Will culture beat scheme at Notre Dame?

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — At least it sounded good on Aug. 6.

Check back around 10:30 p.m. Sept. 5. Or about that same time Oct. 3. Or about that same time Oct. 17.

“Culture Beats Scheme” is the rah-rah motto Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly allegedly swiped from Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly.

No matter its origin, the concept is founded in logic. Developing a sturdy foundation through leadership and accountability can carry a football team well beyond its perceived parameters.

“It's not X's and O's,” Brian Kelly said Thursday of what “culture” represents. “It's not individuals. It's not anything about singular. It's Team 127 (in Notre Dame’s history). It's the culture of this program which means you hold each other accountable. There is an attention to detail. The mission is more important than keeping your guys happy. It's really about that, and that goes to culture and that mindset.

“We know we've got a collection of good players. That's not going to win. But culture will win. If everybody's bought into that culture; if everybody's bought into team … Some guys are going to have to give up some carries. Some guys are going to have to give up some accolades for this team to get to the playoffs. That's why we push that messaging.”

If it hadn’t happened at Notre Dame just a few years ago, it might be something difficult to comprehend or quantify. Think back to 2012. Leaders like Manti Te’o, Zack Martin and Kapron Lewis-Moore willed the Irish beyond expectations and into a bid for the national title.

So … It can happen.

“Everyone’s got be willing,” said center Nick Martin, a current grad student who was a youngster on that team. “We bought in and played together. It’s the ultimate team game. It can’t be an individual.

“It’s a fine line. (That culture) is hard to accomplish, but when you do it’s a great thing.”

“To me, (“Culture Beats Scheme”) means sticking by who we are; what our truth is,” said junior linebacker Jaylon Smith, one of the most respected voices on defense. “We’re building that culture right now.”

Culture might come in the form of staying positive and getting the most out of grueling practices in the summer heat; complete focus and attention at meetings; or the mission to foster unity away from the locker room.

“This is the deepest group of components,” Kelly said, assessing his talent. “However that doesn't get it done for you. It's how this group comes together. How they overcome adversity. How they stay together; hold each other accountable.”

For the first time since 1991, Notre Dame will have a sixth-year head football coach. With that seniority comes volumes of experiences that would probably provide shock value for most fans.

“I could write several books of what I've learned, and what I continue to learn every day,” Kelly said. “We've made incredible progress in so many areas that are centered around our student athletes. It's not just me. It's the support from (athletic director) Jack (Swarbrick) and the university to continue to move our program forward.    

“It's a competitive business out there. With us wanting excellence both in the classroom and on the football field, it requires you to look inward every single day as to what you need to do to achieve both of those goals. That's maybe where we're rolling up our sleeves every day, looking at both of those every single day, not just one.

“Not just building new facilities and new locker rooms. We're looking at both. We’ve made great progress in enhancing the experience for our student athletes, while keeping the ultimate goal here in mind, and that is excellence in the classroom and on the football field.”

And making sure the culture can stand up against even the best of schemes.

That won’t be answered ‘til the bullets start flying.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly speaks to members of the media during at a press conference to open the 2015 season at Guglielmino Athletics Complex, Thursday, August 6, 2015, in South Bend. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)