SOUTH BEND – It seems that the bookmakers in Las Vegas must also be historians. Anyone who studies the history of a Brian Kelly-coached team playing a Brady Hoke-coached group will discover that over the previous four meetings, the average scoring margin of those contests is 5 3/4 points. So it is no surprise to find that the current line on Saturday's Michigan at Notre Dame game (7:30 p.m., NBC) ranges from 5 1/2 to 6 points, favoring the Fighting Irish (3-0).
“He's a good coach,” Kelly said of his Wolverine counterpart. “I respect Brady Hoke. We went back and battled out some really close games.”
The two battled earlier this decade when Kelly coached at Central Michigan from 2004 to 2006 and Hoke was at another Mid-American Conference school, Ball State. Kelly's Chippewas got the better of the Cardinals in each of those games, but not by much.
In Kelly's first season after leaving Grand Valley State, Central Michigan knocked off Ball State in Mount Pleasant 41-40, then squeaked by Ball State in Muncie in 2005 by a 31-24 margin.
The last time the two coaches faced off in the MAC was 2006 (the next season Kelly left for Cincinnati), and Central Michigan prevailed by a comfortable 18-7 score.
“I think if there's any history lesson, we've had some great contests,” Kelly said. “He's a darned good football coach.”
That rivalry continued last season after Hoke had left San Diego State for Michigan. The Wolverines (2-1) and Irish played one for the ages, as the two teams went back and forth over the final quarter with Michigan winning 35-31.
After the epic game, Kelly and Hoke spoke of that type of game becoming routine for them.
“The only thing I do remember is after the game,” Kelly said. “I think we did an exchange of, we have been down this road before with close game.”
Given their shared history, Kelly said preparing for each other can prove to be an easier task, but more so for Hoke than Kelly.
“Coordinators take on a personality of your football team, and, you know, he's got a different group of coordinators than he did at Ball State,” Kelly said. “We are probably a little bit more similar in that I've got coaches that are with me that were at Central Michigan with me.”
Notre Dame assistant coaches Bob Diaco (assistant head coach/defensive coordinator), Chuck Martin (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Mike Denbrock (passing game coordinator), Mike Elston (defensive line/special teams) and Paul Longo (director of strength and conditioning) have each been under Kelly at either Grand Valley State or Central Michigan.
Michigan assistant coaches Darrell Funk (offensive line), Jeff Hecklinski (wide receivers), Mark Smith (linebackers) and Aaron Wellman (strength and conditioning) were each at Ball State and San Diego State with Hoke, but none orchestrate the offensive or defensive attacks like Diaco and Martin do for the Irish.
“I think he would be more familiar and go, yeah, that looks like what Kelly does,” Kelly said. “Brady has been great at changing coordinators and adapting. But it still comes down to his personality, and he wants to play tough, aggressive defense. And you know, he's going to find a way to run the ball.”