Aaron Mueller: Kelly talks the talk, but can he walk the walk?Published 9:00pm Monday, August 23, 2010
It’s easy for Notre Dame football fans to go into this season feeling a healthy sense of optimism.
Sure, the Irish finished 6-6 last year and failed to make a bowl game.
But it turned out to be a tremendous blessing, mercifully ending Charlie Weis’ tenure as head coach and bringing on a new head coach who is now being looked at as a savior — Brian Kelly.
Kelly has said all the right things, done the right things in practice and flashed that charismatic smile at a bevy of community events. His sparkling 171-57-2 records as a college football coach doesn’t hurt either. The phrase I’m always hearing from fans and members of the media is “he knows how to win.”
Fans have to be even more enamored with Kelly, because he is the anti-Weis. He is charismatic, well spoken yet still brutally honest in an uplifting way Weis could never quite muster.
Take last week’s press conference for example. When asked about stud receiver Michael Floyd, Kelly let out a long sigh.
“Michael Floyd,” he said, taking the time to formulate his words. Then he just let them fly.
“I though Michael Floyd was overhyped,” Kelly said about when he first saw film on the junior wideout. “I thought he was at times average.”
Notre Dame nation definitely now knows its coach doesn’t mince words.
But Kelly didn’t stop there.
“You watched him, were evaluating him, you go, ‘OK, he’s got a big body, he runs down the field, if they throw it up there, there’s a good chance he’s going to get it,’” Kelly said. “But you never saw him in positions to run the dig or drive, be one-on-one, beat coverage on a quick slant on fourth down and snap his hands. All those things that go to winning football games, I didn’t see that.”
And guess what? Floyd has turned it on since Camp Kelly. There’s no doubt Kelly’s criticism has fired up the wide receiver.
“I just take it as a positive criticism and stuff I need to work on,” Floyd said. “I see flaws in my game that I need help on. Him saying stuff like that really helps me be a better player.”
And now Kelly isn’t holding back in gushing about the wideout.
“In 20 years, I have not had a player who has worked as hard as Michael Floyd,” Kelly said. “He has outworked everybody on the offensive side of the ball to the point where he has singlehandedly set the bar for where everybody else needs to bring their play.”
It’s this tough love approach that should win Kelly favor with his players. If they work hard, he’ll praise them. If not, look out.
But until the Irish start winning games, it won’t win over the hearts of fans. If the Irish win, Kelly’s bluntness at press conferences and toughness on his players will be seen as endearing.
But if they lose any of their first three games to lesser Big Ten opponents, fans will see Kelly as being too hard on his guys.
There’s no doubt the coach has said all the right things and won over the fan base in camp, but he hasn’t done anything until the Irish take the field at Notre Dame Stadium next Saturday and take care of business.
Yet if all his players respond the way Floyd already has and the way his teams at Grand Valley, Central Michigan and Cincinnati have, Notre Dame has found its man.
Aaron Mueller is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org