Notebook: Brian Kelly does a U-turn on Notre Dame's spring break trip

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — One thing the Notre Dame football team won’t be doing this spring is getting sunburned.

At least not in the extreme sense.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly has decided to scratch a trip to hold the first four practices of the spring at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., a trip that was reportedly in the latter stages of finalizing details as recently as a couple of days ago.

The off-campus practices would have taken place during the players’ spring break in mid-March.

The NCAA recently passed legislation banning such trips, a countermove to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh bringing his team to IMG last spring.

However, the rule doesn’t go into effect until August, and Harbaugh has scheduled some practices in Rome, Italy, in April for the Wolverines. Kelly was poised to go ahead with ND’s Florida trip, but backed off.

“I just feel like with that rule now officially on the books, it doesn't make any sense for us to do something that they have now legislated out,” Kelly said at a press conference Monday held to officially welcome six new assistant coaches and director of sports performance Matt Balis.

“I don't want to be that team that jumps in there just before they change the legislation.”

A reflection on a 4-8 finish

Kelly said he expects to be reminded of last year’s record early and often between now and when the Irish next are in position to change that bottom line, Sept. 2 against Temple at Notre Dame Stadium.

“I get that,” the eighth-year Irish coach said. But he added he is focusing more on the solutions than what went wrong and kind of hinted that the media might want to, too. Kelly, though, when pressed, did share what he deemed the most difficult part of last season.

“If I answer this question one last time — which I will — as I reflect on it, there are no bad football teams. There are just poorly led football teams. And I think I led this team poorly. And I think that's probably what I learned more than anything else.”

Kelly said he and athletic director Jack Swarbrick did not address Kelly’s job status at their end-of-the-season get-together following the season finale at USC.

“We discussed a blueprint for what we needed to do to be successful,” Kelly said. “That was the discussion. It was: All right, what do we need to do? What are the tough decisions that need to be made to ensure the success?

“The great thing about Notre Dame is you're not defined by what happened in the past; it's about what you do in the future. And we all know that we did not live up to the expectations.

“Our mission is a mission of excellence. It's to win championships and to graduate our players. We fell short of that. But we didn't sit around talking about what we didn't do.”

Player feedback sparks change

Kelly said he met individually with 96 current and outgoing players before he made the massive staff changes the past two months. And one area the players were especially vocal about was the need for a makeover in the area of strength and conditioning.

Longtime director of football strength and conditioning Paul Longo is out, officially on a leave of absence with no expected return, and director of sports performance Matt Balis stepping in.

“I won't get into too much detail other than they really, really liked coach Longo, but it was clear that he couldn't function in the manner he could in the first few years,” Kelly said. “He couldn't get down in the trenches with them. He couldn't get in there and get after it the way he had the first few years.

“And then, we made too many accommodations for their schedule, and used it in a manner that didn't allow them the opportunity to come over here and really let off steam, if you will.

“We needed to say, ‘Look, we're going to go early in the morning … and get all of our weight training done before classes.”

Kelly said the strength and conditioning staff will consist of five coaches. In addition to Balis, the Irish hired IMG’s David Ballou. Jake Flint and David Grimes are being retained, and Kelly said there would be one more outside hire to complete the staff.

Jeff Quinn, a member of the strength and conditioning staff last season, will move back into an offensive analyst role.

What about Hudson?

While then-linebackers coach Mike Elston was essentially running the show after defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder was purged on Sept. 25, Greg Hudson actually wore the title of interim defensive coordinator.

And his role, after being elevated from an analyst, wasn’t insignificant.

Now with new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s staff filled, Hudson is hoping to stay on in some capacity.

“We're still kind of in the process of looking at the possibility,” Kelly said of the former Irish player. “Obviously, he is somebody that we think very, very highly of. But as you know, we're running out of slots.

“But he's a guy that would do anything for us, and his love for Notre Dame is something that we obviously are very cognizant of.”

Pryce Tracy returns this season as an offensive analyst, while former Irish All-American Jeff Burris was retained as a defensive analyst.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly speaks on a variety of topics, including his new assistant coaches, during a press conference Monday at Notre Dame. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)