Kelly hits the right notes in introduction

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It isn't so much what Brian Kelly said as how he said it that left a lasting first impression on Notre Dame.

The new Fighting Irish coach held an informational meeting with his players for about 25 minutes Friday morning, his first day on the job. While the meeting was more about introducing himself and going over details, the players walked away thinking one thing: If any echoes are still napping, Kelly is about to wake them up.

"When he started talking, we immediately began to smile because he had so much energy," quarterback Dayne Crist said. "I think that everyone fed off of his energy in the team meeting. His passion was very contagious."

"He spoke pretty loud," defensive lineman Kapron Lewis-Moore said. "He spoke really loud, actually. I think that's what we need."

Kelly later spoke and enthusiastically answered questions for nearly 40 minutes at a news conference, his voice often rising as he talked about how excited he was to be the Notre Dame coach. A media consultant he recently hired gave him some prepared notes, but he ignored them and talked mostly off the cuff. Kelly may have left behind a 12-0 Cincinnati team, but he acted like there was no place in the world he'd rather be than South Bend.

In doing so, he provided the fresh air the Irish needed to feel good about themselves and their football program again. The past few weeks have offered nothing but bad news, including a four-game losing streak; the firing of Charlie Weis; quarterback Jimmy Clausen getting punched outside a bar; Clausen and receiver Golden Tate leaving for the NFL; and Weis making some bizarre comments about Pete Carroll to a handpicked media crew.

"This program and these kids have been through a tough period of time," athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. "So you want somebody who can kind of come in and lift the cloud, just sort of energize them."

The word "energy" came up a lot when Swarbrick asked several players to list their criteria for a new head coach before this search. Perhaps the Irish, who underachieved in the NFL-style approach used by Weis, realized they could use a swift kick in the pants.

"We were looking for somebody who was energetic, who runs around at practice and is a good motivator," tight end Kyle Rudolph said.

They certainly found that type of guy in Kelly, the son of a politician who possesses the natural gift of gab. Kelly played the role of salesman at Cincinnati, going everywhere around that city to drum up support for the team and once famously chiding the local newspaper for not attending his first Big East media day.

Kelly definitely won't have to campaign for publicity in South Bend. His first news conference took place in an auditorium stuffed with about 200 people, more than a quarter of them from the media. Outside the front door of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on Friday morning was a chalk message on the pavement reading "Welcome home, Coach Kelly."

And though Kelly never played or coached at Notre Dame, the place already kind of feels like home. He opened his news conference by fondly recalling his Sundays as a kid in Massachusetts, when he would watch Irish football replays narrated by Lindsey Nelson.

"There is a football coach and then there's the football coach at Notre Dame, because nobody, nobody does it like Notre Dame," he said.

Kelly hit all the right notes about restoring the tradition and competing for championships while prudently avoiding any glib overstatements like Weis' infamous "decided schematic advantage" claim. In fact, Kelly uttered two things that seemed like a direct contradiction to the previous era.

At one point, he said that "you don't win on Saturdays with X's and O's; you win because you've been working on it all during the week." And while Weis mostly ignored the defensive side and concentrated on play calling, Kelly said this: "At the end of the day, this is about winning football games, and the head coach is responsible for that. So he'd better know what's going on defensively."

Kelly also "guaranteed" that his greatest strength, as it was at Cincinnati, would be developing players. That doesn't just mean improving their skills. He said players had to learn to pay great attention to detail and have a purpose in everything they do, from eating right to being on time.

Swarbrick said he shares Kelly's interest in improving player development and that the two talked extensively about how to do that during their interview. One area of the program that needs to be looked at and possibly revamped is the team's nutrition and strength training; Swarbrick said Irish defensive players lost an average of 13 pounds during the season in 2009, which he called "unacceptable."

Those are the kinds of details Kelly will start working on when he moves into his office Monday. On his first day as Irish coach, he got across a broader message: There's no snooze bar for the echoes.

"You can kind of tell how he is, and he's real demanding," Lewis-Moore said. "I feel like it's a shot of life in the program, and that we're headed in the right direction."

Brian Bennett covers college football for ESPN.com.