Gordon Lightfoot warned of the “Gales of November” in his legendary song about the demise of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but when it comes to Notre Dame football – particularly its coach, Brian Kelly – when the leaves fall and the wind starts to bite, that is the best time of year for successful football.
In the month of November since he took over the Fighting Irish, Kelly has led this program to 10 victories in 11 games.
“October is for pretenders and November is for contenders,” Kelly said. “We try to ingrain that within our players' and coaches' minds that this is now the time to kick it into gear because this is where you get the opportunity to play for championships.”
Notre Dame (6-2) doesn't have any “championships” looming on the horizon after losing a pair of games earlier this season, but that doesn't mean that its continued success in November has to deviate. The Irish will host Navy (4-3) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (NBC).
Under Kelly's predecessor, Charlie Weis, this month was anything but successful.
Weis lost his final six November games, and 5 of 14 to end his tenure. Once Kelly took over, the Irish players have gotten stronger as the season wore on, not weaker, and the coach believes that foundation is laid far in advance of the days of autumn. Through Kelly's career, his teams have amassed a 58-14 (an astounding 80.5 percent winning percentage).
“We really focus on year-round conditioning and nutrition,” Kelly said. “We make it such that it's not a grind that it's not a sprint, but it's a marathon.”
But can eating well and lifting weights throughout the season be the cure-all to what ailed Notre Dame in years' past? Yes, according to Kelly, but it also takes some luck.
“First of all, you've got to stay healthy,” Kelly said. “A lot of it has to do with how you train your group and making sure that it's not a sprint, but a marathon and understanding how important November is.”
Notre Dame has failed in that regard this year. The Irish have been plagued by injuries throughout the season, and even during training camp they were losing key contributors for the season. But Kelly believes that the guys that he has left standing are mentally ready to embrace this final stretch of games.
“I think that your guys have to be mentally and physically fresh,” Kelly said. “They have to feel as though, when they come into November, that there is an energy to them.”
Following Saturday's game, Notre Dame closes the season with road games at Pittsburgh (Nov. 9) and Stanford (Nov. 30) and Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium against BYU (Nov. 23).
“There has to be great morale in the group and they want more,” Kelly said. “They want to come out and practice and prepare and win football games in November.”