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Kelly’s talking points translate to pro football

Dec 10, 2012, 3:17 PM EDT

Brian Kelly

Next man in. Unconscious competence. Count on me. Just a few of the building blocks Brian Kelly has used as he resurrected the Irish football program in his third season. For some, this sounds like your stereotypical management jargon that goes in one ear and out the other. But inside the Notre Dame football program, sentences like these have become commandments, maxims carried in day-to-day life that helped reshape the Irish football team.

It’s easy for those of us long out of college and following along from the internet to feel like Kelly and his staff’s message is just a bunch of coachspeak. But watching this season unfold, it’s hard to argue against the use of seemingly generic mantras like the “A-Team” or “Unfinished Business,” as they have become bedrock for a football team that’s fought against long odds to the top of college football.

Scrolling across the internet this morning, I stumbled upon two key quotes from coaches that show you the universality of Kelly’s coaching maxims. And funnily enough, they’re being used in the NFL, among the professional ranks where multi-million dollar contracts and grown men might see through anything that feels more like a motivational ploy than steadfast belief.

In Peter King‘s Monday Morning Quarterback, King talked with New Orleans interim head coach Joe Vitt, who had some keen observations on the plight of this year’s Saints team. If you’ve been following Notre Dame for the past 10 years, you can certainly see the parallels.

From King’s MMQB:

I thought interim coach Joe Vitt said something prescient after the 52-27 mauling at the hands of the Giants Sunday: “When you’re losing the way that were losing, you’re a fragile football team. We’ve got a lot of guys who are used to winning and doing things the right way around here. But unfortunately, we don’t have enough of them. All of a sudden something goes bad and its, oh, here we go again, instead of just setting your jaw and drawing a line in the sand and having some mental toughness to get it done.”

The dreaded “oh, here we go again,” has been infecting Notre Dame’s psyches for more than a decade, and was a major roadblock for Kelly and this coaching staff when they came to South Bend. In year one, Kelly helped establish a change in the program when his team picked itself up of the mat after hitting rock bottom against Tulsa, with the Irish running the table in November, beating Utah, Army and USC to propel the Irish into a blowout bowl victory against Miami.

But in 2011, that virus reinfected the team, and back-breaking losses to USF and Michigan started a promising season in the gutter before the squad could blink. It took a long offseason of training, and transcendent leadership from guys like Manti Te’o and a strong group of captains to change the culture of the program. Matching hard work in the weight room and practice field with mental preparation that allowed the team to peak during close and late situations, when the Irish often wilted.

Building mental and physical toughness sounds like one of those talking points that get a fanbase excited. Yet Kelly’s ability to do exactly that — as it has been on display throughout this magical season — is one of the reasons why Kelly is looked at as one of college football’s finest coaches.


One other quote that struck me came from Redskins back-up quarterback Kirk Cousins, who lead Washington to a miraculous comeback against the Ravens after Robert Griffin III was injured in the fourth quarter. Irish fans are very familiar with Cousins, who had a record-setting career at Michigan State and played many close games against Notre Dame, with Cousins often folding down the stretch.

Yet it was Cousins who saved the day for the Redskins. And after, he basically mirrored Kelly’s talking points about his quarterbacks this year, citing the delicate balance between science and art that a quarterback must possess.

Here’s Kelly from last spring’s Blue-Gold game, where he discussed Everett Golson‘s progress running the Irish offense.

“The quarterback position is both art and science,” Kelly said back in April. “The art part he’s got down. It’s the science and the consistency, all of those things to be a championship quarterback.”

And now this from Cousins yesterday to King:

“One of the things I’ve learned about being a quarterback,” said Cousins, and for a minute, he sounded like a Penn professor of Football 101 with a tweed coat on, “is that it’s a balance between being a robot and being an artist. On the touchdown to Garcon, that’s being an artist; you don’t really know how it’s going to look, but you’ve just got to get out of the pocket and create something. On the two-point conversion, you’re a robot. You take the play and do what’s called, because you know if it’s blocked the right way and set up the right way, it’ll work — the quarterback just executes it.”

Cousins and Griffin are being groomed under Mike and Kyle Shanahan, a coaching duo that knows quite a bit about offensive football. That Shanahan and Kelly both use strikingly similar analogies to the art of quarterbacking should have Irish fans feeling pretty good about the trajectory of Golson.

  1. bjc378 - Dec 10, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    Off topic, but anyone hoping for green jerseys at the NC? I am. Name on the back is wack, Jack.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Dec 10, 2012 at 3:40 PM

      They released em, won’t be green. Names on back, dark navy, nice numbers.

    • dmac4real - Dec 10, 2012 at 3:49 PM

      Names are always on the back for bowls.

      • 808raiderinparadise - Dec 10, 2012 at 7:00 PM

        Everywhere I go it seems ND has no shot in this game accroding to the masses.

        I love the way that will drive the players but I honestly think ND has the better defense, better playmaking QB, best pass catcher (Eifert) …

        Alabama has better RB’s, true proven WR.

        Kickers are both suspect.

        Punt return game, no comment.

        Both teams been tested in close games.

        Saban gets the coaching nod, proven winner in these games.

        Overall this is a good game, I think Golson is ready to lead the offense, this extra time allows him to work with Kelly on a solid gameplan, I think the no-huddle will be used at times early in the game to ste-up something deep.

        Alabamas secondary is short, i think Eifert and Goodman will get chances to go up and get it.

        Jones, Daniels and Brown are all a mystery to me … I like when Toma gets touches in slot personally.

    • kleinick - Dec 10, 2012 at 7:05 PM

      Every time we bust out the greens we lose by 50. Just wear what we’ve been wearing all year…

    • runners00 - Dec 11, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      No. I am not hoping for green jerseys.

    • olemantj - Dec 12, 2012 at 11:34 AM

      BJC378….sorry, but screw the darn green:) Personally, I think they should wear the traditional road white at NC game. Bama won’t have a gimick…..let’s show’em we don’t need a gimmick either. Plus……seriously…..when was the last time ND won a ‘big’ game’ (not vs army at yankee stadium) where they wore green. This year’s team has played it’s best (Michigan St., Oklahoma, USC) wearing the road whites!!

      • 9irish - Dec 12, 2012 at 11:52 AM

        You know, that crossed my mind, too. White has been the lucky color this year. Who is the home team? Either way, blue or white, they’ll be fine.

  2. 808raiderinparadise - Dec 10, 2012 at 3:38 PM

    BIGGEST storyline overlooked: Golson

    • 808raiderinparadise - Dec 10, 2012 at 4:16 PM

      BIGGEST 2013 storyline overlooked: Louis Nix has submitted his paperwork for NFL draft evaulation 😦

      • bernhtp - Dec 10, 2012 at 8:27 PM

        Floyd, Eifert and Te’o all submitted their draft evaluations – no cost, nothing to lose – and all came back. I expect the same of Nix.

      • dudeacow - Dec 10, 2012 at 8:28 PM

        NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!! Stay with us at least one more year, Big Lou!

      • 9irish - Dec 10, 2012 at 8:34 PM

        Nah…I don’t think so either. Some chatter below about BK going pro after next year, too. Definitely don’t see THAT happening. Just chatter.

      • 808raiderinparadise - Dec 12, 2012 at 5:00 PM

        Ummmm Nix comes from a whole diff family and financial background then Teo, Eifert .. he also has 14 sibilings ….. he most likely will stay but if he projected a 2nd rounder which I think he easily is, he might go.

    • 9irish - Dec 10, 2012 at 6:15 PM

      I’ll tell you one that slipped by: KeiVarae Russell. Not only his interception in the USC game, but his presence of mind to not let them catch that ball in the endzone, even if it was a penalty. Twice. Worked out pretty good, huh?

      • 808raiderinparadise - Dec 10, 2012 at 7:04 PM

        Russell yes. HUGE, has been tested week-in-& out …. he has held his own and deserves lots of credit. He will get picked on Jan 7th, he knows and diaco knows it and is used to it, its Jackson that has been arguably ELITE at times … its just a while new age to be talking about solid corners at ND lol

  3. 4horsemenrideagain - Dec 10, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    Never understood the names on the backs for bowls. All year long, no names on the jerseys because it’s not about the individual, but rather the team, then come bowl season this changes? I know the explanation is that bowl games are special, like a reward for all of the sacrifice, but who needs names on the back? The parents? They know their kids’ numbers. The players? I would think the players want to play so well that everyone knows who is who even without names on jerseys. No names on the back is just another way ND is different from everyone else, and I like that.

    • halincandenza - Dec 11, 2012 at 8:49 AM

      I think they put the names on the back because the kids get to keep the jerseys from bowl games.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Dec 11, 2012 at 9:34 AM

        I’m sure the players all want to get their jerseys framed to hang down in the mancave someday, but still why do you need the name on the back? When your buddies come over to swill beers and watch football, they’ll see your jersey and know its yours. No one’s going to ask “hey man, why do you have a notre dame football jersey hanging up?” just because there’s no name on it.

      • irishmurphy25 - Dec 11, 2012 at 11:19 AM

        This team plays as a team and I don’t think having the names on the jerseys is going to affect that at all. It’s a fun tradition and nothing to get worked up about.

    • 1historian - Dec 11, 2012 at 1:48 PM

      I wondered about that but at some point I read that it is done mainly for the seniors – they get to keep the shirts they wore in their last game.

      I like that.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Dec 11, 2012 at 2:33 PM

        Gotta get worked up about something! There are still 27 more days to go and I won’t lower myself to start watching the NBA. Anyone know any good jokes?

    • 1notredamefan - Dec 11, 2012 at 6:51 PM

      I honestly think….imho that the whole situation bothers you for your own personal reasons…. the same reasons that they are going to are the same reasons you don’t want them to….selfish fan!

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Dec 12, 2012 at 10:36 AM

        whoa, easy there boy. there are no “personal reasons” at play, i’m not even sure what that means so just calm down on the namecalling. sticks and stones, and all that…

        i think names on the back look cheesy, that’s all. there’s no deep-seated reason for my opinion, other than just about every other team does it and i like ND being thought of and seen as different from all other schools, because it is truly different. i think field turf and jumbotrons are cheesy too, but i recognize there’s an argument to be made about these being signs of the times and offering a recruiting/competitive advantage, so as as Ron Burgundy says “Agree to disagree.” Of course names on the back for bowl games is not a new tradition, and I never suggested this was the first time, rather just that it doesn’t look right to me, and none of the reasons proffered above convince me that it’s necessary, unlike the field turf/jumbotron that actually arguably have a purpose.

        as for the jerseys, i wish BK would tell Discover that he’s not putting their cheesy logo on, though he probably doesn’t have the authority to do this. that stupid logo looks like something a tennis player wears on his jersey to hump his sponsor, but that’s another issue is suppose.

  4. jajensen23 - Dec 10, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    Not new. Tradition that goes back to Era of Ara. Holtz did it for 1988 Cotton Bowl as well.

    • 9irish - Dec 10, 2012 at 6:37 PM

      I think they had names on the back all the time then. Lou Holtz re-instituted the nameless jerseys, but did it for bowl games. Frankly, not very worried about it. Going Green would not be a good idea.

      • 9irish - Dec 10, 2012 at 7:16 PM

        Eh….I looked at my SI covers and stuff. Ara only had names in bowl games. I was thinking of Devine and Faust. Like I said, no worries.

        Go Irish

  5. jerseyshorendfan1 - Dec 10, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    Also, I think for the bowl games you have a lot of viewers who aren’t necessarily familiar with who’s who on the team, so the numbers help.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Dec 10, 2012 at 5:20 PM

      *names help, I mean.

    • italianirish - Dec 10, 2012 at 6:57 PM

      I think they do it as a nice keep-sake for the players as well–with the bowl game patch and all.

      • goirishgo - Dec 10, 2012 at 7:25 PM

        Yes, bowl game jerseys are customarily kept by the players as keepsakes. Or traded for tattoos at OSU.

  6. majbobby - Dec 10, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    So what it take one more year. My guess this time next year there is going to be a lot of reports connecting Kelly to the NFL. And not just his talking points but his coaching as well. Another year like this and I bet his name comes up on NFL coaching short lists.

    • bernhtp - Dec 10, 2012 at 8:32 PM

      I’m not sure what you tried to say in the first sentence, but Kelly isn’t going to the NFL anytime soon. He is just getting traction in the top college program. There is also no history of ND coaches going to the NFL (Weis briefly returning to OC doesn’t count).

      Kelly would need to be nuts, especially since college coaching doesn’t transfer well to the NFL, where he has zero experience. Kelly isn’t nuts and neither are NFL teams.

  7. letafan4ever - Dec 10, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Manti Te’O got his seventh award last evening. The Lott Award was presented in California. Surprised it wasn’t posted here. Sent a copy of an article on twitter to NBCsports :))

    Now he can get back with his “brothers” and complete his Finals and Prep for NC.

    What a whirlwind. Bet he’s glad to be back in South Bend.

  8. kappy32 - Dec 11, 2012 at 1:14 AM

    I’m very, very excited about what BK has brought to ND. I am equally excited about the future. However, what scares the living crap out of me is BK getting an offer from an NFL team to be their HC once the season is over. Kelly is 2x Coach of the Year; he’s gone 12-0 2x; and if he defeats Alabama in January, he will have fulfilled all of the goals a college football coach could set out to do. People talk about Chip Kelly going to the NFL; I think it is OUR Kelly we need to look out for. If he wins the National Championship, I wouldn’t blame him for leaving & taking his talents to the NFL. The conspiracy theorist in me is thinking that there has already been talk of this & ND is preparing for it. There is no other plausible explanation as to why Bob Diaco hasn’t been rumored to be a leading candidate for some of the big-time jobs that opened up this year unless ND is expecting Kelly to go & they are holding onto Diaco to take the reigns after this year. I don’t know, but while winning the BcS Championship would be a great moment in my life, it may also spell the end of Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.

    • irishmurphy25 - Dec 11, 2012 at 11:29 AM

      Not all of Kelly’s goals would be complete even with a championship. I don’t think he would consider leaving until ND’s program is built and running how he wants it to be. His stated goals are almost always associated with the building of the program (even tho the NC is definitely a part of that).

      All that being said, I don’t know that Kelly sees himself as an NFL coach. Even if he was considering leaving, I don’t believe ND would retain Diaco as the head coach. He’s a great D coordinator but after the string of unsuccessful coordinator hires, I just can’t see then hiring another coach without any head coaching experience. If anything, I could see Martin replacing Kelly like he did before. He has HC experience even if its not in D1.

      All of that is speculative though – Kelly’s not leaving anytime soon.

    • ndgoldandblue - Dec 11, 2012 at 12:22 PM

      I agree with irishmurphy. Kelly, himself, stated during his introductory press conference that this job is not a layover to something better. He wants to finish his career here. Besides, great college coaches are immortalized and idolized more so than great pro coaches. For every Lombardi and Landry, there are several college coaches that are even more beloved from their fan bases. Frankly, I think more people remember what Barry Switzer did at Oklahoma than at Dallas. Kelly wants to be that kind of guy. In the pros, it’s all about the players, and he might get lost in the shuffle.

      As an aside, if Kelly were to win the national championship this year and then immediately bolt for the NFL, the Notre Dame fan base would sing his praises, build him a statue, and speak of him in the same breath as Parseghian, Devine, and Holtz. He would forever be known as the man who brought the Irish out of purgatory and into greatness once again. And I would be fine with that.

      If we win this one game against Alabama on January 7th, Kelly could stink up the joint for the rest of his tenure at Notre Dame, and I wouldn’t care. At the very least, I could say that I saw the Irish win a national championship when I was old enough to remember/appreciate it. I honestly thought that was never going to happen again. Man, I hope they win this thing. Who knows when another chance will arise?

      • irish4006 - Dec 11, 2012 at 2:15 PM

        “Who knows when another chance will arise?” – IMHO, this is not a fluke; this is just the beginning of a good story. I hope we win, but not because I am afraid it may never happen again, because I want to believe our team can win any game, against anyone.

    • mayo1010 - Dec 11, 2012 at 12:48 PM

      BK is a lifetime college coach. He is on his way to becoming a Hall of Fame caliber college coach. There is no way he will make the jump to the NFL. 0% chance!!!!!

    • 1notredamefan - Dec 11, 2012 at 7:01 PM


  9. papadec - Dec 11, 2012 at 1:39 AM

    kappy – based on your logic, wouldn’t Saban be the more likely NFL coaching selection, with two NCs in the past three years? Kelly has a lot more to do @ ND, so does Diaco! Relax, take some deep breaths.

    • 9irish - Dec 11, 2012 at 9:48 AM

      Saban is very likely. Kelly, I don’t think it’s in his DNA. No ND coach has ever done that, he is exactly where he wants to be, doing what he has wanted to do. If Diaco leaves after next year (better be NEXT year, at this point) I would not be surprised if he didn’t have a ND clause in his contract. Place is infectious. Things are clicking.

      Go Irish

    • bostonjan - Dec 11, 2012 at 12:16 PM

      totally agree bro. Also, consider the age of Kelly’s kids. ND and South Bend are great places to raise his family. IMO, this is/will be a big factor in his decision making

  10. 1notredamefan - Dec 11, 2012 at 6:31 PM

    Keith, Have you done some research? serious question….. I’ve heard allot of these same quotes and can’t remember anything like this being said until BK started using them? If they were used I’d have to say it was a Lombardi or Rockne or some legend that BK mirrored himself from! I just just don’t think he’s a follower with catch phrases…?

  11. kappy32 - Dec 12, 2012 at 2:43 AM

    Listen, I think you are seeing Kelly as more loyal to Notre Dame than you should. Don’t get me wrong, he hasn’t done anything to make me think that he would not loyal to ND, but remember, this is a business. Head Coaches don’t become successful by having passive personalities; Head coaches tend to be very egotistical & very aggressive. Kelly has accomplished a lot on this level & if the right opportunity presents itself, I think he would take it at the NFL level. The right opportunity being a team with a young QB in place & right on the brink of winning; a team coming off a down year just seeking a change; a team like the Eagles. He’s young & he’s a proven winner at the college level. Kelly could leave & if it didn’t work out after a few years in the NFL, he could jump right back to college with a sweet landing spot. There is no question that when you are winning at ND, you have the best college football HC job in the country. However, you would be foolish to think that he doesn’t wonder how he would do at the next level. He has now brought two sputtering programs to BCS prominence. If the right situation presents itself, I truly believe his ego will force him to go.

    As for the Saban question, I absolutely believe he is leaving after this season for Cleveland, where he started his coaching career. The debacle at Miami wears on him & he wants another chance. I would be extremely surprised if he is back for next season. The only thing I believe that will keep him here is his desire to become the best known Alabama coach, moving past Bear Bryant.

    As for Diaco, something is there. There is no reason why he hasn’t been offered a HC job yet. I really believe that reason is that he has been told, by Jack & Brian, that should the RIGHT opportunity present itself, Kelly is taking it. Notre Dame will not blow up the program & start from scratch with a brand new coach if Kelly leaves. Diaco has been a main reason why we are bringing in top 10 recruiting classes & they won’t run the risk of losing their commits by completely changing the guard. Furthermore, this is the most successful ND has been since Holtz; it would be insane for ND to not give the reigns to someone who has been an integral part in rebuilding the program over someone who hasn’t been here for it. You guys saw the conflict between Kelly & Weis’ recruits, didn’t you?

    I think you guys are putting too much weight into the power of Notre Dame. This isn’t ND of the 80’s. Everyone in college, coaches & players, strive for the chance to make it in the NFL. Everyone said Steve Spurrier was a lifetime college coach, but when the money & opportunity presented itself, he bolted to Washington. The days of lifetime college coaches is over. It may not be this season, but another year like this year & Kelly will be a goner. Don’t be so blind as to think it won’t happen because its not outside the realm of possibility in today’s football & you’ll be blindsided by it.

  12. olemantj - Dec 12, 2012 at 11:38 AM

    Off topic, also……….. I haven’t posted on this site in over 3 years. Last time I did, ND was in the search for a new coach mode…..just prior to hiring BK. I am writing this now because of a story I just heard this morning on the Dan Patrick show. 3 years ago, before BK’s hiring, I was touting Tommy Tuberville as the next coach. The story I heard is an indication as to why he was never seriously considered in the search process. According to the story, Tuberville had a few recruits in Lubbock for visits. He and a couple of his assistants took the players to a local steak house. During dinner, the players innocently asked how long the coaches were planning on staying at Texas Tech. Tuberville NEVER

  13. olemantj - Dec 12, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    Tuberville never directly answered the question. Once dinner was served, the players noticed Tuberville was not at the table. They thought he had gone to the bathroom. HE NEVER RETURNED TO THE TABE….and the next morning they heard he was hired as Cincy’s head football coach. I don’t care what you think you are …..that was totally classless and something I think ND nation should be glad we never became associated with that guy.

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