OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- Brian Kelly was pleased with Notre Dame's draft showing two weeks ago. His comments before the draft had suggested that he was less-than-pleased with every former Irish player in the draft.
But Kelly says that there is a middle ground, as he is happy to help his players pursue the NFL, so long as the allure of the pro dream doesn't cloud their judgments while in school.
"It was a matter of priorities for me. It was just a matter of making sure that the priorities were placed in the right perspective," Kelly said. "I have no problem talking about the NFL and making sure that it's the dream, if that's your dream, that we keep that dream alive for you, and that we provide you every opportunity to get there. I just felt that maybe that the priority maybe got pushed out of what I believe to be the pecking order."
That pecking order, he said, is a degree, a playing career with the Irish and then, if everything breaks right, the NFL.
The Irish's eight draftees this season featured three underclassmen, with Kelly clearly irked by the decisions of juniors Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III to turn pro. He mentioned as much on national signing day, saying that he needed to do a better job of educating his players on the NFL, and that he would have a serious problem recruiting someone whose intentions were to spend just three years in school.
Kelly's intent, he explained recently, is the same as others in his position. Notre Dame, after all, made waves this past season by sending top recruiting targets "Pots of Gold" -- 477 pieces of mail to represent what had been the school's number of NFL draft picks.
"If I feel like you're not playing for Notre Dame, and you're playing for your NFL career before you're playing for Notre Dame, that's where the rub is for me," Kelly said. "So if I get a little bit off on comments about a guy, it could be because that NFL is starting to overtake playing for Notre Dame. It's not just me, though. Every college football coach in the BCS has got to deal with the same thing, just have to be very careful with it, you have to be very good with your players about it.
"But it's a fine line, it's a balancing act. You want what's best for your player, right? Because you want his career to continue and have a chance to play in the NFL, but you want what's best for Notre Dame, too. So you have to be very careful with the two. I just don't want that to be NFL, then Notre Dame."
Coming off the Irish's best draft turnout since they had 10 players picked in the 1994 draft, Kelly -- who has now had four first-rounders picked at Notre Dame -- sees the pro results as validation of what he's been building during his five-year run in South Bend, Ind. Only LSU (nine) had more players drafted this year than Notre Dame, which was tied with Alabama for the second-best showing two weeks ago.
"I think more than anything else is that we're developing our players. That the players are developing, and I think the NFL really likes the program and what we're doing within the program," Kelly said. "They like the way that they're being developed from a mental and physical standpoint. They believe that they can take the rigors of being in the NFL, from the year-round conditioning, from the way we practice, from the way they prepare. I think they look at it in totality, they see everything.
"And look, that doesn't mean you're going to have eight guys every year, but when they see a guy that they think can play, they're going to take a shot at a kid from Notre Dame."