Lesar: Notre Dame unveils Brian Kelly 2.0, but will results follow?

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Talk sounds good in March, but …

Brian Kelly 2.0 detailed his metamorphosis that has evolved from the ashes of last season’s Notre Dame football disaster.

The Irish coach, entering his eighth season, said Tuesday that he’s gone back to his roots.

Sifting through 93 exit interviews after a 4-8 debacle convinced Kelly that his players needed to see him more. He said he took the hint, abandoned the CEO in the corner office — with monogram cufflinks and no socks in his wingtips — image, in favor of one of the guys who shows up at 5:45 a.m. dressed for sweat.

“It's been much more of a different association (with the players), which has been great to do it on that end,” Kelly said of his role in offseason conditioning. “It's been a lot more like when I was a Division II head coach and I had to spend all my time with the players. It's been extremely enjoyable.”

On the eve of Wednesday’s start to spring practice, Kelly talked about grit (mentioned it seven times, to be exact) and wanting to transform this team “from good to great.”

Problem is, after 4-8, the Irish won’t necessarily be starting at “good.”

Anyway, wherever the journey begins, Kelly is adamant that he will be taking a different route. He said he has abdicated – “100 percent” – control of the offense to new coordinator Chip Long.

What a curious move to make. Anyone who has watched Kelly over the years knows he is addicted to control. He had guys like longtime buddies Chuck Martin and Mike Denbrock in offensive coordinator positions and was very reluctant to hand over the keys.

Now, with a 33-year-old who has been a coordinator for one year — at Memphis — and with whom Kelly reportedly shares just a brief history, it’s almost stupefying to imagine Long will be the Grand Poobah of everything offensive.

Anybody else wonder what will happen the first time the Irish are stoned on fourth-and-goal at the 2?

It might not be until a retired Kelly publishes his tell-all memoirs (here’s a title: “50 Shades of Purple”), if ever, that the public finds out the true motivation behind the tear-down then re-build of the internal workings of the Notre Dame program.

But the glimpses we’ve gotten already are intriguing.

Kelly talked about why he’s never been this involved with his players before, he got a little snarky for those who noticed.

“There weren't enough hours in the day,” Kelly said. “It became a situation where I was involved in the offense. I was worried about raising money for our new facility. I was not focused on the traits that I needed to build in this football team. And I'm not worried about that anymore. I'm going to let other people take care of that.”

In other words, Kelly would rather be a ball coach in the trenches with his players than a development guy at a banquet with alums.

A 4-8 record can clear a coach’s schedule in a hurry if his athletic director asks him, “What’s the problem?”

Relatively low key and content with flying under the radar, Kelly was a bit self-deprecating when it came to the message he would have for quarterback Brandon Wimbush, presumably a first-time starter for the Irish.

“If (Wimbush) goes out and throws an interception, he doesn't have to hang his head,” Kelly said. “He does so many good things that he can have confidence that he's going to be successful, because what we're looking for is not perfection from these guys. It's excellence.

“I've been the person to stand in front of them and tell them, ‘Look, confidence is about having some failures along the way. I was the poster child for that last year. But I'm extremely confident in what we're going to do this year.’”

Passes the test, at least for now.

Check back Saturday, Sept. 9, about 11:30 p.m. By then, the game with Georgia will have been digested.

That’s when we’ll discover the true identity of Brian Kelly 2.0.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly looks on during Notre Dame's 45-27 loss to Southern Cal in an NCAA college football game on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2016, inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Calif. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN