The top-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) will face the No. 2-ranked Crimson Tide (12-1) Monday in Miami (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.).
“It's a football game and it's a National Championship game,” Martin said. “Fortunately for me it's seven times in 12 years we've gotten to go try to win it all. It's been a good time, more fun than we should be allowed to have, actually.”
Martin served as an assistant to Kelly at Grand Valley State University, where the Lakers lost in the NCAA Division II National Championship Game in 2001, before winning the 2002 and 2003 titles.
When Kelly left the Allendale, Mich. school, the victories – with Martin serving as head coach – didn’t cease. Martin led Grand Valley to championships in 2005 and 2006, while finishing as the national runner-up in 2009, which was his last year with the program.
“To me it's very similar,” Martin said. “It doesn't feel any different. I know everybody says, well, it's a bigger stage, and it's not.”
True, a television audience of 30 million is expected to tune in, and if you want a seat near the 50-yard line for Monday’s game, you better bring at least $15,000 (that’s for one seat, not a pair of them). But Martin is adamant that football is football, and this is a game that comes down to execution, regardless of how many eyeballs are watching.
“There are more people in the pressroom,” Martin explained. “There's more fans running around, but it's the same deal. You start preparing in January, and all the time and energy that the players go through and everything you watch them do from on the field, off the field, the summertime to fall camp to all the games, and it's all about trying to get to this moment where next Tuesday we turn our equipment in no matter what. We always talked about that. We want to play until the last day you can turn equipment in, and obviously we're doing that at Notre Dame this year.”
Both Kelly and Martin have spoken at length about how imperative their development at each of their coaching stops have been in preparing them as people and coaches for Monday. Kelly is adamant that he would not have reached this moment without the experiences – both good and bad – that he endured along professional journey.
“All of my stops along my career have been formative for me to be where I am today,” Kelly said. “Assumption College (where his first job was), a Division II program with no scholarships, I remember having to take my car, turn the lights on so we could paint the field Friday night before the Saturday game. The coaches did that.
All of those experiences help formulate who you are today. I know how to appreciate the work that our support staff puts in every single day, and I think all those things help you when you get to Notre Dame.”