Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says play-calling will be a collaboration

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It sounds like a promising sitcom pilot or maybe just the exhuming of an old one.

Three’s Company?

That’s the company line at least that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is selling about how offensive play-calling will shake down in 11th-ranked ND’s season opener with Texas Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium (7:30 EDT; NBC-TV) — and for the foreseeable future.

“We are going to collaborate,” Kelly said Tuesday at a meeting with the media.

The “we” in the equation are first-year offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, long-time Kelly confidant and assistant head coach/wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock and Kelly.

In his previous 24 seasons as a college head coach, Kelly has largely called his own plays. A one-year deviation in 2013 to former offensive coordinator Chuck Martin, now the head coach at Miami (Ohio), is a notable exception.

Denbrock didn’t deny, though, he had a larger hand in that role during ND’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU last December.

“I know you guys want more,” Kelly said to the media when pressed for the mechanics of how the collaboration is designed to work. “I'm just not going to give you much more than all three of us are collaborating. How it comes out to the signaller, we're all in unison as to how we want the game to unfold.

“So we are all going to be working off the same play sheet. We are going to all be working off the same openers. We are going to all be working off the same down and distance sheet. So whether it's coming out of Mike or Mike or Brian's lips, is really immaterial as far as I'm concerned.”

What is material, or at least intriguing, is what the Sanford influence might look like, moving forward.

Kelly’s hiring of the 33-year-old from Sanford’s alma mater Boise State represents a notable departure in the way the Irish head coach has done business when it comes to hiring coaches so close to the offensive decision-making process.

Familiarity has been Kelly’s comfort zone. This time he intentionally moved away from that. That’s even coming off ND’s best national rankings under Kelly in total offense (32nd), passing offense (18th) scoring offense (38th), passing efficiency (30th) and third-down conversion percentage (14th), to go along with a troubling 98 ranking out of 125 in turnovers lost.

“I think more than anything else, just the constant questioning of how we do things and why we do things,” Kelly said of what he’d hope Sanford would bring. “I think it's just natural that sometimes you run a system of offense like I have for over 25 years, that you become accustomed to doing things a certain way.

“When you get the question of why do you do it that way, then you have to answer the question honestly, that kind of turns it upside down a little bit. And so it's been good. It's been refreshing, and we've been able to look at everything that we do through what's the best way to get this done. And so I think that's been a good piece.”


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Head coach Brian Kelly speaks with quarterback Malik Zaire during at recent Notre Dame football practice at LaBar Practice Complex. (SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)