After the extraordinary drama of the thrilling win over Pitt had faded a little bit, Brian Kelly took to the podium as part of his weekly routine. Perhaps, by now, you’ve watched it, or read about it, but one exchange between the Coach and a, perhaps nervous, perhaps student, reporter caught my attention. At 12:05 in the video below, watch Coach Kelly deal with a perceived challenge to one of his players:
Louis Nix has got a lot in the Bank of Trust with me.
If you remember back to last year, and after Stanford and Oklahoma and Pitt I forgive you if you cannot, you will recall that at one point, Coach Kelly had a “mutiny” on his hands. After allegedly blaming the team’s lack of success on Charlie’s recruiting classes, Kelly had to deal with, and ultimately apologize to, a lockerroom divided as players took to the Twitter machine to vent their feelings. This season, though, there have been no losses to expose, or deepen, rifts between coach and player.
When I wrote about Coach Kelly coming into the season, I mentioned that this season had a different “feel” to it. In 2010, we were lucky to be 8-5. In 2011, we were 8-5 in a different way — I saw pieces falling into place and schemes coming together. Kelly’s response to the reporter’s question about Irish Chocolate captured another part of that feeling: I got this. In this his third season, with nine wins under his belt already, Brian Kelly can worry about keeping players off a reporter’s hot seat instead of keeping his own butt off one.
It’s not hard to have an out-sized amount of love for Notre Dame’s nose guard. @IrishChocolate9 is one of the more, if not the most, entertaining voices on the team. But on the field, he’s been a monster. Through nine games, Nix has tallied 34 tackles (10 solo) (4.5 for loss), half a sack, 3 passes broken up, 1 forced fumble and 3 QB hurries. In short, Nix is a young man with a bright senior season ahead of him, a bright NFL career ahead of him and, should he so choose, a bright career under the bright lights of Hollywood or ESPN or Fox.
It would be wrong, I believe, to suggest that Kelly has gone out of his way this season to stick up for or praise his players. Instead, I would suggest that this season has allowed this final piece to fall into place, a place where Kelly becomes a Holtz or a Stoops or a Snyder instead of a Weis or a Willingham. It would be easy for Kelly, or anyone else, to heap praise on Manti Te’o by simply sticking to the stats, but Kelly has sought to extol the man in Manti more than anything for which he, a simple coach, could claim credit. “There isn’t a better representative of Notre Dame” is not praise that fades with the white chalk delineating a field or the sharp sting of sweat and sock that marks a locker room. “There isn’t a better representative of Notre Dame” implicates the University — the name — the family — the whole.
Sure, there were awful, awful moments inside Saturday’s win: Tommy’s INT. Golson’s INT. The Fumble. The missed PAT. The missed FG. TWO DUDES WITH THE SAME NUMBER ON THE FIELD AT THE SAME TIME? Honestly? But, in the end, it was a win that came under circumstances that Notre Dame would, in recent seasons, quit. But this team never quit. This coach never quit.
So, as we stand on the brink of 10-0, then 11-0 (hopefully) and then, dare I say (dare! dare!) 12-0, are we not seeing the ultimate effect of a team and staff united in effort across all aspects (other than special teams, which are obviously in need of serious help)? Coach Kelly didn’t let the reporter explain himself and didn’t cut him any slack. Coach Kelly took a challenge, real or imagined, and rose to it. Let there be no question this season: this is his team, these are his players, and they have his trust. They are ND.