Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly talks Irish roots, pride, adversity


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.

O'DOWD: Tell me about your dad.

KELLY: 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

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.

O'DOWD: And like your dad, I know
you went to work for the Democratic Party. That’s an interesting departure for
a college coach…

KELLY: Well, it didn’t start that way. 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

O'DOWD: What did you learn from that time?

KELLY: I would probably say relationship building, how important it is,
trust, and also knowing how to work with the media. I was working with
the media on a day-to-day basis. So I think it helped me at an early
age to work with the media and reach out as best we could to build
good relationships.

O'DOWD: So when you started coaching, what were your initial plans?

KELLY: Just to be good at what I was doing, more than anything else. I
thought I had a lot to give and the ability to communicate the game
and teach it.

O'DOWD: Where did that come from?

KELLY: I think it was being in the back yard playing basketball with my
brother, or going out in the street playing stickball. I think just
competing. Today, everything is all planned for kids. When I played,
it was just – let’s go play. And you played because you loved to play.
You didn’t play for any other reason. Everything is so planned now.
Sometimes, I think today, we’ve got kids just playing to play.
So I had that inside, that I was passionate about playing and loved
the game and felt like if you’re passionate about something you should
be able to teach it. 

O'DOWD: Who were your football heroes?

KELLY: I loved watching Joe Montana when I was an Irish fan growing up. I’ve
never been enamored with just one person. The great ones have always
caught my attention.

O"DOWD: So when you’re coaching Notre Dame obviously it is an incredible responsibility. It is like no other job, is it?

KELLY: Well, I think if I thought about that every day I’d jump out the
window. So I try to think about the process. Like I said earlier when
we began the conversation about winning and losing. Obviously winning
is much better than losing, but it’s a process. I focus more on the
process of developing a program than on all the things that could make
this overwhelming. That’s how I operate on a day-to-day basis. I’m
confident in the plan and that the people that I have around me will
accomplish those goals, and sometimes those goals take some time to