Notre Dame victory personal for Brian Kelly, Brian VanGorder

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Gotta love college football with an attitude.

In the uber-competitive fraternity of coaches, it doesn’t take much for things to get snarky.

Old wounds fester. Sniping isn’t forgotten, no matter how long ago it happened.

Don’t get mad, get even. Right?

Notre Dame’s 30-22 win over Georgia Tech Saturday was a stick-it-in-your-ear-or-wherever-else sort of victory.

The Irish invested a lot of man hours in the conquest. Assistant coach turned analyst Bob Elliott spent his summer gathering data to find an answer. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder used a couple periods (five-minute segments) in many practices since Day One of preseason camp working on the triple-option.

It even might have been a bit personal. Of course, none of these guys will ever admit it publicly. But, put them in a closed office in the Gug with tape recorders off…

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson cut his teeth as a head coach at Georgia Southern. While there, he was an advocate of the spread-option offense. Johnson left Georgia Southern for Navy in 2001. The spread-option remained at Georgia Southern until VanGorder took over as head coach late in 2005.

VanGorder’s first order of business was to junk the scheme and bring the Georgia Southern offense into “the 21st century,” is what he was quoted as saying then.

The comment rankled Johnson. He and VanGorder had never crossed paths again until Saturday.

Judging by the results – 337 net yards, 3-of-15 on third-down conversions, and seven points (through the first 59 minutes and 12 seconds) – advantage VanGorder.

But, then again, VanGorder wasn’t the only Irish coach who had a vested (and maybe vengeful) interest sending Johnson home with a spanking.

Early in head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure at Notre Dame, he put a lot of effort in landing defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, who lived in Georgia. An elite talent, Tuitt went back and forth in his commitment to Tech and Notre Dame.

Kelly told The Tribune’s Eric Hansen way back in the summer, when Tuitt finally made up his mind for the Irish, Kelly had Tuitt call Johnson from his living room. When Johnson got the news, he said, according to Kelly, ‘You’re going to Notre Dame? (To play for) That guy from Grand Valley State?’

“And we could hear him on the phone. So he’s tearing us apart. We finally had to interrupt and say (to Tuitt), ‘You better let him know that we’re here, ‘cause we’re getting quite angry.’”

Advantage Kelly.

So… After a summer’s worth of study, a month’s worth of preparation, and 59 minutes and 12 seconds of domination, Kelly and VanGorder were able to walk away with one of those grins on their faces.

“Oh, we enjoy this,” said Kelly. “This is what we do this for. We love playing a great team in Georgia Tech, spending the time during the week to put in the game plan with a freshman quarterback (DeShone Kizer). We live for this (sounding sarcastic).”

But, with five key injuries; a rugged outing last week at Virginia (which narrowly beat Bill & Mary Saturday); and Las Vegas calling the Irish underdogs at home, somehow they managed to persevere.

And then some, for all but the last 48 seconds.

“The plan, developing the plan, and then the execution of the plan is really the fun part for us,” said Kelly. “I don’t think it’s fun when you don’t see the execution part work as well. But seeing it come to fruition, seeing it come together, seeing your kids play with confidence… That’s what we asked them to do, to play with some confidence today. That was the fun part today.”

So was winning. Especially when it’s so personal.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, right, shakes hands with Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson at midfield following the 30-22 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN