20 questions with Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Notre Dame Brian Kelly emphasizes his smile during a Zoom conference call in October 2020 regarding a question about safety Kyle Hamilton.

Brian Kelly is entering his record 12th season as head coach at Notre Dame and is on pace to pass Knute Rockne as the program's all-time winningest coach in 2021. He sat down recently with ND Insider's Eric Hansen, who asked him these 20 questions

1. When you’re recruiting quarterbacks, what’s the toughest part about assessing/spotting greatness?

Brian Kelly: “Just their demeanor during the game. How do they handle 77,000 and the pressures of the game itself? They go to all these camps and they look beautiful throwing the football, but put a defensive end coming off the edge, the fans screaming or booing — how do they handle all of that?” 

Notre Dame freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner throws the ball during the Blue-Gold game May 1, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

2. What was the most uncomfortable moment during the pandemic from a football perspective?

BK: “I think the most uncomfortable time would have been when we had our one outbreak in September, and how that left us kind of — I don’t want to say powerless — but all the planning went out the window. And we were subject to so much more of the fate of kids getting healthy and a new kind of schedule. So I guess you could say a scary and a feeling of helplessness.” 

3. What would Brian Kelly’s dream name-image-likeness gig have been had it existed during your playing career at Assumption College?

BK: “(Laughs). I just think players want the ability to find a way, with a very busy schedule, to make a little bit of money. How do you make money and is it necessarily your name, image, likeness versus let me work some camps and make a little bit of money? Let me find a way I can make a little bit more money while I’m not able to have a summer job, not able to do some of the things everybody else is doing, and put a little bit of money away. The scholarship and the stipend don’t cover enough of those incidentals. So when I played, I would have liked those options without it influencing scholarship or NCAA rules.”

► More:Notre Dame athletes embrace NIL opportunities on first day of new NCAA policy

► More:How former Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush wants to help athletes profit from name, image and likeness

4. You’ve faced Nick Saban twice in high-stakes games. What’s your biggest takeaway from those experiences?

BK: “Well outside of the obvious? He has really good players. I think that there’s a couple of takeaways. One, I think everybody knows the style of play. They’re going to be physical as an offense. I don’t think those tenets change. They’re going to be more wide open obviously, the second time we played them, in the skill and the perimeter area. But they’re still built on physicality and the running game. I don’t believe that’s changed.

Alabama's Nick Saban and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly meet on the field before the Rose Bowl at AT&T Stadium, Jan. 1, 2021.

"So I think the basic premises of Nick Saban football are still out there. They’re going to be really good on special teams. They’re going to try to control the line of scrimmage, and they’re going to highlight their marquee players. I think he does that really well. I think he’s been consistent his whole career with that.” 

5. If you were a member of the media, how would you describe Brian Kelly in one sentence?

BK: “He is a competitor who’s always looking for ways to improve himself and his program.”

6. What’s the biggest misconception about Brian Kelly?

BK: “The thing is there are a lot of opinions. Opinions don’t really bother me. Misconceptions? That earlier in my career I was a hothead, crazy, out-of-control coach. And I think that was a misconception.” 

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly makes a vocal point to an official in this 2013 file photo.

7. What’s the biggest difference between Brian Kelly in 2021 as a coach from the one walking in the door at Notre Dame in December of 2009? 

BK: “Oh wow. The job is a lot different in terms of what’s in front of us. We were taking over a program where there was a need for different things than there are now, so, I mean, I had to attack it differently then than I am attacking it now. I would say the biggest thing is the staff and allowing the staff to do their jobs, not that I was micromanaging. But it’s just a trust in the staff and painting them the vision and letting them do their jobs.” 

Brian Kelly, addresses fans during halftime of a Notre Dame basketball game after being named the new head football coach in December 2009.

8. What do you tell a recruit’s parent who asks you how much longer you’re going to coach?

BK: “I leave it open-ended. I feel good. I’m healthy. I enjoy what I do. I really like the position that we’re in at Notre Dame. My contract states that I’ll be here to see your son graduate. So I guess when I get past that threshold, I’ll have to come up with another answer. But right now, I think my stock answer is, ‘As long as I’m feeling good and I’m healthy and I believe that my message resonates with our team, I’ll keep coaching.’” 

9. What’s a venue you’d love to coach in but haven’t yet?

BK: “Well, Lambeau Field would have been on that list. We had that game canceled (and since rescheduled for 2026). I would say when you’re looking at some of those iconic places across the country, we’ve been to a number of them. I think I’m looking forward to the Horseshoe at Ohio State.

Brian Kelly is looking forward to coaching the Irish at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio in 2022.

"I think that probably is one that is on my list and we’ve got them on the schedule coming up (2022). That’s one I’m looking forward to.” 

10. Has your wife, Paqui, ever suggested a play or a strategy that you actually used? If so, did it work?

BK: “She’s never suggested a play. She has suggestions more about how I would handle a particular situation than anything else. Her advice is much more personal in nature. If I’m frustrated or happy about something or not, she’ll be my sounding board for things like that. But she’ll stay away from the X’s and the O’s.” 

Paqui Kelly participates in the annual Paqui’s Playbook Pink Out Zumba Session at Notre Dame Stadium, Oct. 3, 2016 in South Bend.

11. Favorite person to talk X’s and O’s with?

BK: “I have a few, actually. One guy in particular is Tom Kearly. He is a former head coach at Michigan Tech. We go back about 30 years. He’s retired now. But he’s a guy that watches film and a guy that I’ll call if I feel I’ve got something to go over with him from a X-and-O standpoint.” 

12. What’s the worst meal you’ve ever eaten during a recruiting home visit?

BK: “Oh, that’s easy. Poorly cleaned chitlins. I felt the need to at least try.”  

13. Who’s the recruit you initially thought you had little to no chance to land but who ended up coming to Notre Dame?

BK: “There are three of them. I thought we were out of it with Stephon Tuitt, and then that thing changed. I’d say another guy was Dexter Williams. Thought we were out of that. Thought he was going to Miami. And the last one would have been DeShone Kizer. I wouldn’t say we didn’t feel we were going to get him, but it was a long process when it came to him. Those were the three.” 

Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt celebrates after an interception in Notre Dame's end zone against Michigan Sept. 7, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Mich.

14. Favorite Sports Movie?

BK: “That’s a good one. It just depends on what mood I’m in. If I’m in a light-hearted mood, it’s Bull Durham. If I’m more serious, it’s Hoosiers.” 

Kevin Costner plays catcher "Crash" Davis in this scene from "Bull Durham."
Actor Gene Hackman gives fictional Hickory High basketball players instructions during filming of “Hoosiers.”

15. Last movie that made you cry?

BK: “Cry? I don’t know about crying. I probably got emotional and welled up. I can’t remember the last time I had tears streaming down my face at a movie. One of the more emotional ones, though, was the first time I saw Apollo 13.”  

16. Taylor Swift or the Ramones?

BK: “That’s tough. (Long pause). Probably go with Taylor Swift.” 

Taylor Swift attends the premiere of “Taylor Swift: Miss Americana” at the Eccles Theater during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

17. Favorite song to blast in your SUV when no one’s around?

BK: “I would probably say Born to Run.”

18. If you go on vacation somewhere in the U.S., do you try to hide your identity when you go out in public?

BK: “Absolutely. I think, more than anything, hiding is preparing where you go and how you travel. There are a lot of places I can’t go, so why put yourself in that position? I try to go to Europe.” 

19. In October, you’ll be the first Notre Dame head football coach ever to hold that title at age 60. Does that surprise you?

BK: “Yes. I think a little bit of it is that today’s 60 is a little bit different than 25 years ago’s 60 — just in terms of being conscious of health and the screenings that we have today and all of the medical things that are allowing us to stay healthy.”  

20. You’ve got a milestone coming up this season involving Knute Rockne. What do you admire about his legacy?

BK: “I think a lot of people don’t understand the relationship that he had with his players. It was one that is transcendent. People talked so much about Rockne’s showmanship, marketing ability, but the stories that I keep hearing now are so much more about how the players loved the interaction with him. So that’s what really stands out to me.”

Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne is shown in 1925. Brian Kelly is expected to pass Rockne this year as the program's all-time winningest coach.