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Kelly wants to build on Irish tradition

Published 9:59pm Monday, August 9, 2010

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is looking to put the fight back into the Irish this season. (Daily Star Photo/courtesy the University of Notre Dame)
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is looking to put the fight back into the Irish this season. (Daily Star Photo/courtesy the University of Notre Dame)

By SCOTT NOVAK

Niles Daily Star

NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Tradition is something that the Notre Dame football program has always tried to embrace.

It’s a rich history that makes the Fighting Irish one of the most recognizable programs in the entire country.

First-year Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is no stranger to that history and in fact, he wants to embrace it more than any coach the Irish have had in a long, long time.

Kelly told the media on Friday prior to the opening of fall camp that his team needs to learn who they are.

“I think one of the areas that I was a bit surprised that we lacked as a team was an understanding of who we were and who we want to be,” he said. “So the idea of the Fighting Irish, the idea of playing hard for four quarters, the idea of playing anywhere against anyone at any time has been a constant conversation, quite frankly, with our football team.

“So I believe it to be a benefit. And so if I believe it to be a benefit of who we are, we better talk about it every day. We’ll continue to talk about who we are, what our tradition is. I think that’s going to allow us to shape our identity as we move through our camp,” he added.

There is no doubt that Kelly means what he says.

The 2010 Notre Dame Media Guide has a picture of players coming out of the tunnel wearing leather helmets without the facemasks.

While he won’t go as far as playing without the guards on the helmets, Kelly would like to see his team be as tough as those who helped create the mystique of the program.

“I think that is the pervasive theme here: let’s get back to understanding the great tradition, who we are, how we play the game,” Kelly said. “We won’t go as far as no facemasks, but I will tell you that toughness, that ‘Fighting Irish’ is certainly the theme that we want to continue to advance forward.”

Kelly was brought to Notre Dame to not only change the fortunes of its football program and return the Fighting Irish to the top of the college football mountain, but to change an attitude.

That started right away last winter during “Camp Kelly” and it will continue each and every day — both on the practice field and on the football field.

Is Brian Kelly the right man for the job? He isn’t sure that question has been answered just yet.

“Well, I think the jury’s still out,” he responded when asked on Friday at the press conference. “I mean, I think I haven’t won a football game here. That’s a huge part of this. Clearly it’s graduate your players. We’re off to a good start there. We won the academic achievement award. I didn’t have much to do with that.

“What I’ve had a lot to do with is really getting out and being an ambassador for the university. I think I’ve done well in that respect. But the reason that we’re having a press conference with everybody here today is about winning football games and doing it the right way. The jury’s still out on that one.”

The previous two coaches at Notre Dame — Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis — had great first seasons, but were unable to maintain that momentum.

Kelly was asked if there was anything he would do differently to make the success of the program long term.

“No, I think we’re doing those in day one,” he responded. “I’m not waiting till after the first year to implement the things that need to be here for the long term. We took this job over with the idea that we’re not going anywhere. I’m staying here for the rest of my life and going to coach the Notre Dame. It’s not like there’s the next part that has to be implemented, let’s get off to the good start here and next year we’ll do this.

“This is all about getting this program nationally in the top echelon immediately and then continue to work on that every single day. So, no, there’s nothing that we’re holding back in that. We’re going at it right away and expect to continue that each and every year.”

Notre Dame’s training camp began on Sunday and will run through Aug. 26.

The team will kick off the 2010 campaign on Sept. 4 with a home game against Purdue.

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