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Notre Dame Football

Kelly puts CFP on Blast; ACC Championship notebook

December 18, 2020

The question seemed a final chance for Brian Kelly to proclaim Notre Dame's merits as a College Football Playoffs-worthy selection, regardless Saturday's results in the ACC Championship, a rematch of Notre Dame's 47-40, double-overtime win against then-No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7 in Notre Dame Stadium.

Instead, Kelly's Zoom Friday with reporters quickly turned into Kelly's staunch advocation for the rights of his players to play in front of their families in the CFP. California has banned spectators from events and watched its college and pro teams shift into outside-the-state locations this month.

Kelly's strong (and justified) comments on the program's potential stance and possible boycott of the CFP are below, followed by the remainder of his transcript:

BK: Whatever I say, really has no merit on what those people are going to do in their room and I respect the question, I really do. But whatever I say is going to be a sound bite that’s going to come out 18 different ways.

“Here's the only thing I'm going to say, they've got to make sure that whatever sites they play at, the parents are going to be watching their sons play. That's what they've got to figure out. So maybe they need to spend a little less time on who the top four teams are and figure out how to get parents into these games. Because it is an absolute shame and a sham if parents can't be watching their kids.

“My kids have been on campus here since June. They haven't seen their families very much at all. They've had to fight through COVID. Some of them have had COVID. They can't be around their families for Christmas. I'm going to have them there for Christmas. I'm going to bring in families that aren't theirs during Christmas. And you're going to tell me we're going to have a Playoff and maybe one site can have families and the other can't? Please.

“Somebody's got to wake up in that room and figure this out. Or you just might as well call this the professional league because nothing speaks to this is just about having a Playoff and we don't care about the student-athletes.

“I know I went off on a tangent, but I am so sick and tired of this Playoff Committee talking about having sites where you can't have parents at and their families. It's ridiculous. Sorry.

Q: Would Notre Dame have skipped the postseason if CFP not on the line?

BK: I'm not sure we'll play in the Playoffs if parents can't be there, to be honest with you. Why would we play if you can't have the families at the game? A bowl game? Yeah, we would opt out. If you can't have families at bowl games, why would you go to a game where your family can't be part of it? What's the sense of playing a game in an area of the country where nobody can be part of it? It doesn't surprise me at all.

“Look, there's so many sacrifices these kids have had to make. And to go to a bowl game where there's no real opportunities for them to do anything, right, they're going to stay on campus, they may show up at the bowl game 24, 48 hours prior to, so there's no real reward. Go home and see your families. Go home for Christmas. That's the reward really more than anything else, than playing in a bowl game. It's just different. It's not the bowl game's fault. I get it. We're in a pandemic. There's restrictions and things like that, but we've got to think about the student-athletes in this situation. Not having a chance to share this with their families after being away and sacrificing so much, you can see why they wouldn't want to play.

More From Kelly on Need For Families To Be At Playoff

BK: We'll talk it over with our team. The players make, they drive this. I don't drive it. I'm echoing their concerns. I'm not the guy out there making this up, because it's not about my family. It's about their family. I'm a voice for our team, and they're concerned. They're focused on the ACC Championship. That's where their focus is. They're not going to be speaking about these things. If in fact we're selected to be part of it, this will then be No. 1 on their radar. I'll have to then address it with our leaders as to how we feel about this. Certainly that will be the next topic we address after the ACC Championship game. Absolutely. Removed, why can't it be the Rose Bowl in Las Vegas? Or can't it be the Rose Bowl in another town? I get it. Where's the flexibility for the student-athlete, is all I'm saying. The one thing these kids have been is incredibly flexible and on the other side, we can't be flexible? It's hard to imagine. We'll do with it. If we're fortunate enough to be one of the four teams, it's going to be a topic. Our guys may come out of it and say, 'You know what, this is what we're going to do. We're not going to wear a Rose Bowl patch.' I don't know. All I know is it is a No. 1 topic for our guys if in fact they are selected. Ah, man. Tradition. We're worshipping the ashes of tradition. That can be the only reason. Look, nobody's going to trade out this year for next year. Next year's going to be a revenue-producing year. So nobody wants to come in and say, 'All right, we'll take it.' I'm not in that meeting. I can't imagine what push has been applied, but they're not thinking about the student-athlete and that's the issue. Maybe there's deals that have already been cut behind the lines and I'm not aware. That they're going to get the parents in there and Coach Kelly should get off his soap box and shut up. Hopefully that's the case. I'm just making it clear that if our team is selected and we're fortunate enough, the next issue will be let's make sure the student-athletes get their families in to watch them play.

Opening comments, ready to go:

BK: Certainly as Clemson has made an incredible commitment to get to this point, we've made an incredible commitment to get to this point. We had to pass six tests just to get to this game. They want to play. That's exciting. As coaches, you love watching your guys just count it down to get to kickoff.

Q: Was the 91-yard drive to force overtime against Clemson symbolic of all that has been done since 2016?

BK: It started before that, right? You don't gain that confidence on that drive. It had been building the mental edge necessary certainly to go and do that. And that takes some time. It's a culmination of things through the previous few years to get the mental edge necessary, we're going to find a way to get this football down the field. Whatever it looked like.

We've created a mental edge over the past few years so that when presented with that opportunity, have the right mindset, we were going to get it done. That's what we saw with that drive.

Q: What are the next 24 hours like for your program?

BK: We go to Mass here in about 45 minutes. We'll have a team Mass. We'll go through our Catholic football mass, which is approximately 18 minutes and 45 seconds. We call it the 'Catholic Carwash.' No disrespect out there, please.

And then we'll go into meetings, we'll have a walk-through in our indoor. We'll go over situational stuff, two-point plays, we'll go over overtime, we'll go over some red zone situations, offensively and defensively. Onside kicks, things of that nature. We've got a number of different things that we go over relative to our Friday walk-through.

From there we'll have a special teams substitution drill meeting. We'll do a little special teams. Call it a day, shower and head downtown. We eat the city plaza downtown, large ballroom, and then get on the plane and head to Charlotte. Get a snack, go to bed and it's Saturday. So pretty simply schedule.

Q: Is Clark Lea going to remain with Notre Dame beyond Saturday?

BK: I guess you guys haven’t been paying attention, now. Clark is with us throughout the entire run here. He’s not going anywhere. He’s going down and do a press conference on Sunday and that’s it. As I said, when we have assistant coaches who go for head coaching positions and we’re in postseason play, they are going to be committed to Notre Dame and finishing off at Notre Dame or they’re not part of that process. He will be here throughout the entire run that we have leading into a national championship. He will be here. I don’t know if I can make that any clearer.”

Q: What stands out about Clemson receiver Cornell Powell?

BK: We didn’t get him on the ground. That was the biggest thing. He did a great job catching the football, but we didn’t tackle him. We gave up over 150 yards in yards after the catch. If that continues, that trend, we’re going to give up too many points. The focus here has been on outstanding receivers are going to catch balls against anybody. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against. In the NFL, the best corners are going to give up catches. You’ve got to get him on the ground. We’ve got to tackle better against both receivers. That’s really been the focus this week. They’re going to get their catches and he’s going to get his. We’ve got to get him on the ground.”

Q: You said players are eager to go. How do you avoid them peaking too soon for this game?

BK: No doubt. You’re not playing today, we’re playing tomorrow. We remind them. They’ve got a pretty good sense. We’ve played a lot of big games at Notre Dame. These guys have been in big games before. This is another big game for them, but they’re on national TV all of the time. They understand how they need to emotionally stay centered leading up to the big games. They’re not playing the game on Tuesday or Wednesday. They do a really good job and we do a really good job making sure we channel that. Today is Focus Friday, so they’ll stay focused on what’s important now.”

Q: How has Notre Dame's COVID-19 testing been leading into this game?

BK: We’re playing. We tested yesterday. At 8:45, we got our tests this morning. At 8:45, we had no positives. The same thing with Clemson. The game is on, folks. It’s not being cancelled. Both teams will be there in Charlotte playing the game, no cancellations. You can mark that down.

“We tested six times since our last game, so we’re tired of testing. We know there’s more testing ahead of us, but we’re excited to be playing the game and being done with the testing for the opportunity to play in this game.”

Q: Settled on Josh Lugg at center, per Kyren Williams & Robert Hainsey. Accurate? Who's the No. 2 QB?

BK: Then why are you asking me? If Kyren Williams told you, I would write it down.”

“(Drew) Pyne will be 2. (Brendan) Clark could play if necessary, but his knee is such that he’d be an emergency situation for us.”

Q: What was your routine when you had no games on conference championship weekend?

BK: Generally, we’re practicing and the next day, the guys have off or a couple days off because we’re kind of getting close to the holidays. Generally, this is like a practice day and then we’ve released the guys. Or, we’ve just practiced on Friday, this would be our last practice day and then we’d release the players and we’ll see them at the bowl site. That’s generally kind of been the deal.

“I’ve gotten a chance to see some of those games, the conference championship games on Saturday, because we’ve been off. It’s been a day off for the coaching staff.”

Q: How vital has Dr. Amber Selking’s role been in the program, especially in this pandemic year?

BK: She’s been great. Her ability to touch base with our players in a very difficult time. She has a role of mental performance more so than mental health. The mental performance end can also be affected if somebody obviously is not in a great state. She’s able to touch base with these players. She’s able to stay in contact with them and help them if they’re feeling from a confidence level, they’re not at the optimal level. She’s been really good and extremely, extremely helpful.”

Q: What would it potentially mean to you and Notre Dame to perhaps win an ACC Championship?

BK: Well, look you're playing for Championships. Our mission is to graduate and win championships. So this is part of what we build this for. This is the culmination of this long season, and we're not there yet. WE have not fulfilled the goal that we all got when we were afforded this very unique opportunity. We're extremely grateful that the ACC has given us this opportunity. It's like anything else, you want to finish the deal. Our guys want to finish it off with an ACC Championship.

Q: Have you talked to Jack Swarbrick about the Rose Bowl issue?

BK: Oh, sure. Jack's on board. Jack's one voice, one person. Jack has echoed his concerns about this as well. I think Jack has been on the forefront of it. It's again nothing has happened since he's echoed his concerns as well.

Q: How much does Kyren Williams do that doesn't show up in a box score?

BK: Well, you're absolutely right on both accounts. The one thing he brings that is different is an edge. He brings an edginess to our offense. A confidence. He breeds that edge that goes throughout our entire offense. A confidence, a swagger, and you can sense that when he's out there.

With his size, he plays big. It just rallies the group in that sense. It's kind of one of those, I know we all use this, he makes others around him play at a higher level because they see this smaller guy playing aggressive, playing with a swagger, playing with an edge, and it really feeds on the other guys on the offense.

Q: Any concern the selection committee might exclude you for being outspoken?

BK: Here's what I've said, I'll make it clear; All I've talked about is what the concerns are of my team. We will address if we're fortunate enough to be one of the team.
If we're one of the teams, I'll talk to my group and then they'll come out with a statement. It won't be Brian Kelly's statement. It will be Notre Dame and our players. I don't know what they're going to say.

They might say, 'Oh, we're glad to be in and this is much ado about nothing.' Or they might say, 'We don't want to play if we can't get the parents into the games.' So I really can't answer your question until we find out what's going to happen at the selection, whether we're in or not. So it's a bit hypothetical. If they decide to keep us out because coach is running his big trap about what he thinks, I probably should get in line with all the other coaches who run their mouth when they shouldn't be.

Q: Mike Elston has filled different roles. What does he do with your defensive line and what he has he done since taking over that spot?

BK: Mike's been with me 17 years. He's been with me at Central Michigan, where he coached the linebackers. Cincinnati where he coaches the special teams and tight ends. He's coached a number of different positions, he's my assistant head coach. He's been in a number of different roles.

With the defensive line, we've seen a development of these players to the level now where they've dominated games. He's a great teacher, he's got great relationships with the players. He's got a great knowledge base, here 11 years. I think we've seen a great evolution of our defensive line in the time he's been with me here at Notre Dame.

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