In his 27th season as a head coach, Brian Kelly has seen firsthand most of what football might have to offer. This weekend, though, will be a first for the Irish coach. He has never before faced one of his former assistants, let alone one who worked alongside him for a total of eight seasons.
In comes Miami (OH), led by Chuck Martin. Martin coached under Kelly when they were at Division II Grand Valley State as his defensive backs coach for three seasons, adding defensive coordinator duties to that job description in 2003. When Kelly then moved on to Central Michigan, Martin took over the Grand Valley State program, where he continued the winning ways established by Kelly until the latter reached Notre Dame in 2010.
Martin joined Kelly’s initial Irish staff as defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator before moving to offensive coordinator in 2012. He drove eastward to Oxford, Ohio, in 2014.
All that said, Kelly indicated he expects little to be different this weekend.
“Chuck and I are not going to be playing the game,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I know how he is going to prepare his football team. He knows how I’ll prepare my football team. That’s probably it.
“I’ve gone against other coaches that I know very well in terms of how they’ll prepare their football team, and I think that’s probably the similarity.”
For Martin, however, the occasion may be a bit different. A lifelong Irish fan, he will be coaching against those allegiances as well as his friends. When he took the RedHawks job following the 2013 season, one of the first administrative items he tended to was scheduling this game, despite those personal conflicts. In fact, it may have been somewhat because of them.
“I wanted Miami football to experience Notre Dame,” he said Monday. “Four years later, for me, not super enjoyable. I have really, really good friends on the other sideline. That’s not something you really enjoy, coaching against people that you really care about.”
Nonetheless, Martin will use his knowledge of Notre Dame as a whole to be sure his team gets the most out of the weekend before he turns to using his knowledge of Kelly’s coaching to try to spring an upset. The RedHawks will arrive on campus Friday earlier than they would for a usual road trip. Martin also encouraged Miami fans to be sure to enjoy the weekend as much as possible, as well. The chance is unlikely to come again.
“If you look at Notre Dame’s schedule, they don’t play that many teams,” he said. “There’s the usual suspects — they don’t play the same 12 every year — but they don’t get outside of their usual 20 very often. … It’s going to be something that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for many people.”
As for a once in a lifetime upset, Martin was a bit more pessimistic, bordering just shy of completely ruling it out.
“Their kids that they recruit never looked at or heard of Miami University,” he said, and he would certainly know having, again, spent time as the Irish recruiting coordinator. “Our kids that we recruit weren’t talking to Notre Dame.
“… If you went to recess and one team got the first 85 picks, it probably wouldn’t be much of a fair fight. People that don’t understand that have no idea what’s going on. They have delusional beliefs of what can happen.
“Now can upsets happen? Yes. Upsets happen. They happen every week on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It happens all time.”
Notre Dame and Miami kickoff Saturday at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.