Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says he'll remain true to himself on sideline

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — In what just six weeks ago looked like a matchup with playoff implications now instead invites the lunatic fringe.

Which is now almost indistinguishable from what passes for the mainstream.

Less than a week before preseason Top 10 teams and midseason unranked combatants Stanford (3-2) and Notre Dame (2-4) clash at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night (7:30 p.m.; NBC-TV), a sideshow is vying for center stage.

To wit, Google the words "miserable human being," and the second response of 19.5 million spits out the names Paul Finebaum and Brian Kelly.

(The first response is: The 14 habits of highly miserable people.)

For the record Finebaum was the one doing the designating — in this case Kelly, Notre Dame’s seventh-year head football coach, as the "miserable human being." It’s a take that has grown legs nationally for the ESPN/SEC Network analyst and radio show host.

Sideline demeanor and cherry-picking selected content and context from a Kelly postgame press conference fuel the point of view. And this — not necessarily X’s and O’s — is where Kelly’s loudest critics seem to find common ground.

If this all sounds like a movie you’ve already seen, Kelly’s animated sideline demeanor gained national attention in 2010 during a 1-3 start and again after a season-opening loss to South Florida in 2011.

His take on the flap, years later as it intersects with a spate of losing?

“I've got a great relationship with my players,” Kelly said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “I'm just coaching. I'm being Brian Kelly. So if people have a problem with that, then they're not going to be friends or fans of Notre Dame football.

“And I can't help that. I don't feel like I'm crossing a line. I think I'm being who I am. I'm being direct. I'm handling the situation as it hits me.

“I guess that's the best I can say. I'm just going to be who I am. If I feel like there is a matter that needs to be attended to, I need to handle it right away.”

Kelly went on to say that he’s seen improvement in the team’s attitude and preparation over the past couple of weeks.

“We're going to find more solutions,” Kelly said. “I think I found some more this week (in) getting it accomplished for our group.”

The Sagarin computer ratings, a derivative of which was once a part of the old BCS formula, rates Notre Dame as the No. 46 team among FBS and FCS teams.

Four future opponents — Stanford (18), Miami (17), Virginia Tech (12) and USC (25) rank higher. And if those ratings held true, that would mean an eight-loss season for the Irish and the first bowl-less season since 2009, when Kelly’s predecessor Charlie Weis was purged.

The other two future Irish opponents, Navy and Army, rank 55th and 70th, respectively.

Kelly said Tuesday there’s an eye toward the future, beyond 2016, as he retools and refines, but that doesn’t mean the balance of this season will be sacrificed to get there.

“I'm doing everything to build the winning identity for this football team for right now and for '17, '18 and '19,” he said, “because as I talk to the group there is a row of upperclassmen — not many — and then there is a bunch of young guys.

“So everything that I direct at them is being absorbed for right now and in the future. I'm in the present and we're coaching to win right now, but everything we do is to return us back to the top, and we want to stop the slide.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

574-235-6112

Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly yells at his players as Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder stands by during the Notre Dame's 38-35 loss against Duke, Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)

WHO: Notre Dame (2-4) vs. Stanford (3-2)

KICKOFF: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT

WHERE: Notre Dame Stadium

TV: NBC

RADIO: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

LINE: Notre Dame by 3