New coach Kelly’s debut nears at Notre Dame

Brian Kelly’s wait is nearly over. Call it 20 years in the

making.

Those other head coaching stops at Grand Valley State, Central

Michigan and Cincinnati? They helped prepare him. Now, it’s really

time to step up.

He’ll be greeted by 80,000 boisterous fans Saturday when he

takes his Notre Dame team onto the field for the first time for the

season-opener against Purdue. Most eyes will be on him. He’s

already pledged that his mission is to win immediately and put the

Irish back on the national radar.

”I’ll be excited, obviously, running out and being on the field

for the first time but that will go all away just like it goes

away, the excitement or the jitters, on that first hit,” Kelly

said.

”It goes away as a coach on that first play call. Especially if

they boo you. It gets your attention right away … I think once

you get into that game and that ball is kicked, you focus like any

other game. You focus like you’re at Grand Valley State.”

But it won’t be.

And if Kelly’s nervous with game day approaching, it doesn’t

show. He’s trying to immerse himself in preparations for the

Boilermakers, a game important for more than just being the opener.

It’s an early opportunity to show his team and those watching that

what he’s been preaching and installing really works for them –

like it did at Cincinnati, where the Bearcats went 12-0 in the

regular season a year ago.

As you would imagine, Kelly has gotten a read on his team since

taking over in December and going through both spring and prison

practices. It’s a sense you get when you’re around young players

for so many hours in close quarters, sometimes patting them on the

back, sometimes loudly criticizing them.

Kelly took his team to Notre Dame Stadium last Friday and could

tell that his players were tight. So he gave them an example to

loosen them up: himself.

”So it was pretty clear to me that our football team needed to

stop thinking about being Notre Dame football players and just play

the game,” Kelly said.

”And I used my own circumstances to try to bring it on a more

understandable plain for them,” he said. ”That is, I can’t come

to work every day thinking I’m the head coach at Notre Dame. There

are just too many things out there that you would succumb to all

the pressure. I come thinking about the process every day.”

As far as his players go, Kelly said that even though freshman

Tommy Rees is listed behind Dayne Crist on a two-deep depth chart

that he is not necessarily the No. 2 quarterback ahead of Nate

Montana, the former walk-on and son of Joe Montana who is now on

scholarship.

Kelly said Rees and Montana could have been listed as 2A and 2B

but he only filled out two slots.

”There is no No. 2 or No. 3,” Kelly said, adding that spot

will continue to be evaluated all season. ”I don’t think it’s

accurate to say that he’s nailed that position down.”

And Crist, who replaces Jimmy Clausen under center for the

Irish? He’s getting his first start and his teammates have were

barred from hitting him during spring and preseason practice. After

knee surgery last November, Crist’s first contact will come on his

first hit in the Purdue game.