Notebook: Brian Kelly's focus on Notre Dame, not satellite circuit
BRIDGMAN, Mich. — In the short and scant video snippets that spilled onto social media, the Notre Dame football players last week looked like they were training to be Navy SEALs.
The resemblance was hardly coincidental.
The Irish team was immersed in The Program, outside trainers and experts who came in to run a grueling, team-building exercise over two days, with many of the instructors having military backgrounds.
Per The Program’s web site, the objective of the training ND head coach Brian Kelly set up for his team “pushes athletes outside of their mental and physical comfort zones and trains them to achieve success through improved leadership and coordinated team effort.”
The Program’s clientele includes pro and college athletic teams as well as corporations.
“We had great week on a number of different things,” Kelly said Monday from Lost Dunes Golf Club, site of the second annual Kelly Cares Foundation Golf Invitational fundraiser.
“We worked on leadership development with The Program. We had the NFLPA (players association) come in and talk about staying in school, and agents, and things of that nature.
“We had a financial-planning seminar. We had career development. While maybe other schools were out at satellite camps, we were working on our team and taking care of our guys.”
Ah, the satellite circuit, the hot-button, mega-publicized trend of college coaches staging camps away from their campuses. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has become the face of the movement and the debate surrounding it, though he’s hardly alone.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, has been using restraint when it comes to using June to spread out across the country.
“We use May to go out and recruit,” Kelly said of the standard NCAA evaluation period, “and we’ll have 15 players on campus from the state of Florida in just a short time. We’re going to have 13 from Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama. So we did our recruiting in those areas. Those were our satellite camps.
“We’re going to bring them to our campus and we’re going to work on the players on our campus. We think it’s important to do both.”
This was ND’s second year training with The Program, which worked with Oregon’s football team prior to arriving in South Bend last week.
“We did dry-land training last year,” Kelly said. “This year we went into the lakes and did training on the water and rafting. The core elements are really about leadership and accountability.
“I get asked from you guys a lot: ‘Who’s that next leader? Who are those guys?’ I’ve always said it’s a process and there are different things we do to try to bring that out.
“This was a big week for us in that area. Some guys really stepped up and showed us that they’re really ready to take that next step up to have that ‘C’ on their jersey and take over that captainship.”
Hayes finally healthy
Notre Dame’s OTAs (offseason team activities) kick off Wednesday, and Kelly will get to see a healthy freshman Daelin Hayes on his campus for the first time.
The five-star defensive end prospect enrolled early, in January, but wasn’t cleared for contact in spring practice because he was recovering from shoulder surgery. Hayes missed all but three games of his senior season at Ann Arbor (Mich.) Pioneer High School because of the right shoulder injury.
He still made a strong impression in the drills he was able to perform during spring. He made an even bigger splash with the folks from The Program — who were wowed by the 6-foot-4, 257-pound freshman.
“I would say the thing that impresses me the most with him,” Kelly said, “is not his physical attributes but it’s everything else about him — his demeanor, his mental makeup, the way he carries himself off the field, extremely mature young man.
“And I think that sets him up for early success. He has physical traits, but I think he has all the other traits that will put him in a position to have early success.”
No two-QB system?
Wednesday will also be the first time since spring Kelly will get to see starting QB candidates Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer compete, though the nature of June OTAs with NCAA restrictions, will limit the kinds of competition the coaches can witness live.
The goal is separation as the competition evolves into August training camp, not a time share.
“The only thing we have to be careful of is I don’t want to put ourselves in a position that we don’t know who we are, moving forward,” Kelly said, “And that we’re flip-flopping, and it’s one quarterback one day, and the other quarterback the other.
“I’d really like for this to be clearly defined. There will be a 1, there’ll be a 2. But it’s going to be a very competitive situation, because they’re both very good players, and they’re both guys that can lead us to a championship.
“We’re going to enjoy it, but we’re going to have to be really good at coaching as well in terms of putting them in good positions so they can show their talents and being really good evaluators in who can best lead our football team.”
A tag-team arrangement, like Kelly had with Everett Golson and Tommy Rees in 2012, is something Kelly said he’d like to stay away from.
“I’ve had that situation before, where we’ve had two different quarterbacks,” Kelly said of building in a special package of plays to use as a changeup with the No. 2 QB. “But (Kizer and Zaire) are the same quarterback (from a skill set standpoint). So it would have to be if somebody were not playing well and bring in the other quarterback to come in and play.
“It’s not really a changeup. There’ll be a 1. There’ll be a 2. But if No. 1 is not playing well, he’s not executing, the offense isn’t rolling, we won’t hesitate to go to the next quarterback.”
Sometimes Kelly and his staff have made post-spring position changes once they’d digested spring performances and freshman potential.
This, apparently, is not one of those years.
“I don’t think we have anybody that we’re going to flip from offense to defense,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a mass movement of receivers until we get the right mix up there, but there’s not going to be somebody that’s head-scratching, like a C.J. Prosise (from safety to wide receiver) or somebody to that effect.”