SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Coach Brian Kelly inherits a Notre Dame program that has finished the past two regular seasons at 6-6, is losing its two best players and only has one scholarship quarterback — he’s recovering from knee surgery — on the roster.
Not exactly the recipe for quickly turning around a program that’s been mired in mediocrity for more than a decade. Still, Kelly feels good about what he sees in the Fighting Irish.
“This program is not broke, but some things need to get fixed,” he told a small group of reporters he met with Tuesday, less than two weeks after being hired from Cincinnati. “The things that I need to fix are some of the things that I believe held this program back from winning. That’s what they brought me here for is to help this program win.”
That’ll be harder with quarterback Jimmy Clausen and star receiver Golden Tate both leaving for the NFL draft.
Kelly didn’t want to get into too many specifics, saying he still has to meet all the players. But he said the turnaround has to start with what the team does Sundays through Fridays.
“I would say if I’m going to give you one heading, its going to be attention to detail,” he said.
One way he plans get his new players’ attention to detail is by holding what he affectionately calls “Camp Kelly,” just as he did as his previous coaching stops at Cincinnati and Central Michigan. That’s where during the offseason Kelly has the players report about 5 a.m. on Saturdays for grueling workouts that include players flipping tractor tires, going against each other in tug-of-war and other physical challenges.
Kelly said the camp forces players to gauge their commitment.
“I can tell you this, it has no football applicability relative to skill development. So you go into it knowing you’re not going to leave here a better receiver. But you’re going to leave here a more committed receiver. That’s Camp Kelly,” he said.
How many sessions of camp players must endure depends on how long it takes players to show their commitment, he said. Kelly is looking for players to show they have physical and mental toughness.
“It’s a tough game for tough guys,” he said.
Kelly touched on a lot of topics during the 42-minute interview. He said he’s been surprised by how many people on campus have greeted him by saying they hadn’t seen a football coach in their offices in a long time.
“I think it’s important that the football coach is not bunkered down in the Gug (the football offices). It’s important to be part of this community because there’s so much passion for football here,” Kelly said. “I think it’s important that they can reach out and touch you a little bit.”
The only assistant on staff so far is running backs coach Tony Alford, a holdover from Charlie Weis’ staff. Kelly hopes to have a few more coaches in place by Jan. 4, when coaches can again begin contacting high school recruits.