“It’s the nature of who he is. He’s such a leader. He’s tenacious in what he does. He’s just really doggone good at it.”
Kelly played football in Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. His love for the game led him to quit politics and accept a graduate assistant's job at Grand Valley State where he was paid $460 every two weeks.
After two years as a Grand Valley graduate assistant, the defensive coordinator left and Kelly was offered the job. Kelly became head coach in 1991 after Tom Beck was hired by Holtz as an assistant at Notre Dame.
‘‘If there’s a chapter to the start of my career, it’s when I was presented with an opportunity, I took advantage of it,’’ Kelly said.
Working at a small school forced him to learn every aspect of the program.
“So I had to learn how to organize special teams. I had to understand how to take on a blitz patterns. I had to draw the cards that graduate assistants show,” he said.
Michigan Tech Coach Tom Kearly believes Kelly makes a good coach because he is always asking questions.
“He was always the guy to ask the question to provoke himself to get to the next step, to keep going to not ever get stagnant,” said Kearly.
When Kelly got to Notre Dame, he believed he needed to focus more on the defensive side.
“Having lived in that world of trying to outscore opponents, I felt that the best blueprint that we could put together for a national championship was through our defense,” he said.
Notre Dame now are sixth in the nation in total defense.
“I think the one word I've used is consistency in approach,” said Kelly.
“If there’s a consistency every single day where you come and have the same expectations, then you can build it for a long period of time.”