every practice and film session was peppered with expletives which often were not even slang. Negative comments regarding a player’s skills and effort are standard and absolutely within the bounds of coaching propriety. The language simply matches the level at which the game is to be played.
    The suggestion that somehow Notre Dame players are superior beings without having to prove it on the field, is personally offensive and smacks of effete snobbery. I hope Kelly is trying to get through to all the players that the fact that they were highly recruited is yesterday’s news. It is now time for them to prove that they are superior on the field of play. I, personally, am very pleased by his efforts to get through to the many talented underachievers on the team. Games are won more by toughness and aggression than any other characteristic. Kelly is merely showing those same characteristics that he wants his players to show. A few F____s and S____s in the conversation have a way of communicating that simply doesn’t come through in the prim conversation suited to meeting your girlfriend’s parents.

  9. Keith Arnold - Oct 5, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    Hi Johnny — If you’d like to place a wager on Mr. Floyd’s professional career, I’m sure there are more than a few people out there that’d probably take that bet.
    As for wanting to see Mike withdraw, that’s the kind of ridiculous rhetoric we try to keep out of the comments here.

  10. Joe Schulz - Oct 5, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    We must all remember that separating the wheat from the chaff is a big part of coaching. Some players, notwithstanding their “superior” height, weight, strength and 40 times, don’t belong on the field. By screaming at them when they fail Kelly is trying to instill a higher standard for their performance. He is giving them a chance to get better. If he can’t get it out of them, the next step is the trash heap.
    Where in the military or even the civilian world is failure met with kindness. People who fail get fired, shuffled off to nowhere, or simply demoted. Players who make it to the field need to have a “I refuse to fail/I will succeed” mentality. Crist SHOULD make the throws. Rudolph SHOULD run over the runt trying to tackle him. Floyd SHOULD be able to make a jackass out of the poor “schlump” trying to cover him. They each have the physical skills. But, they have to start demanding DOMINANCE of themselves. Michael Jordan was the best in basketball not merely because of his talent. He added a standard of personal perfection. He practiced harder, played harder than any overachiever. He whipped on his opponents, just like these guys should be doing. If you can win by 30, win by 50.
    Some of the players are getting it. Several players on defense are punishing people. Back off mom and dad and let the coach make men of your boys.

  11. TXIrish2 - Oct 5, 2010 at 4:42 PM

    Last thing we need is a coach with 20 years of experience trying to conform his sideline demeanor to a whims of a hypersensitive fanbase. Hopefully the networks don’t try to play this up any more than it already has been.

  12. Bradwins - Oct 5, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    I got all the way to the bottom before I read anything here that I disagree with (Johnny Adama’s post was as foolish as it was off topic). If there is unanimity here among Irish fans after 30+ posts, where is this issue even coming from, other than Prister? He seems to have seriously misfired on this one, and with the benefit of some time to re-think it I bet he would like it back. Not only is this a non-issue, it is the only acceptable way for a coach to react.
    I thought all of the commenters here made good points, but none better than Dutch’s (#23). I know we aren’t exactly used to it aronud here, but what we saw Kelly doing on the sidelines against BC was called “good coaching”. Hopefully we will see enough of it going forward that more of us begin to recognize it.
    Also, steve (#11), great comment. Hilarious.

  13. Bradwins - Oct 5, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    I got all the way to the bottom before I read anything here that I disagree with (Johnny Adama’s post was as foolish as it was off topic). If there is unanimity here among Irish fans after 30+ posts, where is this issue even coming from, other than Prister? He seems to have seriously misfired on this one, and with the benefit of some time to re-think it I bet he would like it back. Not only is this a non-issue, it is the only acceptable way for a coach to react.
    I thought all of the commenters here made good points, but none better than Dutch’s (#23). I know we aren’t exactly used to it aronud here, but what we saw Kelly doing on the sidelines against BC was called “good coaching”. Hopefully we will see enough of it going forward that more of us begin to recognize it.
    Also, steve (#11), great comment. Hilarious.

  14. Fitz - Oct 5, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    I think now more than ever we need to believe in coach Kelly and his methods of dealing with his players. Afterall, he was brought here to apply the same successful scheme that took lowly Cinci all the was to a BCS appearance, to me that includes not only the spread offense but the little things as well. He clealy knows how to motivate young men to perform, being a long time college coach, unlike Charlie, Mr. 5 super bowl rings who hadn’t a clue. If the wins keep racking up, which I think they will considering the schedule’s mellowing out a bit, then let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Who could honestly say that the football teams of recent years displayed a lot of toughness and tenacity? half the time the players looked bored and unresponsive on the sidelines with Weis. Let’s bring the fight back to the fighting Irish!

  15. kent - Oct 5, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    I’ve been going to ND games since 1964 – attending more than 100 games. ND stadium is NOT indimadating, at least for the last 15 years. To many fans sit on their hands. At age 57 i’m still cheering, singing the fight song, belting out the occassional “comment” about the opposing teams genetic malfunctions. Soon I have the folks around me high fivin – bumpin fists and screamin their freakin heads off…..My goodness – don’t those people know how lucky they are to even attend a game…The hair on my arms still stand at attention when the band takes the field – and a tear comes everytime they play America the Beautiful and the National Anthem….after that it’s a none stop cheering until the game is over. We need the kind of noise generated during that last USC drive during the BUSH PUSH game….It was amazing…..Instead of waiting for the team to bring the crowd around we need the crowd to inspire the team…..Go Irish – and Coach Kelley – yell all you want – the team wants a leader – and you are the man…..

  16. Mouth Of The South - Oct 5, 2010 at 5:28 PM

    Well put, Keith. Tim Prister just got served.

  17. 5150abf - Oct 5, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    I think it is great that he is showing some emotion, Weis and Willingham looked like they were standing in line at the grocery store no matter what happened.
    We don’t know what he is yelling so we can’t say they are being berated, I really don’t think he would do that and expect the players to respond.
    Fact is coach Kelly has built some pretty phenominal teams over the years and I don’t recall any mass exedous from them, just alot of championships, I will assume he knows much better than any of us what needs to be done to win, if that calls for some yelling, yell away.

  18. terry - Oct 5, 2010 at 5:50 PM

    Notre Dame players are ‘a cut above intellectually’. That’s a good one. Stanford’s players ain’t no dummies yet they kicked the snot out of the ‘cut above intellectually’ players on the other side of the line 10 days ago.
    Football is a game of kicking the snot out of the guy on the other side of the line in the different colored uniforms. If you don’t like getting chewed out by your coach in front of millions of members of the gum-chewing public, DON’T SCREW UP.
    Problem solved

  19. terry - Oct 5, 2010 at 6:02 PM

    Kelly is the right guy for the job.
    This is going to take some time – a few years probably. There’s a top 5 recruiting class coming with room for 3 more and we have 4 months until THAT day.
    This is going to be fun – enjoy the journey

  20. IrishPunk - Oct 5, 2010 at 6:14 PM

    Sit down at the games unless you are in the Student section. It is OK to stand up briefly if there is an exciting play. Otherwise sit down. I’ll ask politely for you to sit down – once. After that, you’ll get what you deserve. Despite the false bravado on this site, very few (none?) are that tough and bold in person when met with a superior opposing force. I and others like me don’t need an usher to solve this problem. Sit down and enjoy the game. Your 1/80,000 “contribution to the success of the Irish” is meaningless.

  21. Bradwins - Oct 5, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    If you want to sit down at a football game, may I suggest your couch? Either that or invest in seats in the first row. If you want to be a lousy fan that is your choice — no one is going to make you stand up. But, in my opinion, you have no right to expect that other fans stay seated in order to accomodate you. You can ask as many times as you want, in as many ways as you want. I will still laugh at your idiotic suggestion and turn back around to watch the game.

  22. Erik '04 - Oct 5, 2010 at 7:05 PM

    I was really hoping you’d pick this as your example of lost composure:
    Otherwise, a great read. :)

  23. JPG - Oct 5, 2010 at 8:51 PM

    Prister’s comments are so off base it is ridiculous. What does being intellectual have to do with anything? Maybe that is ND’s problem…to much arrogance. I had a 1300 SAT and played Division III ball and we got lit up when we made mistakes too. You take the good with the bad. If you don’t like it, don’t play. Comments like these are a good reason so many kids at all levels are babied today. Awww boo hoo..the coach yelled at my child. Who cares if Michael Floyd leaves anyways he is over-rated.

  24. Buck - Oct 6, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    Same people that want to “Talk” to their children when they punch mom in the face.

  25. domerdad - Oct 6, 2010 at 11:14 AM

    Oh, please. Do you really expect Irish fans to sit during a football game? As was said in an earlier post, this is not a tennis match.

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