The difference between depth and mass were in evidence this week. Head coach Brian Kelly said that Notre Dame’s across-the-board football depth is the best he’s seen in his four years, but the “mass” will change.
The pomp and circumstance that comes with football Saturdays at home are gradually being reduced to help eliminate some distractions.
Pregame mass, that is. It’s all part of giving Notre Dame every possible advantage in home games that it had lacked in recent years. Last year, Notre Dame finished unbeaten at home (6-0) for the first time since 1998, and only the second time since 1990.
From 2007-11, the Fighting Irish were only 17-16 at home while losing to foes such as Navy (twice), a 2-8 Syracuse team, or first-time visitors such as UConn, Tulsa and South Florida. However, even during Lou Holtz’s glory years from 1988-93, Notre Dame had a better record on the road (34-4) than at home (30-5-1).
The recent frustrations led to a lot of introspection by Brian Kelly and Notre Dame’s hierarchy on what steps can be taken to enhance optimum performance at home. Inside the Stadium this has included piped-in music from the loudspeakers to keep the energy level high in the stands, or even adding night games for the first time since 1990.
Outside its walls, tweaks in luncheons, pep rallies, the team unwinding before the game, etc., were gradually implemented. Last year, the adjustment included no longer taking the “Team Walk” from Sacred Heart Church to the Stadium. Instead, the team was bussed back to The Guglielmino Athletics Complex for some quiet time to unwind and get mentally prepared.
The most recent move is eliminating the team mass on Saturday and having it on Friday.
“We're always going to have mass,” Kelly said. “It's important. It's part of the fabric of Notre Dame football. It's part of our mission. There are certain things that will never go away as it relates to Notre Dame and its traditions. What I was looking for were simply better ways to manage leading up to the game itself. We've been able to work together to give our student-athletes the best schedule leading up to kickoff.”
Early enrollees, upgraded facilities and a training table are among the many changes in Notre Dame’s football program over the past decade, but Kelly said the ability to manage the 24 hours leading up to kickoff has been just as significant. It’s part of the “little details” that might seem irrelevant on the outside but can help make a difference internally. With the growing media, college football becomes more of a “production,” so minimizing distractions becomes important.
“The pep rally and the luncheon and the demands on the players' time and getting all of those things accomplished,” Kelly said. “They're great things and … we want to be actively involved in them. We just wanted to make sure that they fit in a schedule that allowed our players the opportunity to really focus in on game time without being overloaded.
“I think we've come to a nice schedule in working with our administration that our players have a very similar schedule now that mirrors what we do on the road and what we do at home.”