Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly once wanted to be an Irish pol in Massachusetts
His politician father taught him all he knew about dealing with people
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly once worked for the presidential campaign of Gary Hart and very much wanted to be in politics.
His father Paul was a Boston alderman and Kelly caught the political bug early.
As Kelly told Niall O’Dowd who interviewed him for our sister publication Irish America magazine, “Dad comes to all the games. He’s a bit of a celebrity. He’s on TV all the time. He’s a Notre Dame [fan] – it was all Notre Dame [growing up].
“He was a big influence. I think you are who you are based upon your life experience. He grew up as an Irish Catholic in Boston, going to church and being part of the community, and all the things that he was taught growing up were passed on to me and now to my family and that was that the church was important, community service was important, and we all played sports and were involved in athletics.
Football was originally Kelly’s second choice he told Irish America, “Actually, when I graduated college I went to work in the State House of Boston and worked for a state senator. Gary Hart was running for president and the state senator that I worked for in Massachusetts endorsed Gary Hart. So he lent me to his campaign.
“After that campaign ended, I wanted to go back to the thing that I wanted to do all along, which was coach. I probably wasn’t courageous enough to say it at the time [I graduated], which was “[I’m sorry] that you used all this money to send me to school and I want to be a football coach.” Didn’t seem like the right thing to do at the time. So I went into politics for a couple of years, I enjoyed it, it was a great experience but it wasn’t what I was passionate about.
As for his Irish roots, Kelly has traced them closely. “My great-grandparents were from Ireland. My grandfather was a Boston cop for 35 years, and my first introduction to Irish culture was talking to him about the where the term Paddy Wagon came from.
“We lived in Chelsea, Massachusetts, which was a naval pier town where all the Navy guys would come in and they’d have some beers and then the police would be called in to round them up. They [the police] drove an open-air police truck and it was so cold at night that the guys who drove it had to have a little Irish Paddy [whiskey] to stay warm and that’s why they called it the Paddy Wagon. Whether it’s true or not, I have no idea. But it’s a good story, and that’s why I tell it.
“We have a family name that has an Irish story to it as well. My youngest son is Kenzel Kelly, and we got that from my great-grandparents. When they came over from Ireland and they were traveling through downtown New York as the Passion Play [depicting the passion of Jesus Christ: his trial, suffering and death] was being put on. It was directed by a Father Kenzel and they liked that name. So my grandfather was [christened] Kenzel and my dad is Paul Kenzel and the last chance at keeping a Kenzel in the family was when my youngest boy was born; my dad bribed my wife, who wasn’t a big Kenzel fan, and said, listen, if you go with Kenzel and keep the name alive, you get the house on the Cape. So the name Kenzel is still alive.
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