FORT WAYNE – Brian Kelly understood there would be challenges at Notre Dame when he replaced former coach Charlie Weis in 2009.
Kelly inherited a program that went 16-21 in the three seasons before he took over, and the Irish were searching for a coach that could win the program its first national title since 1988.
The 22-year coaching veteran has dealt with plenty of obstacles when he took over programs at Grand Valley State, where he won two Division II championships; Central Michigan, where he won a Mid-American Conference title; and Cincinnati, where he led the Bearcats to a perfect 12-0 regular season in 2009.
I don’t know that any job is the same when you’re coming in, Kelly said during a teleconference Sunday.
Kelly has endured questions about his game management and sideline demeanor, the tragic death of student videographer Declan Sullivan and the loss of his starting quarterback, only to turn around a 4-5 season with four straight wins in his first year at Notre Dame.
Kelly had to tackle questions about his fiery antics during games again this season, made a quarterback change after the opener’s first half and had to settle his team down after another controversy broke out in the days leading up to Saturday’s 56-14 thrashing of Navy.
The Irish (5-3) appeared to be spiraling after a 31-17 loss to USC prompted Kelly to point out the differences between the players in his first recruiting class and those he inherited. He reportedly apologized for dividing the team with his comment at a team meeting Friday.
There will be more challenges ahead for Kelly, whose team plays at Wake Forest (5-3) at 8 p.m. Saturday, and the coach is ready for them.
Notre Dame is different than all the other jobs I’ve had, but no challenge that is insurmountable, Kelly said. All jobs have those different characteristics, and Notre Dame is like all those others, just different things that we have to work on.
Kelly is 13-8 at Notre Dame, and he knows where his team can improve at the three-quarter mark of the season.
I think it’s pretty clear, the consistency week in and week out and taking care of the football and eliminating some of those sloppy mistakes, Kelly said. If you look at some of the mistakes that we’ve made, you know, they’re all correctable through better coaching, better playing, and I think that’s where we know that we can clean those areas up moving forward.
Kelly said the Irish have already moved in the right direction on the offensive and defensive lines.
We haven’t given up a sack in the month of October, Kelly said. We’ve controlled the line of scrimmage for the most part, the way you want to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. I think when you’re looking at it, those are the things this year that we know where our weaknesses are in terms of turning the ball over. But our strengths are that we’ve really developed ourselves both offensively and defensively, the lines, and that’s a real good foundation moving forward.
Note: Kelly said freshman defensive end Chase Hounshell suffered a slight shoulder injury against Navy, but Hounshell isn’t expected to miss practice this week.