SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A disappointing 2-4 start for Notre Dame has seemingly left observers with contrasting images of Brian Kelly.
There is the head coach who after different losses this season has said to reporters that all of his players' jobs are up for grabs, who has labeled his quarterback's play as sub-standard and who has deemed his center's snapping of the ball in a hurricane as "atrocious."
Then there is the Kelly who praised his players in the locker room after Saturday's 10-3 loss to NC State, saying in a video posted by the athletic department this week that he needs to do a better job, adding: "I couldn't find a way to win that game for you."
On Wednesday, Fighting Irish players took turns defending their coach's demeanor, from the tough public love to the more intimate dealings behind closed doors.
"That's tough. You never really -- obviously some guys don't perform in every game and it's tough at this level," senior linebacker and captain James Onwualu said of Kelly's comments to reporters. "Obviously we don't love seeing that from a head coach, but sometimes it's necessary, I guess."
Starting quarterback DeShone Kizer said he wouldn't use the word "blame" to describe Kelly's public methods, saying there are 11 players who have a job to do and that they take it as a challenge.
"James walks in and he gives an answer and it's perceived as if he's saying that it's a horrible thing that coach puts blame on guys," Kizer said. "But I'm sitting here having a conversation with him and all he's trying to say is: 'Yeah, it's tough when a coach calls you out, but we take it as a challenge here. We accept everything as a team.'
"But individually you're going to have to get challenged to play your best. When you're 2-4 right now, everyone has to point the finger at themselves, look themselves in the mirror and accept those challenges so that we can come out and be more successful and hopefully put together the wins that we need to put together in the second half of the season."
Fellow captain Mike McGlinchey defended Kelly's dealings with the media, minimizing any public mishaps and attributing them to the frustrations of a season gone wrong through six games.
"Well we know he's not blaming us," said McGlinchey, a left tackle. "If Coach Kelly really wanted to blame us he would come up and say it in our face like he has done before when we screwed up. Obviously things can get misconstrued, things can get misstated and we don't feel as though he's blaming us. He'll have a conversation with us personally if he wants to get better because that's the kind of man that he is.
"He runs our program unbelievably well. We're all lucky to have a coach like him and he takes care of us more than anybody I can even imagine anybody ever doing. Obviously things get said and we're 2-4 and things are said after a football game that -- everybody's pretty emotional after certain things like that and things can easily get misstated and that's all that that is."
McGlinchey also said that Kelly's postgame apology this past weekend was unnecessary, as the redshirt junior blamed the players for not performing well enough to beat the Wolfpack.
"I don't think that it's necessary for Coach Kelly to start apologizing to anybody on this football team," McGlinchey said. "It's our job to execute the gameplan that they put in place, and we didn't do a good enough job of doing that on the last Saturday. So I think that it comes down to a whole team effort, both coaching and playing better. I think that obviously he's the head coach and he's going to take a lot of the fault for what's going on on our program right now, but it comes down to a mindset, like I said, of executing our job and doing our job one day and one play at a time.
"The more we can focus on doing that, the more success that's going to come. It's not necessary for him to say that because we all know it's on us, and obviously it's one of those things that he said, but it's on us and we all know that."
Added Onwualu: "It's important, and it's just a reminder that we're all in it together and we're working toward the same goals. And he's a 2-4 coach as well, so like I said, we're all in this together. A lot of the fans can see what he does on the sideline as negative but it's high-stress, especially in the situation we're in now. Everybody wants to win and everybody wants to get it right, so it's obviously his job as the head man to be the enforcer of that."
Kelly had said during his Tuesday news conference that he doesn't blame players for losses, later adding, once pressed on one of his earlier postgame remarks from this season: "I blamed all of us for that loss. We're all in it together. Let's be clear."
Notre Dame hosts 3-2 Stanford this Saturday night before entering its bye week.