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UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 23, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Coach Kelly will start with some opening remarks and take questions.
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. Each and every week we're confronted with the rivalry game, whether it started with Purdue, with the Shillelagh, or the Leahy Bowl with BC, Michigan, Michigan State. But I can tell you from my perspective, this is rivalry week at the University of Notre Dame. This is a rivalry game against USC. You can tell that in the very first meeting with our players.
As a matter of fact, you know, we have that 24-hour rule where you enjoy the victory. It was the first time this year in the locker room after a win, our guys were already talking about USC. So there's clearly an energy and an excitement with our football players relative to this week. I believe as the head coach, this is that rivalry that you're looking for.
I got to tell you also, from my perspective again, rivalries are such when it's not one-sided. This one has been one-sided. It's our job to make this a true rivalry. That is winning the football game.
So, again, I think just to give you a perspective of the week, our guys are really excited about this. I know as the head coach the USC game to me means so much when I grew up watching Notre Dame football. It's great to be around the energy that is coming out of it this week.
Clearly we're playing a very talented football team. They haven't lost that. They're extremely athletic. Obviously defensively they lost some players in the back end of their defense. But up front, I believe it will be the best front four that we'll see all year.
In the back end of the defense, again, you know, very athletic. Shareece Wright, their boundary corner, is one of the better guys that we'll go against all year. He plays on body. He's an aggressive player. He'll get matched up a lot with Michael Floyd. That will be a matchup to really look at, an exciting matchup.
On the offensive side of the ball, Ronald Johnson, Robert Woods, the wide receivers are electric. They're play-makers, both as an offensive player, but also special teams.
Matt Barkley, as you know, has been that leader for them, starting as a true freshman, now playing in his second year. He is very comfortable with Coach Kiffin's offense. You can see that. It doesn't take you very long to watch film to see that this young man has really adapted well to the system. It's not far from what they were running last year. It's pretty clear.
Yeah, I don't know what his status is. You guys probably know better than I. We're preparing that in a rivalry game of this nature that Barkley will be ready to play.
Very good depth at the runningback position. They're going to play three and four runningbacks. Again, as talented of a football team as we'll see all year.
If you look at our guys, we have a couple of guys back. T.J. Jones, we're going to address Theo Riddick, he will practice this week. They are not in starting positions. But we'll see how that works out as we go through the week. They'll get more work as they feel more comfortable.
Carlo is in the depth. He was last week obviously. But he's certainly somebody that will see some playing time. We have a couple guys back that, again, won't be in starting positions, but will give us some depth from an offensive standpoint.
With that I'll open it up to any questions.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Tyler Eifert, what has enabled him to emerge from that group of backup tight ends to be playing as well as he's been playing as of late?
COACH KELLY: I just think a couple things. First and foremost, his health. He had a back surgery last year, and it required him to gain a lot more of a conditioning base and strength level, to be able to go out there and take really the pounding at that tight end position. As you know, we use him in power and outside zone as well as running down the field. I think it's just the maturation process for him.
You know, I know we list all these guys as sophomores, but they're freshmen. It's a combination of freshmen. So really what you're looking at is the development of a freshman throughout the season.
Q. He got hobbled on a play against Army. What exactly happened there?
COACH KELLY: Just banged his shoulder a little bit. I think when you find we're utilizing the tight ends in some instances like a fullback, where he's isolating some blocks, you're going to get a bang once in a while.
Q. Early in the year it seemed like some of your offensive line were having a little bit of trouble, even a guy like Trevor Robinson. Where is his progress now?
COACH KELLY: What we really wanted from Trevor is to play more physical. He was not the strongest of our offensive linemen. We felt there was a deficiency there in his overall strength. He has gotten stronger physically as the season has progressed. That, I think, has begun to separate him in terms of his ability now to really strike, get up on a second level.
Braxston has to help him out a little bit more. Braxston gets a little bit too anxious to get out on the second level and leave Trevor alone. But I would say clearly it's his physical strength that he's improved on during the year that's allowed him to be more consistent.
Q. Jamoris has quietly slipped back into your lineup. It seems like your back end is pretty strong with him. What have you been getting from him?
COACH KELLY: Health obviously. If you remember, starting the year against Purdue, he was our starter. It's just nagging injuries. It was first a high ankle sprain. Then he had a complication from that injury in his heel which really didn't allow him to be at a hundred percent. Of course, when you have a guy like Zeke back there, you better be healthy because he's a pretty good football player as we've seen.
I think more than anything else, it's just his health has allowed him to get back in the mix. He's a physical player at the point of attack, and he's a very smart football player.
Q. I'm not sure if the depth chart is accurate, but you have Brian Smith starting again this week. Talk about your decision there, what you're getting from Brian.
COACH KELLY: You know, he plays with a lot of energy. We'd like him to be more physical at times. He's been a consistent player for us in that position. So we're going to continue to move in that direction.
Again, we started cross-training him at both positions. My guess is that you'll see him both inside and outside because he's got the experience. Look, all of his experience really leading up to this was an inside linebacker. The transition for him has not been big. So it just gives us a little bit more flexibility where we can get another guy on the field.
Q. Have you crossed paths at all with Lane or Monte Kiffin? Do you know those guys at all?
COACH KELLY: I don't. I've sent my staff down in years past to clinic with Monte Kiffin when Brian VanGorder was my defensive coordinator, who is now with the Falcons. We had a relationship there. Other than that, I have not gotten the chance to meet Lane.
Q. I take it when you start listing guys you're getting back in, that Williams is not in?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, he's not on that list at this time, unfortunately.
Q. Overall, big picture, what has this year been like for you? Has it been close to what your expectations have been? I know it's been up and down. What has it been like for you personally as a coach?
COACH KELLY: Personally as a coach, I would say that 6-5 is not what I had in mind as to where we would be at this point. You know, I look at myself personally relative to coaching and critique that on a day-to-day basis.
But clearly 6-5 is not what I had in mind. So from a coach, I've got to do a lot of things better. I've got to continue to evaluate myself and decisions and game plans and things of that nature.
But in 20 years I think what I've understood more than anything else is that you have to do that. You don't just arrive. Things change so much from year to year. I think that's the thing I look at most.
Notre Dame is a high-profile job. With that comes a great deal of scrutiny. I think I was prepared for that. We got a lot of it this year.
Q. The defense was not particularly good last year. Knowing that going in, figuring you had a lot of the same guys back, have you gotten about what you could have hoped for from your defense relative to what they had done in the past, their track record?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think we were looking at two or three important things. One was to build confidence in the unit. I don't believe it was a confident unit late in the year. The other thing was continuity and voice. We wanted one message, one voice, we wanted consistency on that side of the ball. Clearly those two things have come together.
If we got those two things this year, that would have been the move in the right direction. What we've also gotten is player development and an improved defense relative to how they played on the field.
So I would agree with your premise that it wasn't a very good defense last year at the end of the year. It's becoming a better defense. I think I said this pretty clearly, that we could not be a championship program until we improved our defense. So I would say that, yes, we've improved to that level where we can feel good about where we're going.
Q. Was this better than what you would have expected, given the past performance? Do you set the bar so high that there's not really reaching that expectation?
COACH KELLY: No. I think we wanted to be realistic. But I did believe that if we cleared up those two things, in other words, the confidence level, building confidence within the ranks, then obviously having one clear message in terms of how we were going to do it, I thought we've improved.
I thought what we've done is we've gotten some players that haven't played a lot to play significant roles. And those that were not playing at a high level. I think I illustrated Harrison Smith. He was under a lot of scrutiny last year for his play. He's been one of our best players this year, consistent players. I think we've gotten both of those: young players in the mix and players that didn't 'play very well last year' to play much better.
Q. With Cierre, he's kind of got as much personality probably as anybody on the team. How does that translate into coaching him and kind of getting him to understand a role when he's got a lot of self-confidence and thinks he can probably do a lot more at any given time?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think he's a confident kid, but he's learned so much that he didn't have all the answers. Last year at this time when he was sitting there, he's like, Why can't I play? Why am I not on the field? I think as we've gone through the season, he has seen why maybe he wasn't on the field last year, 'cause it's not all about how fast you are, it's about protection, catching the ball, ball security, all of those things.
So more than anything else, his personality is such, it's been maturity. Maturing has been that ingredient for him. He's growing up as a young man, and that's why I think he's beginning to have the success that he thought he would.
Q. You mentioned growing up with Notre Dame/USC games. Any ones in particular that stand out?
COACH KELLY: Just the ones where the runningbacks ran for a lot of yards.
Q. A few of those.
COACH KELLY: Yeah, there were a couple of those (laughter).
I go way back to Sam 'Bam' Cunningham and obviously the great ones that have always played at Notre Dame on the offensive side of the ball, watching the great players at Notre Dame, too. It brings back a lot of memories. It seems to be the game you always watched if you had something you were going to plan around that game.
Just something that is vivid in my memory.
Q. I'm sure people look at what you did against Army and say, Why didn't you do that against Navy? Say you used a similar four-man front, how do you anticipate Navy would have adapted to that? Would they have adapted better because they've had many more years of experience running the triple option?
COACH KELLY: I don't know that that's true. I couldn't really tell you if Coach Elson is less informed on the option versus Coach Ken. I really couldn't answer that question.
All I know is that we wanted to be more physical. So if there was one thing that we learned from the experience was that you need to be physical. That was probably, for us, I think if you look at anything, it was bring that physical play to whatever scheme and system that you go against, and you stand a better chance for success.
Q. Speaking of being physical, Jamoris Slaughter has come in and made a couple of big hits in Utah and was real physical against Army. Suddenly your defense has only given up 19 points. I know it's not one person, but how has he impacted the performance of your overall defense the last three games?
COACH KELLY: He's been an important part. But I would, like you have, been careful to point out, that would be like saying that when Mulvey gets on the field for us, we're 2-0. Mulvey comes in and kneels at the end of the game and he's 2-0. So I want to be careful that it's not just because he's on the field. There's other guys that are obviously doing some very, very good things, and getting better at doing them.
Sean Cwynar is now really playing with a consistent manner every snap. Kap Lewis is getting better as the season progressed. Ethan was a force in there.
So Slaughter definitely adds to that punch of physical play, but the other guys around him are playing pretty physical, as well.
Q. Speaking of walk-ons, you have a young man, Patrick Coughlin, who seems to be around the football. How did you find him?
COACH KELLY: Well, we found his brother last spring. You know, he's just a young man that in camp showed that energy to get out and just be physical in everything we were running. This was really about, when we had an opportunity to get the kick team together, we have drills in the summer that you can't hide. If you're a guy that loves to run down there and get after it, we're going to be able to find out who you are even if you're a walk-on.
I think I looked at it. When we had breakfast at the hotel on Saturday morning, we had a combination of like nine walk-ons that were on the travel team. He's one that has been very consistent for us all year.
Q. This might be another Mulvey stat. Notre Dame 25-0 the last time you out-rushed your opponent. What's legitimately something we can read into that stat?
COACH KELLY: I would say that you probably would look at controlling the line of scrimmage, which allows you the opportunity to stay on the field and stay out of long and distances, stay ahead of the chains. I think that's probably more than anything else. Running the football has allowed Notre Dame to stay ahead of the down-and-distance game and stay on the field and have consequently an opportunity to score some points.
Q. You mentioned this on Sunday, talked today about learning as a coach. What are some of the things you've learned through the course of this year? Probably a better question after the season. Through the last three months, what have you learned as a coach that you didn't know when you kicked off against Purdue?
COACH KELLY: Time management. You know, how important it is to manage your day when you have so many demands on your time. You know, you really almost have to say, Enough's enough. I've got to focus on my team. I've got to focus on my players. I've got to focus on spending time, probably I would underline this in this whole statement, with my assistant coaches. I got to spend time with my coaches. I got to coach my coaches.
You know, again, 19 years, you figure you got a lot of that under your belt. I would say if there's been one piece that I've learned more so at Notre Dame than anything else, it's continuously coaching the coaches, spending time with the coaches.
Q. Have you just had more time for that at previous stops than you do here?
COACH KELLY: Oh, absolutely. There's no question about that. There's no job like Notre Dame. I don't mean that in a clichÃ© sense. I mean that in all the responsibilities that you have.
So clearly I learned that here at the University of Notre Dame.
Q. It would seem from the outside you are playing your best football without your best players, Dayne, Kyle, et cetera. Can you explain why that's happened?
COACH KELLY: Because we've moved Notre Dame from being a collection of individuals to being a football team. I felt that some of the things that maybe we inherited that we needed to move in my direction, how I feel philosophically, was to get this more as a team, as a next man in, everybody pulling in the same direction, and not about a collection of individuals. When we get those players back, we'll be a better team because we've put the foundation of "team" first.
It sounds like you've heard this a million times, but the strength of the pack is really what we're looking for. I think we're getting that dynamic.
Q. Riddick going to practice this week, but you're unsure whether he'll be able to play at all on Saturday?
COACH KELLY: He looked good in pregame against Army. I liked the way he looked. He moved well. At first glance you would say, Wow, he looks really ahead of where we thought he was. Then he stiffened up a little bit as he stood on the sideline for the whole game. Our concern is how is he going to respond on a Tuesday backed up by a Wednesday. How does he really look on Wednesday? I think he's going to look pretty good today. How is he going to look on Wednesday? I think that's really the answer to the question specifically.
Q. Last year the basketball team, when it lost its All-American, he totally had to revamp the way it played. With all the injuries you had, do you feel it almost galvanized the team more so than if you hadn't had those injuries? That's not a knock on anyone who had played prior to that, but it almost forced the hand to change that physical approach and perhaps not have the quarterback do too much.
COACH KELLY: I would say that's part of that dynamic. I think there's a lot of things working here. Maybe more of a focus on what our quarterback is able to do, because he is a true freshman. Maybe our offensive line saying, You know what, we've really got to pick up our game now and not put it on a freshman. Let's go take care of it ourselves.
Same thing on the defensive line. Ian was such a force, I think it's picked up the other players on the defensive line.
I think it's true in what you said, but I think there's some other dynamics there, as well as our football team coming together as a group at that time, as well, which makes it sound like a coincidence. But I think it's true that our football team was emerging as more of a unit as well at the same time.
Q. Was it a result from that bye week? Did that really help mesh that type of feeling, just having not a week off, but being able to step back a little bit?
COACH KELLY: That was a moment. I'll give you the analogy. I think we've been banging that wall with the sledgehammer. We're finally starting to see that crack, that that wall's breaking. It's not down yet, but it's the cumulative effect of all the things you're talking about occurring. We're banging that wall.
That wall is going to break down. I think it started to with some of the things that you've brought up.
Q. With Cierre, there's the story earlier in the year where he just lined up and told Manti to come at him with everything he can, hit him as hard as he can. You mentioned at the BC game before you could get to him... You don't see that very often from a highly recruited runningback. Can you go a little bit more into that maturity process?
COACH KELLY: That's my job. That's what I do. I may not make all the right calls. I may not do the things that I need to do all the time a hundred percent. But one of the things, one of my strengths, is in developing young men. Whether they're a four-star, five-star or a zero-star, it's building the relationship with those kids, getting them to mature, getting some physical and mental development. I think Cierre is a case in point.
Q. Robert Hughes kind of fell into that Brian Smith category where they were standouts as freshmen, projected for All-American careers. Now as seniors, they've kind of had to take a backseat. Can you talk a little bit about Robert, as you would say, he hasn't checked out?
COACH KELLY: Those are all guys that if you polled them, they'd like to have another year. What happened in two, three, four, I don't know. But they'd like to have another year.
They're fulfilling the roles we've asked them. Duval has stepped into an important role and Robert has, as well. I think that speaks to our seniors.
Q. Since arriving here, you've had a number of off-the-field issues to deal with. How have you dealt with that from what you needed to get done on the field?
COACH KELLY: Well, first of all, they have to be all in the same. It falls under the leadership position of the head football coach. I have to take a leadership role when it comes to all of those matters that may affect our football program.
The first thing is you don't hide. You try to offer transparency, you try to be direct, you try to give all the information that you can in handling those things. When I say 'information,' talking to our players. It's important that there is an ongoing conversation with your players, as well, regarding all things surrounding your football program.
So just provide consistent leadership 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Although you can't always be there, you have to have the door open. There still has to be that leader for the program.
Q. Have they been a distraction? Have they pulled you away from what you might have gotten accomplished?
COACH KELLY: That's hard to say as I stand here right now. You know, you look back on the season maybe and could get a better perspective. There seems to have been an inordinate amount of things that have occurred this year that our guys have done a really good job of focusing on, and I have, in keeping them focused.
I think the perspective would be better after the season to kind of look back on it.
Q. You mentioned your feelings regarding the 6-5 record. You made some pretty confident statements coming in here. Any thoughts now about maybe having tempered those, tempering expectations?
COACH KELLY: You know, when I go play golf, I go to the black tees. That's the first thing that I do. I go line it up at the black tees.
Now, at the turn, sometimes I go to the white tees after I obviously shoot 17-over par and wonder why I'm not shooting par.
I think it's always been in who I am that, you know, we're going to come in here and we're going to win. I don't know how to do it any other way.
But obviously, as I've seen things move forward, yeah, maybe I would have played from the white tees, but that's just not who I am.
Q. In terms of this game coming up, you've said it doesn't make or break a season, but do you recognize what it means to the fans on both sides, that something like this can or make or break a season?
COACH KELLY: Every game is a make or break for me. You're away from your family. It's 80 hours a week. They're absolutely crucial. But there are other dynamics going on within our program as well in terms of the development of our football team and how they're coming together.
But, yeah, this is a huge game. It's a rivalry game. It's a big game 'cause it's your last regular-season game.
Q. Coach, after the Utah game, you mentioned as a group, as a team, they've gone from worrying about the traditions and all the expectations of the fans, different things that can distract your focus, and to focus on each other as a group. Seems like they gave themselves a great win with the win at Utah and Army. Can't think of a greater win they could give the seniors than a win over California.
COACH KELLY: As I said, they were talking about it right after the game. This week obviously is one that they don't have classes tomorrow. They've already brought it up. No classes on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday. All you got is USC. So there is clearly a focus on this game and how important it is to not only the seniors, but all of them.
So, yeah, we've got their attention this week more than any time probably because of the way the schedule works out. We'll be together on Thanksgiving. Yeah, I think a lot of the talk around here is going to be about USC.
Q. I know there's no specific promises one way or the other, but it could be a difference in the climate as well for a post-season Bowl game.
COACH KELLY: And I want to make sure we can get to a warm-weather area so you could play some golf (smiling).
Q. Do you have to do anything to use the rivalry with the kids or are they just doing it amongst themselves?
COACH KELLY: I think it's more what they have talked about to me. It was palatable at the meeting on Monday how the USC game is clearly different in their eyes. That's great 'cause it is in my eyes as well. When I addressed them about the rivalry, I didn't have to sell anything to them. That was already there.
Q. What did you say to them about the rivalry when you addressed it to them?
COACH KELLY: Well, we talked about similar things that I just mentioned relative to the rivalry. First of all, it's not much of a rivalry until you get a little more balance in it, that is you have to win some more games. Here is how you win. We talked about how to win.
They want to win that game. I gave them the game plan for how I believe we can win that football game.
Q. Tommy, a little more on his plate. Do you put more on his plate or pull back a little bit considering the opponent?
COACH KELLY: It really has a lot to do with the defensive structure in terms of what we give him more than anything else. He's not a guy that we're going to all of a sudden run a lot of quarterback runs with them. It's more about what the defense is going to give us this week that will pull us in a different direction in our game plan.
Q. Would you talk about your Thanksgiving Day plans, what you have planned for the team, if the two aren't one in the same.
COACH KELLY: 9 to 11 we'll practice. We'll have a Thanksgiving meal here for our players, which the coaches will be here. Then we'll dismiss them about 1:00. We'll go home, spend time with our families. Then we'll have our players come back and check in at 8:00 just so we've got everybody back and accounted for. We don't want any surprises Friday morning when we load the plane.
Q. They can get the whole meal in in under two hours?
COACH KELLY: If you watched us eat, we could probably eat in 25 minutes if we have two buffet lines.
Q. Manti, the broken nose, any concerns there?
COACH KELLY: There aren't. Obviously, we don't want to put him in a position where the helmet comes down and hits the nose. He'll have surgery on Monday or Tuesday of next week. We just have to be careful with him this week and he'll be ready to play.
Q. Several of your predecessors, we can always tell when it's USC week, you walk by the practice field, you can hear the Fight On song over and over and over. Is that going to be the same?
COACH KELLY: No, we're not going to play the song.
Q. You've had a lot of young guys play this year, some due to injury, but you have freshmen starting, sophomores, juniors. How do you feel about where your program is at looking forward, because this is not going to be a year where you lose half your guys?
COACH KELLY: No, I think there's a number of starters back. We're clearly excited about the progress that we're making. We would have liked to have had more wins at this point. But those have been already addressed and we really like where we're moving, especially with the number of returners that we're going to have next year.
Q. A couple occasions this year where you've had to go from defending standard offenses to installing option defenses in a week, having trouble simulating that with the scout team. Is it the same type of challenge going from lesser talented Army overall athletes to USC's quickness and power in a six-day span?
COACH KELLY: That's a good question. We'll articulate our offense and defense. Our 1s versus 1s will go against each other a lot more this week. We'll have our 1 offense going against the 1 defense. We'll run our offense, they'll run their defense.
We're not necessarily going to be duplicating the plays that USC runs. We're looking for speed in practice because there is a transition there. Coverage, all the things that we had done leading up to Army, we didn't do for a week. We'll spend a lot of time with 7-7, offensive 1 versus defensive 1, getting that speed back to where it needs to be.
Q. Switching gears to Tommy. You've obviously seen a lot more mistakes than we have on film. Is there a bit of a tendency for him to rely on Michael, that's the guy he can go to in a jam? A couple of the interceptions and bad reads have gone into heavy coverage with Floyd? Is that something you need to talk to them about?
COACH KELLY: No. He's actually thrown the ball more to Robby Toma than any other one receiver. If he forces a couple balls to Mike Floyd, I'm okay with that. It's obviously ball position, where that ball is thrown is much more important. As you saw on the pass interference call that was made, he threw the back shoulder throw, which is highly recommended in those kinds of instances when he has Mike 1-1. He's getting better at those kinds of throws.
Q. Coach, with regard to your time management, I was curious, do you even have the authority at Notre Dame as the head coach to say, Enough is enough? What kind of things can you cut out?
COACH KELLY: Well, that's a good question. I think there are some responsibilities that I have relative to development with our donors. There are some responsibilities that I have with alumni relations. We have a system in place that I go out and see those clubs that win what is considered their categories of winning by enrollment and dollars raised. I have to go visit those clubs.
There's a lot of things that I'm contractually obligated to do.
I think it's just finding that balance with football and recruiting and alumni relations and development. That's what I'm learning and that's what I think I'm getting better at as the season goes.
Q. You made an emphasis of the 15 practices, when you qualify for a Bowl game. Will those be opponent-specific or will you be looking more towards next year with regard to who you play and how you approach those practices?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, that's a good question. Generally they're not all 15 for the opponent. I don't like to put our seniors through 15 more practices. They want to play in the Bowl game. Generally what I'll do is have the younger guys practice, say, for a week and really work on player development, those young guys getting a chance to be the starters, if you will, on our offense and defense. And then we will integrate our seniors into our practice as we get into specific Bowl preparation.
Q. How much authority do you have in making the decision on where you go, and is there a Bowl where maybe you can't get the 15 practices in? Is there a certain place, time where you want to play, and do you have that decision?
COACH KELLY: I have been included in that decision-making process. It's not mine. It's Jack Swarbrick's to make. There are some caveats. Obviously, it's got to fit with our exams. That's very, very important in the overall perspective here relative to one Bowl over the other. Then, as you know, the litany of tie-ins, who has got to do what.
I'm usually brought into the loop on, Hey, coach, here are some things we're looking at. How does that fit in your recruiting schedule, exam schedule, things of that nature. But the boardroom discussions are certainly on our athletic director.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone.
End of FastScripts