Thursday, December 31, 2009

Meet the Presses | by Pat

When Kelly was hired, I had three major concerns about how he would make the transition. Over the years he has clearly proven that he knows how to coach, but I wondered about how he would assemble a coaching staff to compete against some of the best staffs in the country, how he would recruit nationally against those same elite recruiters, and how he would handle the media on a much bigger stage. We'll find out about the staff soon enough and should start to get some clues as to the recruiting question in the next month. In the meantime, Kelly is already showing a willingness to work with the media and not treat them as the enemy, as Charlie did on occasion when he started the job. Kelly's still in the easy honeymoon phase, but more and more it looks like he will embrace rather than shrink from the bigger media spotlight.

Along those lines, Kelly recently had two sit downs with the press in order to expand upon what he said during his intro presser Q&A. Interestingly, Kelly had two separate meetings because he met with the, for lack of a better term, "internet media" separate from the more traditional print journalists. It was an interesting move that is one of the reasons I feel better about how he will handle the media. The online guys, in this case writers from Irish Sports Daily, Irish Illustrated, Blue and Gold Illustrated, and IrishEyes, have a different level of interaction with a coaching staff than the print folk like Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune, Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune, Tony Krausz of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, and Tom Coyne, the local AP writer, and Kelly appears to recognize that.

Case in point, Kelly was surprisingly blunt about promising more "inside scoop" for the online set assuming they stick to the facts, leave the rumor-mongering at the door, and keep the best interests of the program in mind. The later point was one I am a bit surprised he made as the criticism of recruiting sites as de facto program propaganda sites is one reason they have had a long road to universal print media and athletic department acceptance. None of the ND sites have ever fit that description in my opinion, but you can't help but notice it periodically when reading updates and interviews from other programs. Here's an excerpt of the multi-question back and forth between Kelly and the recruiting-centric online ND sites.

Lou Holtz had a famous saying for us, ‘Abuse leads to restriction.’ I think the competitive nature of the media market feeds that demand to know.

KELLY: “Like I said, I think I kind of outlined that I know what your job is. But if it becomes misinformation. If it becomes, ‘I’m throwing out names and I have no idea,’ then it makes it hard for me to navigate that. If you want access to players, if you like to do things that others can’t do then we’re going to have to carve that out. We can treat you like the newspaper journalist or you could get some access that others can’t get. I think we’ll have to sit down and our next time we get together after this will be, ‘What’s the rules of engagement? How are we going to do this?’ I can tell you how we did BearcatInsider at Cincinnati. When I got there no one (cared) about Cincinnati football, OK? So we were just happy as heck to have anybody write something about us. So it was, ‘Come on. You can stand on the sideline with me. You can call a play.’

“But as we moved and developed our program then we had some things that we wanted to stay away from. Reporting injuries, well I don’t like to report injuries if it gives the other team a tactical advantage. You guys are Notre Dame guys. Moms and dads of Notre Dame players. There are some things and ground rules that we’ll have to talk about. At the end of the day, we want to win. You want Notre Dame to win. If Notre Dame wins and it’s positive, you get more people. Again, Brian [Hardin] will probably lead that kind of initiative because we haven’t even crafted it yet. This is kind of, I just wanted to meet you guys and give you guys some access and talk about some of the things that were on the agenda for where we are. We’ll have to sit down and say, ‘OK, here’s how we’re going to do this stuff.’ Then maybe you guys after this conversation can kind of communicate your wants, desires, concerns. Then we can craft back some of those things. I’d say at the end of the day, Lou Holtz is a pretty smart guy.”
Contrast Kelly's "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" approach with the more draconian measures Charlie took that put some of the press on the defensive from the start and led in some cases to articles that appeared to take frustrations with Charlie out on the players.

Moving on from the higher level analysis of the meeting, Kelly gave out more information about his recruiting philosophies, his approach towards assistant coaches and recruiting, the health of Dayne Crist, and other topics. Irish Sports Daily has a two-part transcript (I and II) of the entire first sitdown that is well worth reading. Here are some choice quotes:

On getting to know the current players on the roster:
Yeah, oh yeah. There’s no question that everybody starts with clearly a chance to make me notice you. I’ve always said, ‘It’s not my job to notice you. It’s your job to make me notice you.’ I think that’s what spring will be about. But before we get into spring ball, January, February and March will be, to a large degree, the three most important months as we get ready for the fall. It won’t be April, it won’t be spring ball. Spring ball will be secondary to what happens in January, February and March.”
On his plans for Crist this spring:
We’ll push him to be very, very active in non-contact drills. And for me, in the spring, will be a good part of spring practice. We’ll contact too, but he’ll be able to do quite a bit. He’ll leave the spring with a good base and knowledge of the offense.”
On moving from regional to national recruiting:
“You can’t recruit everybody. You can’t be in every state and every city so you’ve got to look at some areas that will allow you the opportunity to evaluate early and often and I think we know that those are spring ball states. I think you also want to be able to evaluate demographics, where there are more potential Division I players. I think it’s pretty traditional. If you were a regional school like the University of Cincinnati, well where are you going to go? You’re going to go into those areas that have traditionally had strong programs. Football is important in certain areas in Ohio and it’s not so much in others. We’ll do the same thing in the other states.”
On redshirting:
“I think positionally it does make a difference because you’re right, I think mentally and physically, there are a couple of positions, in particular the offensive line, that would from my experience mean that they’re probably not ready to play as true freshmen. But I’ve always believed, I’d rather play true freshmen. I’ve always had better success with a young man that plays relative to time management than if he redshirts. It’s just worked for me philosophically.
On how he recruits players:
"I have a different ways of categorizing as we get to know each other better. I recruit power, big skill and skill. Those are the three categories, those are the only three categories I operate out of. Power, big skill and skill.

"A power player fits a profile for us. Generally, those are your linemen. Big skill is profiling out, if I could take 20 guys who are tough gentlemen who fit the profile at Notre Dame academically and were 6-foot-4, 215 or 220 pounds, you’d never be able to track whose playing where. ‘I don’t know, he just takes a bunch of those guys and some play defensive end, some play tight end, some are safeties, big skill.

"Then skill obviously have a specific, specific, strength in that particular area, be it ball skills, throwing it, kicking it and I’ve always operated out of those three categories wherever I’ve been and will continue to operate out of those three categories here at Notre Dame.
Moving to his meet with the print media, Kelly talked more about current players, the plans he has for the defense, and the soon to be mentioned everywhere "Camp Kelly". There doesn't appear to be a full transcript out there, but Hamilton provided most of the Q&A here and here. Again, here are some of the more interesting bits.

On what defense ND will run:
"We''ll operate and begin our defense as a 3-4 base, but we're extremely flexible within that 3-4 structure. It allows you to be in both those fronts without substituting personnel. I felt over the past four or five years as a head coach, increasingly, running multiple personnel packages on defense took away from our skill development."
On recruiting the more high profile national recruits:
"I think they're all 18- to 21-year-olds. Some of them are a little bit taller and maybe their 40 (yard dash) time is a little bit better. But they all have the same wants, needs and desires. They have to have their priorities in order. If they're more interested in their future recording contracts or what car they drive, then regardless of where they are, they're probably not going to be the right kind of guy for me."
On taking transfer players to round out the depth chart:
"I'm not really interested in it. We don't have to look toward that avenue."
On the off-season, pre-spring ball "Camp Kelly" workouts:
"I gauge the commitment level. I need to find out how important it is for you to be a football player at Notre Dame. It really is an opportunity for our players to show what I think are some of the most important principles of playing winning football: physical and mental toughness. It's a tough game for tough guys. And I can tell you this: it has absolutely no football applicability relative to skill development. You go into it knowing you won't leave here a better receiver, but you'll leave a tougher wide receiver."
All in all, Kelly was pretty open and clearly has a plan for what he likes and does not like. Sure each new coach sounds great in his first few weeks with plans to make the team tougher, faster, and more disciplined, but when you are reading coachspeak it's always better to get more detailed answers "we're running a 3-4; we don't need transfers; recruiting will focus on national power programs early" than more vague generalities. At the very least, it gives us some specifics to look for in the coming months while we all impatiently wait for the next season to kick off.