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Masoud: Untraditional moves build winning culture (Sept. 30)

Chris Masoud | Thursday, September 29, 2011

It’s not difficult to pinpoint the reasons for Notre Dame’s .500 record. Late turnovers in the red zone, poor decision-making at the quarterback position and a tired defense that spends too much time on the field have all contributed to the two blemishes on the Irish record.

As such, Notre Dame has a slew of on-field issues to deal with before it returns to the gridiron against Purdue. Nonetheless, Brian Kelly and his coaching staff have their work cut out for them off the field as well.

Traditional problems lead to traditional solutions. Better decision-making late in games and better time-management are battles within the game Kelly can coach improvement in his players.

As for bringing Notre Dame back to the elite level in college football, tradition may be less of a guide.

In essence, Kelly was tasked with much more than simply bringing a championship to Notre Dame when Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick handed him the keys to college football’s most-storied castle. Kelly inherited a program mired in mediocrity and set in its ways.

He had the unenviable mission of bringing Notre Dame into the 21st century of college football — easier said than done when you’re talking about a program that lives and breathes tradition.

But nothing about Kelly’s approach to Notre Dame thus far has been traditional. From his rejection of the pro-style offense in favor of the spread, to changing the gameday players’ walk into Notre Dame Stadium, Kelly has instituted his unorthodox system in every facet of the football experience.

And it’s working.

After putting together a core of freshmen and the No. 7-ranked recruiting class in the nation in his first full season as head coach, Kelly is at it again. Notre Dame already has four five-star recruits committed, the most of any program in the nation. Critics who claim Notre Dame simply can’t recruit like before have been foiled by the impacts freshmen Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and George Atkinson have already made on Saturdays.

True, winters in South Bend make Tuscaloosa and Gainesville look like paradise. But unlike his predecessor, Kelly hasn’t sold recruits on three or four years of servitude before a career in the NFL. He’s taken recruiting to the next level by selling players on a collegiate experience unlike any other.

The decision to start the less physically-gifted Tommy Rees over Dayne Crist is unconventional. Focusing recruiting efforts on the defensive side of the ball rather than on pure skill players is untraditional (all four 2012 five-star commits are defenders).

But it’s working, and more changes are coming.

In his radio show last Thursday, Kelly hinted that the addition of bigger, high-definition scoreboards at Notre Dame Stadium could happen sooner than later.

“If you’re going to stay in this arena, I’m sure things will eventually change,” Kelly said. “It’s just going to take some time.”

If you’re going to stay a Notre Dame fan, football as you know it will eventually change. Tradition gives way to progress (and winning).

It’s just going to take some time.

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu

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