ND's Kelly: Mass. has changed 'dramatically'

DANVERS, Mass. -- Notre Dame football coach and St. John’s Prep graduate Brian Kelly was the guest speaker at a St. John’s Prep Alumni Foundation event, tonight at the Danversport Yacht Club. Kelly is deeply rooted in the Bay State, growing up in Chelsea, attending St. John's Prep, and graduating from Worcester's Assumption College in 1983.

Kelly discussed a wide range of topics with reporters before the event.

On how the SJP campus has changed since he was a student there: “It looks like a totally different campus from when I went there. It was just in transition from a boarding school my first year there. You didn’t have the arts building, the football facilities, you didn’t have all the other sports facilities that are there today. But people say that when they ask me about Notre Dame as well. I just think it’s the development of great high schools and college campuses have changed dramatically over the past 15 to 20 years.”

On his playing career at St. John’s Prep: “I think for me, I was undersized, but I loved to play. I think it’s always been with me, every team that I’ve coached, that I want to recruit guys that love to play the game, and I love to play the game. Coach (Fred Glatz, his coach at the Prep) gave guys like myself an opportunity to be a part of the program. Even if we weren’t frontline guys, he was always going to have guys that really loved to play the game. I’ve always tried to mirror that in the teams that I’ve put together. Certainly you need great players as well, but I think you can round off a good team with guys that love to play.”

On what he took with him from playing for Coach Glatz: “Discipline. Attention to detail, which I carry with me today. I’ve credited him, many times, for that. I take all that with me. I carried it with me throughout my entire career that I’m going to reward those guys that put in the time. I’ve taken a lot of great things with me, and that’s why I’m back here.”

On what type of kid he gets when he recruits a player from Massachusetts: “First of all, the game in the state has changed dramatically since when I played. There were very few that came out of the state of Massachusetts and played bigtime college football. That’s changed. I think that’s probably changed across the country. You’re in a large metropolitan area, so when I look at Massachusetts, you don’t poo-poo it and go, ‘Oh they don’t have players.’ There’s going to be BCS players in the state of Massachusetts, so it’s part of our recruiting grid now. It wasn’t when I was at Central Michigan, but we certainly didn’t recruit nationally like Notre Dame. We never felt like Massachusetts was on the grid, and I think that’s just a testament to the development of players here and the game of football.”

On more public school players now being recruited to play Division 1 football: “Well when I was growing up, it was Brockton High School. Brockton was the program, and now Everett High School has taken over that moniker. So there’s still the public school influence in Massachusetts, and obviously you have the private schools that have always been there and have always churned out good players. I think, more than anything else, is that you have some public schools now that play at a high level, coupled with the private schools that have done well for a number of years.”

On what convinces him that a public school player can make the jump to play at a high Division 1 level, like at Notre Dame: “There are so many opportunities for kids now to be measured nationally with exposure camps, that it makes it very easy to see how they stack up nationally with other kids. They all go to these high-exposure camps now so you get an opportunity to see how they measure, so if their competition isn’t quite up to maybe some of the other levels, you can still come up with good information as to how they’re going to make that transition.”

On the pressure of coaching at Notre Dame: “I needed all of my 17 years of experience to sit in that seat. I learn every day. I’ve learned a lot in my first two years. I think, for me, I just focus on why I’m there, and that’s to coach the kids.”

Whether he fears the future of the game, with concussions and preventing brain injuries being an important issue in the sports world today: ”I don’t. I believe the game, if conducted in the right fashion, is a game that can be played safely. Now, there are going to be the incidents that we’ve seen, but I am very confident, and I’ve been involved in the game now for about 25 years, that you can teach this game safely and you can play it safely.”

On dealing with outside forces (like booster involvement and players using social media) while coaching at a high-profile college like Notre Dame: “My job is to eliminate confusion on a day-to-day basis, and that’s not easy. You’ve got Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all the things that are out there, I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s made being a head football coach today so much more difficult. If there’s one thing that has changed dramatically in the last five years, it’s not recruiting, it’s social media and what we have to do to educate our players. Listen, it’s not going away. So for me to say we’re going to take it away, and we’re not going to let them use social media, it’s not going away. So you better be figuring out how to educate your players, and that’s what we do on a day-to-day basis. "

His early impressions of Charley Molnar, his former offensive coordinator, in his first year as the head football coach at the University of Massachusetts: “I’m really excited for Charley. He’s high-energy. He knows the game. He knows what the landscape of college football looks like as UMass makes that big move up to the BCS and that’s a huge move. But he understands that, because he came from I-AA and he came from a lower Division 1-A background, so he knows what it looks like, and he knows what’s in front of him. They could not have gotten a better guy for the job. Now, they’re not going to go out and win 10 games next year, but they’ve got the right guy to take UMass to that next step and I think he’s going to do a great job.”

On whether there are any SJP players he might be having his eye on: “Let’s put it this way, when you have a name like St. John’s Prep, and you have a connection with Notre Dame... I’ll let you guys fill in the blanks. You’re always going to have an eye towards how they’re doing. Absolutely.”