Notre Dame vs. LSU: Irish captain sees a humble Brian Kelly, not an arrogant one

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly watches during the first half of a game against North Carolina earlier this season in Chapel Hill, N.C. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (68) talks with offensive guard Quentin Nelson (56) during the first half of a game earlier this season against Wake Forest in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)

Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly didn’t get into this profession to make money. Scoff if you want, but when you’ve been a player at Assumption College and your coaching career begins in Allendale, Michigan working for a few thousand dollars, some sweatshirts and a meal card (if you are lucky), eventually becoming a multi-millionaire as a coach for Notre Dame is so far-fetched that it isn’t even worth dreaming about.

There is no doubt that Kelly chose this career for three reasons, at least initially:

• He loves the sport of football

• He is a competitor and coaching allows him that opportunity, and

• He most certainly wanted to impact and teach young men life lessons

So it had to have been a bit of a revelation for him a year ago when Kelly had to swallow his pride and allow his student-athletes to teach him a lesson or two, as opposed to the other way around. However, that is precisely what Kelly did, according to Notre Dame senior captain Mike McGlinchey.

McGlinchey spoke on the evolution of his head coach as he prepped Friday for Monday’s Citrus Bowl in Orlando.

The Irish (9-3) will face LSU (9-3) at 1 p.m. (ABC).

A year ago, Notre Dame was coming off a shockingly disappointing 4-8 season and instead of Kelly telling the players where they had failed McGlinchey explained that the Irish athletes told the coach about his shortcomings.

And he listened.

“The biggest difference with coach Kelly (this year),” McGlinchey said, “was the connection that he had with our football team. In years past, he had gotten to the point where there were so many responsibilities of the Notre Dame football coach that it took him away from what he truly wanted to do, which is coach his football team.”

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Kelly had evolved into more of a CEO of the Fighting Irish program than an actual coach and he (and his players) realized that if he didn’t change, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to do either job much longer. So he sat and listened to a bunch of young people tell him how he needed to get better.

“We had, obviously, a really, really rough year last year,” McGlinchey said, “and in my meetings, and the other players’ meetings with coach Kelly, one of the things that we harped on was ‘You need to be around more. You need to be with us more. And you need to know what our team is about.'”

Kelly has been criticized often throughout his career (sometimes by me) for being stubborn and/or arrogant, but McGlinchey saw humility in the guy that critics lambast for being too hard-headed.

“It takes a lot for somebody after 27 years of doing the same job to look at himself in the mirror and say ‘What do I need to do better and not pass the blame?'”

“He took accountability.”

Kelly spent two months making a multitude of changes throughout the program, and some within the program did get blamed and lost their positions. However, Kelly has been adamant for 12 months and counting that any change needed to start with himself.

“He knew that it started with him,” McGlinchey said, “and the hires he made just infiltrated throughout our entire football team.”

The Notre Dame fan base isn’t pleased with how this season ended, as the Irish lost two of their final three games to fall out of contention for a College Football Playoff spot. However, McGlinchey believes that the changes made by Kelly a year ago will resonate with the program for years to come.

“The decisions that he made in this off-season,” McGlinchey said, “changed our culture, changed the way that we went about our business, and accumulated into a lot of success for us so far. We still have one more game to go, and we’re really excited about the opportunity and we expect nothing but the same kind of preparation that we’ve had all year.”

For more on college football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.