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Belief needed for Notre Dame wins

Laura Myers | Thursday, September 23, 2010

When Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame, fans were shown a picture of a man who can motivate and inspire, who can develop players as people and not just as cogs in his football machine. He’s not a just a play-caller or a strategist, was the sentiment. He’s a coach.

Now we’re going to see if that’s true.

Two tough losses can wear on any team. The ‘what ifs’ from Michigan and Michigan State are numerous. And now the Irish have to deal with a top-20 opponent that has won its first three games by an average of 38 points.

Kelly brought out his party line after Saturday’s loss to the Spartans.

“What do you believe in after a loss like this?” he said. “Do you believe in your teammates, do you believe in your coaches, do you believe in the preparation? If you do, you’ll come back and we’ll work harder and we’ll continue to work to get better.

“If you don’t believe, then these are times when you start to see teams pull apart. So, it’s all about belief at this point.”

A record of 1-2 isn’t terrible. There are still nine games to play. But with No. 16 Stanford Saturday, followed by a road game at Boston College and a matchup with a Pittsburgh team that is barely out of the top 25, things could get bad pretty fast. Kelly sees that.

The line of belief may be a corny one, but it’s true — and is probably something Kelly repeats often to his players.

So, do the Irish believe in their teammates? Looks that way. Junior tight end Kyle Rudolph emphasized belief in his teammates after Saturday’s loss.

“We believe in each other,” Rudolph said. “We believe that the guy next to us in the locker room is going to go out and fight just as hard as we are.”

Do the Irish believe in their coaches? Certainly. To fans, the shine might be starting to wear off of Kelly and his staff, but there is no indication that players aren’t still completely into Kelly’s program and the mentality he has brought. This is, of course, critical.

Do the Irish believe in their preparation? This goes right along with belief in their coaching, to a point, but also gives responsibility to the players themselves to work hard in practice to get better and correct the errors they’ve made. Belief in preparation is belief in themselves, to make it second nature not to make those errors things again. And it seems the Irish have that belief.

“You’ve got to go work hard and believe in what we’re doing,” sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o said. “If you really love the sport, you don’t let a loss hold you down.”

From the outside, there’s no reason to think this Irish team doesn’t believe in itself or in its coaching staff. And while belief alone is not enough to beat a team like Stanford, it is a necessary factor as Kelly continues to implement his offensive and defensive schemes despite uneven results.

Eventually, the schemes will be in place and the players utilized to the best of their abilities. That’s what Kelly has done at every stop in his coaching career, most notably at Cincinnati. That’s what he’s already started to do, with players like sophomore receiver Theo Riddick and junior defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Ethan Johnson.

But for the team to be wholly on board when kinks are worked out and the playbook installed that belief will be crucial — belief in their teammates, in their coaches and in themselves. Because those things probably won’t be finalized this weekend. Maybe not even next weekend or the end of the season. Until they are, Kelly is going to need to find a way to keep the team together.

Yes, Brian Kelly needs to be smart when calling plays and he needs to be a good strategist. But, perhaps most important right now, Brian Kelly needs to be a coach.

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

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers2@nd.edu