Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly embarked on his 23rd season as a collegiate head coach in Saturday’s 28-6 win over Temple and won his 200th game as a program head. For someone who has seen just about everything in his 270 games coached, Saturday also marked a rare first for the fourth-year Irish coach.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly handed off the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin last spring, and Saturday marked the first regular season game under the new format.
He won without calling the plays.
As Kelly promised last spring, he turned over the reins of the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. He said Tuesday he was pleased with the way the transition went in the season opener.
“Procedurally, I thought [it went] very well,” Kelly said after joking that he called all the touchdowns and Martin called the stalled drives. “No, it was very clean. [I] didn’t expect to have any issues there and was very pleased. I thought Chuck called a very good game. There were a couple of things I thought were outstanding.”
On Notre Dame’s third drive of the game, Temple sacked senior quarterback Tommy Rees for a loss of five yards. Kelly pointed out Martin’s handling of that 2nd and 15 situation as one of the game’s play-calling successes.
On second down, a 9-yard rush by junior running back Amir Carlisle narrowed the down and distance to 3rd and 6. After an Owls offside penalty and a 4-yard rush by junior running back George Atkinson III, the Irish had moved the chains.
“Things like that, I take full notice of how to play call those situations out where an inexperienced play-caller, at 2nd and 15, [calls to] chuck it and it’s 3rd and 15,” Kelly said. “But that’s just a small indication of his experience and being on the same page with him is that he managed the 2nd and 15 down to a 3rd and 1.”
One of the reasons Kelly gave in April for handing off the play-calling duties to Martin is the rapport the duo has developed in seven-plus years coaching together at Notre Dame and Grand Valley State University. While Kelly has noted the demands of his position at Notre Dame and the necessity to take on more of a big picture role, it’s unlikely he would have delegated the role to anyone he did not trust fully.
“It’s seamless, and we expect it to be that way all year,” he said.
Kelly said an open line of communication exists between himself and Martin throughout the game and that he doesn’t suggest specific plays for the offensive coordinator to call.
“We’re working off of a play sheet and a call sheet that we construct during the week, and our columns are down and distance and openers and field position,” he said. “So it’s not like there’s 36 calls in there. There’s four or five calls, and I’m generally saying let’s keep it on the ground, let’s burn some clock here, … let’s push the ball vertically, more general terms, let’s get a screen in here, let’s not forget about getting the ball to [senior wide receiver TJ Jones], those kind of big-picture things more so than let’s run guard pull here.”
It might have been tempting for Kelly to stick with play-calling responsibilities considering the team’s offensive struggles in 2012 and maybe even more so after starting quarterback Everett Golson was suspended for the season Memorial Day weekend, but he has remain committed to this plan the entire time.
“Look, the head coach is always responsible for the football,” Kelly told reporters during spring practice. “Those decisions will still be mine. But relative to play-calling, Chuck knows what I’m looking for. He had a lot of impact on our offense last year as well. I have the utmost confidence that we’ll continue to grow offensively because we’ve got a similar philosophy.”