It began on a September Saturday in a Dublin rugby stadium – now the Brian Kelly legend is blossoming as Notre Dame rewrite the history books under their influential coach.
A season that opened with a win against Navy on Irish soil is taking on a whole new dimension for the famous college.
And who could have predicted the manner in which the Kelly legend would grow on that transatlantic visit to Ireland two months ago.
A glowing report in the Chicago Tribune states that familiarity with a coach’s demands could have bred contempt; for Irish it shaped mutual admiration society.
Writer Brian Hamilton recalls how a visit to an open training session in 2010 saw him witness Kelly shouting and cajoling his players.
Now, he says, Kelly may shout from time to time but a new Mr Nice Guy approach has inspired Notre Dame to an 11-0 season, one triumph short of a national championship game bid.
Hamilton outlines how Kelly dines with his players, how his door is always open, how the lines of communication are available 24-7.
This is the coach who insists the playbook occupy a specific spot in each locker. Hamilton suggests: “Maybe he’s nicer because he’s nicer. Maybe he’s nicer because the Irish mess up less. But a No. 1 ranking seems to be proof positive works.”
Linebacker Manti Te’o told the Tribune: “He just seems more relaxed. He seems more comfortable. He doesn’t have to test us anymore. He knows what we can do. He knows how we’re going to play, and he knows we’re going to give everything we have.
“He doesn’t have to do double practices in the fall to know how much heart this team has. He knows how much we have. He knows that we care about him, that we’ll do anything for him. He has found comfort with that, that confidence in his team.”
Hamilton reports: “With a victory Saturday night at USC, Kelly enters into the rarefied Year 3 air certain Notre Dame coaches occupy: Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz all won a first national title in their respective third seasons, and Kelly would get his chance to match that.
“It can be theorized that 11 victories would make any coach bubbly. But Kelly assumed, publicly, a painstakingly reserved posture since the preseason. That means he had contrived his approach before the first kickoff. That means he knew his players knew what he wanted. That means he knew this season screamed only for positive reinforcement.”
Kelly himself said: “I’ve let my coaches coach, and I’ve tried to spend more time with our players on a day-to-day basis.
“I think it was needed and necessary in our third year. The first couple of years I had to set a bar and a standard and an operation of the way we wanted things done on a day-to-day basis.
“Sometimes that means you have to be hard on some guys. This third year was a year where you knew our guys knew exactly what was expected, and it allowed me to spend more time with my players and build those relationships that are so important to having great morale.”
Notre Dame players now know where they stand with Kelly, a man who pays attention to detail.
Receiver John Goodman said: “When guys wouldn’t do the right thing - and there was a lot of the wrong thing being done by us the first couple of years - if he didn’t like it, then he’d yell or something.
“A lot of these guys on our team don’t take that as constructive criticism. It’s more, ‘Oh, this guy doesn’t like me, why he is yelling at me?’ And they’ll go out and do something wrong again. When you approach guys positively, like he’s doing now, then they take it a lot better.”
Center Braxston Cave said: “The biggest thing is we know he cares about every single guy.”
Hamilton wrote: “When Kelly arrived at Notre Dame, he told his new players that he had been where they wanted to go. He asked them to stick to the plan, and he would show them the way.
“Here they are, in a place none of them ever have been, at the virtual Hillary Step of their ascent. Brian Kelly has everything he needs to win, and he’s winning, and winning just one more gilds this journey. Everyone is positive about that.”
Kelly told him: “They would tell you from Day 1 they were pretty clear on what the mission was. As you develop closer relationships with your players, they start to go, ‘Oh, I now know what you were talking about.’ I think we’re at that point now.”
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