Notebook: Brian Kelly vows to bring more passion to Notre Dame sideline

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND —The old Brian Kelly is back! Or is it the new Brian Kelly?

Either way, the seventh-year Notre Dame head football coach said Tuesday the way he hopes to infuse more passion into his 1-3 team is by setting the tone himself.

On the sidelines. For the TV cameras to devour. And the public to dissect and discern.

That starts Saturday (noon EDT; ESPN), when the Irish take on Syracuse (2-2) in a matchup that’s technically the Orange’s home game, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

“I think I've been a little too — what's the word I'm looking for? Maybe not as demonstrative,” Kelly said. “I think I've got to be more fiery on the sidelines, quite frankly. So I'm going to try to turn it up a little bit on the sidelines, because that's who I am, you know?”

Kelly had long been combustible on the sidelines during games at his previous coaching stops — Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati. But the steep grade of exposure once Kelly landed at Notre Dame created a firestorm of mostly criticism for his gameday manner during his first couple of seasons at ND.

He said he will live with whatever the consequences look like this time in the name of trying to motivate his team to play with more passion.

“I don’t have to be a lunatic on the sideline and throw chairs and do that kind of stuff,” Kelly said. “But they have to feel that (passion) from me as well. I think that's very important in this game of football.”

Under the bus?

Notre Dame’s most recent football verbal commitment, defensive lineman Donovan Jeter, on Tuesday chimed into what has suddenly become a national debate over some postgame comments Kelly made following Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Duke.

“Every position, every position, all 22 of them, will be evaluated,” he said. “Each and every position. There is no position that is untouchable on this football team.”

But later, came this: “Listen, this is not all on our players, we still have to coach better as well. There's a lot that we have to do. Because we have got some young players that require really good communication and really good coaching, too. So, I'm a 1-3 coach. We're all 1-3 coaches, so we're in the same boat as all of our players. So let's be clear on that."

And this: “We’ve got to look for the guys that want to have fun and play this game with passion and energy and that's where we've got to go. I must be doing a poor job. I've got to do a better job of finding out what those things are that are putting our football team in that position. But we've got to have more of it.”

Most media and social media snipers either never saw the later quotes or found them irrelevant.

Here, though is the take of Jeter, a 6-foot-5, 260-pounder from Beaver Falls, Pa.

“I'm tired of (people) saying coach Kelly threw the team under bus,” Jeter tweeted from his Twitter account on Tuesday. “From what I saw he's challenging them to be tougher and more passionate.”

Kelly was asked during his press conference how often he felt he could use that tactic of calling out his players and yet get results.

“I don't know that I was that tough on the roster as much as I was tough on my coaches,” he said. “I think when you tell your coaches that they're on a job interview for the rest of the season (a comment he made Sunday), that seems to be pretty tough, more so than saying there is a standard of play at a particular position.

“But you guys can interpret it any way you want. It's my team, and I don't think that I'm too tough on them. I think there is an expectation that you have at Notre Dame, and that you need to play that way.

“Now, having said that, it still falls on me. If this team is not playing well, it's my fault. It's my fault that they're not playing well. So I have to find the solutions to it. … We're all in this together.

“We all spend the same amount of time. If I didn't make that clear, I will make that clear one last time and then we're going to move on — everybody is on notice, and it starts with the head coach.”

Whose decision?

Largely because Kelly publicly defended Brian VanGorder in a press conference less than 24 hours before firing his defensive coordinator, it fed speculation that perhaps it wasn’t Kelly’s decision but rather athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s.

Kelly said Tuesday that he initiated conversations with Swarbrick about firing VanGorder and that ultimately it was Kelly’s decision.

“My ultimate job is to lead this program and evaluate where our team is,” Kelly said. “As I said, I felt like the change was necessary for us to move in a positive direction. I didn't think that we were going to move in the right direction unless a change was made.

“That meant relative to my personnel staff and players and that was the decision that I made. I called Jack and asked him for his approval. He gave it to me, and the rest is where we are today.”

Smile quotient

Notre Dame junior quarterback DeShone Kizer remains among the nation’s leaders in several statistical categories, including passing efficiency (14th at 167.6) and points responsible for (96). In the running game, his average per carry is up from 3.9 last year to 4.3 this season. And with five rushing TDs through four games, Kizer is on pace to obliterate his single-season school record of 10, set last season.

But ND’s defensive woes have him pressing a bit, trying to take responsibility for overcoming growing pains on that side of the ball.

“I had a lengthy conversation with him (Monday) about that very thing,” associate head coach Mike Denbrock said during his weekly appearance on WSBT’s Weekday SportsBeat radio show.

“I remember and he remembers and we had a laugh about the DeShone Kizer who was running down the field at Virginia (last season) with his arms extended. And he looked like he was having more fun than anybody should be allowed to have.

“That’s how I want him to play. I don’t want him to feel like he’s got to carry the load and shoulder the burden for this whole program. He’s a piece of the puzzle. He doesn’t have to be the answer to every question. … I want him to free-wheel it and play loose and have some fun playing football.”


Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, here during the 2012 season, is bringing emotional back to the sidelines, he vowed on Tuesday. (Tribune File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)