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Welcome Coach Kelly … sort of

Gary Caruso | Wednesday, January 13, 2010

 The Irish Nation — which engulfs the entire Domer Nation of which the Fightin’ Italians are a small subset — certainly is proud of your move to Notre Dame. For them, a Kelly at the Notre Dame football helm is as good as stealing a leprechaun’s pot of gold. Yet, despite next season’s less than strenuous power-ranked schedule, many of my fellow classmates (both Irish and other) merely express “cautious optimism” regarding your tenure. Having been burned so often in the past, they “sort of” hold an optimistic view of the state of football at du Lac. However, this Fightin’ Italian is prepared to shout Dick Vitale style, “At least 9-and-3 next year, baby!”

With that said, let me offer a few words of advice, especially after reading every word of the December press conference that introduced you as the 29th Notre Dame head football coach. First, your professed passion and dedication to detail is magnificent. Please drive your players crazy learning the rules. In 1989 Lou Holtz lost a national championship on one play when a defensive player who should have known the rules of his time, namely that he could not advance a Miami fumble in the Hurricane red zone, tired to scoop it up and run. Consequently, he never recovered the fumble for Notre Dame, leaving Miami with third and twenty-eight or something nearly impossible to convert … until on the next play the Hurricanes converted a first down and drove down the field to beat the Irish and burn most of the game clock. At season’s end, both teams had one loss but the pollsters passed over Notre Dame to award Miami the national championship using our head-to-head loss as the rationale. Please teach our players when they can step back into the end zone on a kickoff or punt and when to stay in bounds or head out of bounds depending on game conditions.

Secondly, fans and people in general are mean-spirited in the blogosphere. I suggest that you adopt the rule that Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama set for their children — no media coverage. Forgive my Harry Potter metaphor, but the last coach whose name cannot be mentioned, offered his family as public domain fodder when he allowed them to roam the sideline during games rather than sit out of the television spotlight. The personal attacks against him and indecent remarks about his special needs child were enough to make anyone with the tiniest bit of a family value vomit in response. Avoid giving the anonymous knuckleheads a reason to trash your family.

Regarding the type of student-athlete who plays on our team, use the General George S. Patton standard that you will not tolerate any conduct that would bring dishonor to the team. Residing now in the town of the soldier Patton slapped may seem ironic, but setting a zero tolerance from the top down builds character and teaches humility. Two years ago, this writer personally witnessed an about-to-be departing football player, whose name shall also go unmentioned, arrogantly yell at other students, “Don’t you know who I am?”
Granted, students are not mature adults but need to learn savvy when thrust into celebrity on campus for the nation to scrutinize. As a student, I sat in a class with Joe Theismann, who while knowing he was a campus icon, treated me with respect and humility. Look towards Chris Zorich or Aaron Taylor — both of whom I interacted with while they were students — as classic role models of how a Notre Dame star should interact with others. You probably will need a team personality somewhere between the extroverted enthusiasm of former Notre Dame Coach Jerry Faust and the detached, arms-length persona of New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.

Finally, hire the meanest Mean Joe Greene-type of pit-bull biting defensive coordinator — the type of coach who can befuddle and confuse your opponents while inspiring players with the drive of Rudy and the take-no-prisoners smash-mouth attitude of Jack Lambert, Ray Lewis and Joey Porter. Oh, and while we are considering coaches, make sure your special teams coach is, as former Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine once said when he landed in Pittsburgh, “Special!”

Please land the best special teams coach Fr. Jenkin’s salary can buy, because in an instant they can give us a momentum swing, an unlikely win or even another Heisman Trophy winner. How many times did Tim Brown excite the crowd by winning a game in college as well as professional football? Please consider devoting the extra one percent, or the 34th percent of the total, to special teams play when you divide your three team phases of the game. It sure would make the other two-thirds of the game run more smoothly by shortening the field for our offense, pinning the other team deep on their end of the field or by consistently scoring field goals from 50-plus yards away.

Finally, Coach, can you hurry and decide the date for the spring Blue-Gold game? I’ve already missed several travel specials because nobody can tell me which April weekend you will play the game. While my Irish Nation friends express caution, this Fightin’ Italian is eager to watch your team … and more than “sort of” support your efforts.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ‘73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column will appear every other Friday this semester. He can be contacted at GaryJCaruso@alumni.nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.