SOUTH BEND – Brian Kelly has spent the past few years being distracted, and it adversely affected his Notre Dame football team. This season – one in which those distractions multiplied exponentially – he was able to maintain a level of focus that has him on the brink of legendary status at the university.
“I had 19 years of head coaching experience when I got here,” Kelly said. “I thought that would prepare me. I think it did in a lot of areas, but not in all the areas necessary to be the head coach at Notre Dame.”
This job is obviously immensely different than his previous stops at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati. At those jobs, ticket prices didn’t reach $100,000.
You read that figure correctly. If you want to sit in an executive suite for today's BCS National Championship game in Miami (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.), which matches the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) against defending champion Alabama (12-1), it’ll cost you that much on the popular ticket site StubHub.
Just a pair of nosebleed seats will only set you back $1,000.
Welcome to Notre Dame football.
“I think the job tends to distract you,” Kelly said. “There are a lot of things that pull you away from the primary reason why you want to be head coach of Notre Dame, and that is graduate your players and play for a national championship.”
Kelly joked when he first was hired in South Bend that his news conferences at Cincinnati could be held in a broom closet. At the recent media day at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, nearly 100 members of the media filled an auditorium. That commitment to the media, as well as having to represent the university regularly around the country in front of alumni groups, played a part in Kelly separating from his football program.
“You have to have the pulse of your football team,” Kelly explained, “and you’ve got to have relationships with your players. If you’re already going around the country doing other things other than working with your football team, it’s hard to have the pulse of your team.”
Kelly got into this profession because of his interest in “developing 18- to 21-year-olds,” and the more he tried to fulfill his obligations as the football coach at Notre Dame, the more he failed in that regard.
Not only was he not spending enough time developing his players, he wasn’t spending enough time developing himself as the coach of the Fighting Irish. So he changed.
“I made it a point that I was going to spend more time with our team this year,” Kelly said. “My development as the head coach at Notre Dame this year has been about getting back to why you would want to coach college players. You want to learn about them; you want to know their strengths and weaknesses; you want to help them with leadership skills; you want to help them when they’re not feeling confident in their ability.”
Irish fans are ecstatic that their team is back to being on the cusp of a championship for the first time in two decades. Winning cures everything and makes everyone smile. But the victories aside – and Kelly is thrilled with them like everyone else – he has been feeling better about his program, its student-athletes and himself because of improving his relationships in the football program.
“For me, that is why it’s been the most enjoyable year as the head coach at Notre Dame, is that I got a chance to spend more time with my team,” Kelly said.