Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly talks Irish roots, pride, adversity
Exclusive interview 'We are in it for the long haul'
Kelly knows what adversity is like. His wife Paqui has battled breast cancer and has undergone a double mastectomy. It is a battle she and he are committed to winning, not just for their three kids, but also for American women everywhere. They have established a foundation to raise millions for the cause. So Brian Kelly knows it is about far more than X’s and O’s and where the next spread formation comes from.
But he’s also a college coach in the best or worst job in the nation. The will to win and desire are evident. He will tolerate nothing less.
Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Kelly was a linebacker at Assumption College, where he graduated with a degree in political science in
1983. His father Paul was a politician – a Boston alderman – and Kelly could have followed in his father’s footsteps, but football was his
true passion and after a run at working in Democratic party politics, he was back at Assumption as a linebacker coach and defense
In the following years, at Valley State (1991-2003), Central Michigan University (2004-06), and University of Cincinnati (2006-09), Kelly
developed a reputation for building winning teams. We began our conversation by talking about the win over Pittsburgh the day before.
Despite the victory, Kelly is quick to say that the team is a work in progress.
Coach Kelly: We are in it for the long haul. We are in it to build it
and sustain it for many years. So these are just short steps along the
way. I knew when I got into this business – that when
18-to-21-year-olds were going to decide whether I could pay my
mortgage – I already knew I was crazy. So from there it makes it
easier, as long as you start with that perspective. The big picture is
that you’re developing a program, and when you’re building a
successful business or organization, you don’t measure it by what
happens at the end of the month, you measure it by where you’re moving
to over the long term, and that’s really the perspective that I have.
Niall O’Dowd: An Irish coach and Notre Dame is a pretty
good mix. What’s the heritage – how far back do you go?
KELLY: 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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