Win or lose Monday night, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly believes his program took a major step forward this week just by showing up at the national championship game.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly fields a final round of questions Sunday morning prior to Monday's BCS Championship game.
Kelly, who coached in back-to-back championship games while building a program at Div. II Grand Valley State said a trip to a title game sets the bar high for everyone involved with a team. He expects the attitude that led to success this year will spill into the locker room moving forward.
“Playing in this game is an incredible springboard into next season because as I just mentioned you set a goal,” Kelly said Sunday morning, a day before playing No. 2 Alabama for his first BCS-level championship. “You set a bar. They’ve already been here. You come back the next year, and it’s unacceptable for a standard to be any less than being back here again.”
The Irish were able to leap to that new level this year thanks in large part, Kelly said, to leadership from his 29 senior players. They helped Notre Dame arrive at the top of the sport at least a year earlier than most, including athletics director Jack Swarbrick, anticipated. Kelly said it’s impossible to predict if that same dynamic will survive next season.
“You come back with a new football team every year. We’ll be ranked high after this game, and next year we’ll have high expectations,” he said. “We hope this experience and how important it is to have that has helped shape the next group of leaders that we’ll have next year."
Creating a new group of leaders is a predicament that Alabama head coach Nick Saban faced and seemingly solved this year by bringing a depleted roster back to a second straight BCS Championship and Alabama's third in four years.
Kelly said he would gladly accept comparisons to Saban in terms of creating a college program and trying to strive for consistency. He said several times during the week leading up to Monday night’s game that Alabama remains the model for what he wants Notre Dame to become.
“You know what you’re getting from him every single day,” Kelly said. “You’re going to get a disciplined program both on and off the field. You’re going to get great coaching, great teaching. You’re going to get a football that knows how to play the game. And it starts with Coach Saban and his consistency of approach.”
- Kelly said he’ll be more anxious Sunday night than he was on the eve of previous championship performances because of the bowl system. At Grand Valley State, his teams reached the final game via a playoff format, which took some of the anticipation away from a single bowl game and made it “the next game.”
Whatever he does to calm his nerves, it won’t be writing or rehearsing his final words of inspiration to his team before kickoff. Kelly said that typically 80 percent of his pregame speech is improvised based on what he sees from his players at the time.
“I always have something that’s going to be applicable to that week,” he said. “But a lot if it has always been about the moment and getting a look at them and getting a sense and feel for where they are at that moment.”
- Sophomore quarterback Everett Golson took his lumps early in the season while learning to play as a rookie. Kelly said Sunday that Golson’s ability to learn from those experiences are essential to his team’s success this season.
“The thing I love about Everett is through the adversity, he has grown. We certainly wouldn’t be here without him,” Kelly said.
- Kelly told reporters that the team that makes the most mistakes Monday night might end up being the team that wins. The statement, which he borrowed from UCLA legend John Wooden, seems to fly directly in the face of the coach’s message all season. Kelly explains:
“What I meant by that is that you have to be aggressive in this game. If you’re going to sit back and hope that it’s going to come your way, you’re going to miss,” he said. “This is one of those games where you have to be aggressive, and you’re going to make a mistake.”