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Notre Dame rightfully optimistic about Brian Kelly era

Editorial Board | Friday, April 16, 2010

While spring football practice reports often include little more than the daily minutiae of who happens to be lining up in what order, or who beat who in what one-on-one drill, it is precisely those details that interest Irish football fans who are anxious to see what exactly the Brian Kelly era will entail.

At this point in the spring, it’s only natural to take every move Kelly makes and compare him to his predecessor, Charlie Weis. And, by nature, those comparisons will always seem to favor Kelly, who Irish fans hope can resurrect a program that posted a 16-21 record over Weis’ last three seasons.

There’s no doubt that in many ways, Kelly and Weis are polar opposites — that much was evident even before watching Kelly’s Irish take the practice field. That’s not to say that everything Kelly does is the right way and everything Weis did was the wrong way. But because director of athletics Jack Swarbrick looked at the on-field results of the past three years and determined a coaching change was necessary, it is encouraging that he found a coach in Kelly who has done things differently from Day One.

There is no consensus on why Weis didn’t live up to expectations at Notre Dame, though popular explanations include his lack of college experience, his NFL-type personality and his failure to effectively develop his players. Kelly’s resume alone indicates that if the Irish are unsuccessful under his direction, it won’t be for any of those reasons. In more than two decades of coaching at three different schools, Kelly has had to develop countless players who didn’t have the talent to even sniff the NFL, and he’s won. And during practice this spring, after an intense offseason strength and conditioning program that concluded with “Camp Kelly,” it appears the new staff has begun to lay the groundwork to win again at Notre Dame.

In position drills, there seems to be an increased emphasis on individual fundamentals, like quarterbacks practicing taking hits or running backs working to improve ball control. During stretching, which is more movement-based and dynamic than in the past, coaches can be heard encouraging players to do things the right way. And even during “breaks,” a loose term, the Irish are expected to be jogging. This sense of urgency and attention to detail is something that at times seemed lacking under the previous staff.

No unbiased evaluator could doubt that Notre Dame has plenty of talented players on next year’s roster, and there’s no way respected recruiting analysts whiffed when they awarded so many current Irish players with four- and five-star rankings. The talent is there, and Kelly’s history of making the most of what he’s given — and in this case, it’s quite a bit — is the source of the optimistic buzz that’s been circling the Guglielmino Athletics Complex over the past few months.

You can only learn so much from what a coach has to say during spring ball — and especially from a coach who has yet to lead his team out of the tunnel in Notre Dame Stadium. But so far, after Kelly and his staff talked the talk about tempo and toughness during winter, early returns on the practice field show that they’ll walk the walk, too. And more importantly, the players are beginning to as well.