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Irish turnovers are part of the process

Sep 13, 2011, 12:59 PM EDT

Kelly, Martin, Elston

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about how badly the Irish’s turnovers have hurt them. Playing two quality opponents, the Irish have out-gained and out-played the team across from them, but 10 turnovers, in really in opportune times, have cost Notre Dame two football games.

“I really believe that you haven’t won a game yet, but you haven’t been beaten,” Brian Kelly recalled telling his team. “We’ve really had a hand in beating ourselves. If we do not beat ourselves, we’ve got a chance to be the kind of football team that we believe we can be.”

If you’re looking to assess a value to what’s been lost, Bill Connelly of Football Outsiders puts it into plain, staggering numbers:


Value, in Equivalent Points, of Notre Dame’s 10 turnovers in two games this season. Almost eight touchdowns. They committed five more turnovers for 21.6 points in Ann Arbor this weekend — three inside Michigan’s 30 — and fell to 0-2 despite, on a play-by-play basis, outplaying their second straight solid opponent. The next time you think your team is being negatively affected by turnovers, realize it could be worse. On a play-for-play basis, Notre Dame has played like a Top 20 team this year. But 10 specific plays have massacred them.

Yep, the Irish have cost themselves around eight touchdowns with their mistakes, a shocking number in two games and part of why I’m still not even close to giving up on this football team, even though fans would rather put their head through a wall than suffer another loss like the first two this season.

Most (me included) assumed that the Irish would be ready to take a major leap in Kelly’s second season. But when you think back to one of Kelly’s first teaching points — Abraham Maslow‘s “Conscious Competence” theory, it’s possible we’re seeing an Irish team take some early lumps as they falter during stage three of the four-step process.

“A lot of people know how to win,” Kelly said back in his earliest days at Notre Dame, well before he ever coached a game. “Winning once and a while, a lot of people can do that. How do you consistently win? How do you win them all? That’s a process.”

I tackled the subject about 18 months ago, but here’s a quick look at Maslow’s four stages of competence, which might give you a better idea of why the Irish look so good in some moments and have also been prone to the huge mistakes that have cost the Irish their first two games.

Stage One: Unconscious Incompetence — The individual neither knows nor understands how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it.

As Kelly put it: “You know what that is, you don’t know that you don’t know what it takes to win. You get that blank stare when you say, ‘Listen, pay attention to detail. Do this right. Go to class. Be on time.'”

Stage Two: Conscious Incompetence — The the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it.

As Kelly put it: “You know what Coach wants from you on a daily basis. You know what the formula is, but you can’t do it yet, because you have so many bad habits. You can’t seem to finish the drill. You can’t seem to pay attention to detail.”

Stage Three: Conscious Competence — The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration.”

As Kelly put it: “You know the message, you are able to do it, but it’s really hard. It’s hard for you to stay on task. That’s where great coaching comes in and keeps you focused, keeps you involved in the process. It’s not, ‘Hey, I want to be a champion.’ Everybody wants to be a champion. What are you going to do about it? Conscious competence is that area where coaches really need to remind their players every single day what it takes to be a champion.”

Stage Four: Unconscious Competence — The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes “second nature” and can be performed easily, often without concentrating too deeply. He or she may or may not be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

As Kelly put it: “You know what to do, and you know how to do it every single day. You don’t have to be reminded about what it takes to win on a consistent basis because it’s been instilled in you. It’s been instilled by your family, your parents. It’s been instilled in this community. It’s been instilled by your coaches. When you want to win the championship, when you want to win them all, you need to get to that level of unconscious competence because then it just happens naturally. The journey has been great, but keep your eye on the process.”


In these first two games, it’s been very clear that the Irish offense knows how to be prolific. Unfortunately, they’ve also had critical slip-ups that have cost the football team dearly. That’s the definition of conscious competence, and part of why it’s so frustrating to this team’s flashes of greatness washed out by 12 bad plays.

“We have a chance to be a good football team. We’re not. I get that,” Kelly said in his opening statement. “I’m certainly disappointed in where we are in terms of wins, but I like our football team.”

As the Irish prepare turn another painful page as they focus their sights on No. 15 Michigan State, Kelly was upbeat. That wasn’t coach-speak. That was a guy that knows the process.

“You stay the course,” Kelly said. “I believe in my approach.”

  1. brendanunderscoreg - Sep 13, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    Nice reminder on the Maslow theory. This team could be an illustration in his book for Conscience Competence.

    I’m not giving up on these guys. Pretty soon our opponents are going to feel as disappointed as we have the past few years. This team is ready to play a perfect game soon. Watch out when that train hits.


  2. dmacirish - Sep 13, 2011 at 1:19 PM

    Thank you Keith, good article. I believe that Kelly knows what he is doing and although some people, including my mother, would call him a jerk for yelling so much I doubt it is as bad as it seems. I went back and looked at the game – every bad play, when it is expected for the coach to explain to his players that there was a problem, the cameras were on Kelly. Not once after a great play or touchdown did I see the cameras follow Kelly speaking to his players. Media sensationalism. Successful college coaches must understand their players, both the physical and the psychological aspects, in order to correctly coach them. The article above shows Kelly understands the psychological aspects of the players.

    • tedlinko - Sep 13, 2011 at 1:44 PM

      The reason I believe in Kelly is that he’s been successful everywhere he’s been. From Grand Valley State, where he went 118-35-2 over 13 seasons, to Central Michigan where he led a bad team to a MAC Championship in 3 years, and Cincinnati where he went to 2 BCS games in 3 seasons, it is clear that the guy knows how to win consistently.

      I seem to recall when he arrived that Kelly stirred some things up with comments that a lot of the ND players didn’t know how to win. Clearly, his program has been geared toward transforming that. He’s done so physically, with Longo’s strength and conditioning program, and he’s doing it mentally. Clearly, they aren’t quite there yet, but if and when they get there, look out.

      • joeschu - Sep 13, 2011 at 2:38 PM

        Never on this level. I lived in Cincinnati, and he didn’t have anywhere near this level of scrutiny. There’s no way you count playing in the Big East + 2-3 snowball non-conf games on par with the level of competition we face.

      • tedlinko - Sep 13, 2011 at 3:48 PM

        Joe, I agree it isn’t the same level of scrutiny. I imagine he didn’t have fans ready to write off the season after his first couple of losses at Cinci. That said, BK clearly has a system, he believes in the system, he works the system, and the system has been successful at each place he’s coached. True, he’s never played the level of talent ND plays before, but he’s also never HAD the level of talent he has now either.

        Keith’s post above is helpful because it shows how close ND may be to being a really good team. This team can move the ball, it can score points, and it can stop people defensively. That isn’t something you could say about a lot of ND teams over the past decade. Now, they’ve had some critical lapses, which have cost them two football games. Clearly they aren’t to the “unconscious competence” stage yet. But when BK says “I like our football team” he means it. Despite the two frustrating losses, there is actually quite a lot to like.

      • nudeman - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM

        I like Kelly. His success at ND is highly likely.

        But I think he has a blind spot regarding Rees. I know I’m in the minority here but I still don’t see how on Tuesday, 11 days before the opener you can come out and unequivocally endorse one QB, then after exactly one half of football you toss him overboard like used cargo. If Jonas Gray doesn’t cough it up on the goal line (hardly Crist’s fault), he’s still the QB, and in all liklihood would not have personally turned the ball over 5 times in the next 45 minutes (3 halves) of football.

        Someone said no way Crist would have led them on the final drive to a TD against Michigan. Really? Check the tape of last year’s game.

        Right now, Rees is killing them. He has tremendous potential, does a lot of things right, but more than any other player is responsible for them being 0-2.

        How long does Kelly stay with him? 0-3 and 4 more turnovers?

      • notredamegrad - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:19 AM

        Nudeman, very bold! I have always really liked Crist and wanted him in there through the whole QB battle. When Kelly benched him after 15 attempts, I was incredulous and felt awful for Crist, but tried to deal with it and hope that (1) Tommy’s “consistency” and poise would settle the point and (2) Kelly would be just as comfortable pulling Rees as he was pulling Crist (he said this in his first comments after deciding to start him – if his QB isn’t productive, then he better be looking over his shoulder).

        If the switch was based on productivity, then at what point do Tommy’s consistent turnovers (50% of the 10 in two games, though he’s only played a game and a half) count for more than his accuracy in completing passes? Dayne had a slightly lower completion percentage across the games he’s played (and I absolutely don’t think you should base his efficiency on the 15 attempts he had against USF), but also a significantly lower turnover rate. Tommy’s throws are more accurate, sure, but they’re also more likely to be picked off. Which is a bigger drive-killer? Which impedes productivity more thoroughly?

        Bottom line, I think it was irresponsible and hasty for Kelly to bench Crist. If he wants to play Tommy, he should, but he should do it on the same terms he played Dayne – if Tommy throws another pick on first down into triple coverage in the red zone, if he literally drops the ball again on a sure touchdown pass, let Dayne step in.

    • oldestguard - Sep 13, 2011 at 2:20 PM

      Interesting read and comments.

      My fav Maslow work – Toward a Psychology of Being MSU’s Worst Nightmare !

    • nudeman - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:27 AM

      We agree, that’s pretty clear.

      The worst you can say about Crist is that he didn’t throw as readily to Floyd as Rees. OK, that’s easy enough to address.

      More importantly, I go back to a comment I made here a day or so after the USF loss: Kelly’s support for Crist must have been tepid at best. Maybe he had his fingers crossed behind his back when he said Dayne won the job. It’s obvious now, especially with the long leash he’s giving Rees that in his gut, he really wanted the kid on the field, not Dayne.

      I don’t get it.

      • notredamegrad - Sep 14, 2011 at 4:22 PM

        Yeah, this one is hard for me. I thought I was fine with Kelly switching to Rees, that I’d gotten over the initial frustration of what seemed to be a panic-motivated decision. But when I heard Kelly talking about Rees at the presser yesterday, defending or excusing some of his bad decisions, I couldn’t help but be angry. I _really_ like Kelly. I also can’t see a way to make sense of the QB decisions and talk that leaves him unscathed, though. The most reassuring thing to me is my confidence in Crist’s character and resilience (that’s something he’s proven!) and the sneaking suspicion that we haven’t seen the last of him this season.

  3. mattnef - Sep 13, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    The last two games have been sickening (I can’t even imagine what the players feel like) but no matter how hard I try, I can’t give up on this team. There is too much good there, too much potential, and great kids to route for.

  4. dbldmr - Sep 13, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    I’ll be in the stands for the game on Saturday, having (barely) recovered from watching Saturday night’s gut punch. I have confidence in the coaching staff and, more importantly, in the players’ willingness to work hard and play for each other. It has long been understood that soldiers don’t fight for slogans; they fight for the guys on their left and on their right. I believe it is the same for a successful football team…indeed any team, irrespective of its battlefield. As long as these players believe in each other and are willing to be responsible for and to each other then I believe that success will come.

    You cannot guarantee results. All you can guarantee is attention and effort. I look forward to seeing full attention and full effort against MSU.

    Go Irish!

  5. ndgoldandblue - Sep 13, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    To be honest with all of you, unless the Irish finish this season 0-12 (God forbid), Kelly should not lose his job. The guy talks about player development, and from a physicality standpoint, he has delivered. Just look at the size of the Irish players across the board. Also, rewatch the last two games (if you can) and compare them to the Senior Day debacles of ’08 and ’09. This defense looks quite a bit faster and (I can’t believe I’m saying this after that final drive on Saturday) much more disciplined. If you take away the last two drives of the fourth quarter on Saturday, you have a faster, stronger and more disciplined defense than Notre Dame has had in quite a while. It’s just the player development from a mental/psychological perspective that has yet to get there. This is true for both offense and defense. Both sides of the ball have looked more dominant than incompetent, but it’s those wel-documented moments of ineptitude that have killed the Irish. It’s crazy–such huge mistakes and two losses that total 7 points. Let’s face the facts. These seniors are so used to underperforming and (for a lack of a better word) choking away sure-wins against lesser talented teams that they don’t know what it takes to have a killer instinct. Whatever killer instinct that they had in high school has long been forgotten. But I think that Kelly will get there. I just don’t want to get rid of a guy who has shown that he can recruit, develop players physically, and get his team to play a fast and often-times dominating brand of football. I know you guys hate statistics, but the statistics that Keith laid out above tell it all. We should be 2-0 with room to spare in the point differential. These guys won’t continue the monumental mistake making every single game. They have too much talent for that. And, as a player developer (both physically and mentally), I believe that Kelly will get them there. Remember, the players have to take the majority of the responsibility here.

  6. cameronemclaughlin - Sep 13, 2011 at 6:31 PM

    Let’s get it done Irish. Michigan State only gave up one 1st down against Florida Atlantic. The FAU offense may not set records for productivity, but limiting a team to one 1st down requires consistent discipline every down. MSU will bring that this Saturday, and the Irish better respond in kind if they’re to win what will likely be a close game.

    On a different note:

    At the age of 4 in 1984 my parents moved me and my family from Mishawaka to Seattle. They raised me right and I’ve been a crazy ND fan despite the distance. My wife and I moved to Chicago in June, and she just called to tell me that her Uncle can’t use his tickets this weekend and I’m going to my first game at Notre Dame Stadium (I watched the Irish destroy UW at Husky Stadium in 2008).

    I hope anyone reading this post doesn’t despise its lack of substance. I’m out of my mind and I have to share this. I feel like Rudy’s dad– “This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.”

    • tedlinko - Sep 13, 2011 at 7:00 PM

      Your first football game at ND is something special. Have a great time. And lets whoop Sparty.

    • nddan1 - Sep 13, 2011 at 7:52 PM

      cameron, like in “rudy”….”.welcome to notre dame, son”

    • papadec - Sep 14, 2011 at 1:41 AM

      Despise it? Gotta love it! I have never forgotten my first game @ ND. Now I’m looking forward to taking my son to his first ND game on 10/8 vs Air Force. I think I’m actually looking more towards that game for him, knowing what the experience is. GO IRISH!!!!!!!!!

  7. rambler09 - Sep 13, 2011 at 7:18 PM


    Are you sure we had 5 turnovers? I was at the game and I only remember 4- Rees threw 2 interceptions and fumbled once and Cierre fumbled once.

    As evidence:

    And yet you and ESPN have us listed as having 5 turnovers against Michigan. Am I forgetting one?

    • Huck Finn - Sep 13, 2011 at 10:44 PM

      The last kickoff of the game was fumbled by ND. Collinsworth I believe.

      • rambler09 - Sep 13, 2011 at 11:08 PM

        Got it. I bolted from the stadium after the last Michigan touchdown because I was sitting in the student section and needed to get out of there.

  8. nddan1 - Sep 13, 2011 at 8:00 PM

    i had previously posted in the good,bad, and ugly blog about giving kelly his 4yrs. i think he and the team are ahead of the curve. the part that has yet to come is the consistency. rees will bring that to the offensive side of the ball, but its going to be a challenge on the defensive side. offensively if were consistent we will win games. when we get consistent on defense is when we will dominate and be a top ten team.

  9. shawnpatrickdoyle - Sep 13, 2011 at 8:32 PM

    I’d love to see a link to the original post on Kelly’s teaching for starters. Very interesting take. It also reminds me of the classic Holtz speech about Notre Dame: “In 1986 people were saying Notre Dame will never win again. We had a group of guys that wanted to win but didn’t know how. Then we progressed to a point where we had a group of guys that wanted to win, knew how to win. Then we progressed to a point where we have a group of guys that know how to win, but sometimes we don’t always exhibit it.” Seems to have the last two flipped, but nevertheless, very similar. Kelly’s no Holtz. He’s his own guy, but it’s a great to hear both seeing the process in the same way.

  10. bostonjan - Sep 13, 2011 at 10:17 PM

    Enjoyable/upbeat article Keith, thanks. A few points wrt the Maslow model that I feel bodes very well for the Irish. Headline – Belief and Motivation are the other two legs to the success tripod….the Irish are pulling all three together (albeit more slowly and indirectly than we all and they would like).

    In my opinion, the Irish strike me as having the motivation element in place and building up the belief element.

    As I recall, Maslow’s fame initially grew from his theory on motivation and his espoused “hierarchy of needs.” Theory being that an individual is initially motivated by the need to survive (aka food and water). Once satisfied, the individual can move up the hierarchy and be motivated by shelter, to acceptance, love, etc. with self actualization at the top.

    Many best selling books (perhaps the latest being “The Secret”) have been written about the importance of Belief before anything can be achieved. We’ve all heard the sayings: “As you believe, so shall you be”, ” A man becomes what he thinks about all day long”, “Think and grow rich”, “The magic of believing”, etc.

    In my opinion/observation the Irish team IS motivated to win, and at a high level….internally motivated, not because of some outside forces, threats, fear of punishment, etc. I’ve heard/read others claim that the players may be looking over their shoulder(s) because of Coach Kelly’s screaming, decision re: QB, etc. – I say BS. These individuals (and as a team) are winners – gamers. Despite the disappointments, bad breaks, gut punches, to date – I never saw quit in our team. They play with heart, guts, sweat, and blood to the final whistle – what tho the odds……They want it and are working hard for success — and so are other teams (unfortunately?).

    Their Belief may be shaken but I don’t hear/read evidence that the team lacks faith in themselves, their team mates, the coaches or the plan/process. It does need to be re-inforced, envisioned, but I “believe” that the foundation of this element is there, in place. A few wins under the belt will do wonders…..

    I have personally experienced the Competence – Consciousness phenomena in the realm of a sales and marketing career. In short, even once unconscious competence is achieved, it’s not uncommon for an individual to slip back to incompetence if you stop working at maintaining/expanding excellence – continuing to do the fundamentals, sharpening the skills (or “saw” as Stephen Covey might say).

    That’s why I have no intention of giving up on this team, coaches, etc. I invite other Irish fans to join a positive view of our Irish team and cheer with Believe for a solid win against MSU.


  11. ndtod - Sep 14, 2011 at 12:48 AM

    Cameron- soak it all up my friend. Get a beer at the Backer and hit Legends for one as well. And dear God light a candle at the Grotto before the game. We will need it.

    • papadec - Sep 14, 2011 at 1:43 AM


  12. chuterooster - Sep 14, 2011 at 5:59 AM

    Kelly says he dosen’t want to play his younger QB’s because he’s afraid they will turn the ball over.
    Well, we know that Rees is good for three a game, how much worse could it get than that?

  13. vastomry - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    Good article. Thanks. Not a big deal, but the Stages of Competence are not Maslow’s. The background and the entire descriptions of the Stages can be found here:

  14. dickasman - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Part of process my @ss. I see plenty of schools out there not turning the ball over like ND. BAD COACHING by fat irishman is also killing the fat irish. Get rid of BK he’s already getting on my nerves.–20110914,0,519295.column

  15. dickasman - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    Turnovers(playoffs)? Turnovers(playoffs)? Turnovers(playoffs)? What Turnovers(Playoffs)?

    “Blaming football gods instead of Kelly would make the dissection of another Notre Dame coach’s credentials just 15 games into a rocky tenure unnecessary.”

    “No team in college football has turned the ball over more than Notre Dame, and only 17 of 120 FBS teams have committed more penalties.”

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