UNIVERSITY OF NOTRE DAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 1, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
COACH KELLY: Good afternoon. Thanks for being here. We have had a busy few weeks here. We have had a couple of balls up in the air and one of the more important parts was putting together and completing our staff.
I'm pleased to announce today officially, I know it's probably one of the worst kept secrets out there, our offensive coordinator in Mike Denbrock. First and foremost Mike is a good friend, just a great colleague, a football coach that has been with me a number of years, and when I talked about the selection of Brian VanGorder, we go back 25 years.
Incidentally, Mike was a defensive coordinator for me as well, so he's been on both sides of the ball and obviously this year did a great job of taking over the reins as offensive coordinator for the Pinstripe Bowl.
He brings a great deal of experience as a football coach, a great developer of football players at all positions, he's coached virtually all the positions for me, a great understanding of the offense that we want to run, and certainly has my trust in putting together the offense on a day?to?day basis for us. He will lead the offense and put it together on a day?to?day basis for us, so really excited about having Mike lead the offense as our offensive coordinator.
Also we have hired Matt LaFleur as our quarterback coach and I couldn't be more excited having Matt join us at that position. Go back a number of years with Matt as well. First got a chance to watch Matt as a player.
Just a great competitor, loved the way he played the game and really respected the way that he competed, was a great competitor. Then was able to hire him when I was at Central Michigan, did a great job developing a dual?threat quarterback that we had at Central Michigan in Dan LeFevour. I loved the way he was able to communicate and build a great relationship with him, and then he got a chance to go out on his own and work his way into this profession to where he was with the Redskins for the last four years and did a terrific job developing a couple of NFL quarterbacks in Robert Griffin and Kirk Cousins and Rex Grossman, so to have him here at Notre Dame, I think we've got a great quarterback coach a great quarterback young mind in understanding the entire position and he will fit very well with what we do here at Notre Dame.
We've completed the staff in a sense in terms of all the openings that we had, and we will continue now to work on some of the off?field positions that were open.
We have one more graduate assistant that we have to hire but I think today with Mike Denbrock as our offensive coordinator and Matt LaFleur, very excited to announce both these hires. So with that we will take questions and then we will bring down Mike and Matt and open it up to any questions.
Q. With you wanting to be more involved with the offense and want to go call plays again, how do all these responsibilities knit together? Is Matt going to coach, for example Golson or the starting quarterback? And how does it all fit?
COACH KELLY: On a day?to?day basis Matt will be with the quarterbacks, he will be in the quarterback room. I'll sit in the quarterback room as well, but Matt will have the autonomy of running those meetings; I will be there as a resource.
It's important that you're always communicating with the quarterbacks so they know what I'm thinking as well, but Matt will be in charge of developing those quarterbacks and having the day?to?day responsibilities of making sure that all of that information is passed on to them. I have great trust and confidence that he will do that on a day?to?day basis.
Mike will put it all together. He will oversee the entire offense and set the table in making sure that all of that is put together and laid out there so we can have a great Saturday in moving the ball effectively, offensively.
Q. Brian, just to clarify you are calling the plays this year?
COACH KELLY: Yes.
Q. Is there a reason why you decided to go back? You missed it or you think you can do a better job of it or what's the reasoning behind it?
COACH KELLY: I think a couple of reasons. One, we're transitioning back to an offense that I feel is best suited for the personnel that we have, and I think it's important to really get that philosophy and influence back into the offense, and I know it the best.
Once we're able to lay that in there, I think it will give everybody a great visual look at what we want this offense to look like, and I think it starts with me. I think it's important that if I want that offense to have the look, it's important that I have the influence in some fashion and this is the best way to do it.
Q. Can you describe what you want the "look" to be?
COACH KELLY: Well, I think it starts with the quarterback, and his ability to be a playmaker within the offense. You know, an offense that certainly at times, you know, we really haven't been able to craft it to fit a player behind the center, and I think what I'm looking for in particular is somebody that can make some things happen outside the pocket.
We have been driven behind the tackles for the last couple of years. We would like to be a little bit more dynamic outside the pocket.
Q. Brian, on the topic of the player behind the center, what reports have you got back from Paul about what sort of shape Everett returned in and his outlook and sort of where he's moving forward from here?
COACH KELLY: The reports have been good. Physically he's put on a lot of weight, stronger, more mature, something that we would expect. But it's Jan 31st, so there is a long way to go. I know we're always in this rush to move to Everett, but I just want to caution everybody that we have, I think a very good quarterback in Malik Zaire as well. And I'm not ready to hand everything over to Everett. I love Everett, he played in the national championship game, I'm like everybody here, but I'm also someone that wants to make sure that the quarterback position is such, especially with Matt now with us, that we give every an opportunity to compete for that position and Malik is going to get that chance as well. Everett is doing great, he looks physically like he should be at this time, and the reports have been great and we're very, very excited.
But I do want to caution everybody including anybody that's around the program, and our players in particular, I'll use this opportunity to do that, this is a pretty good quarterback that we didn't play this year, Malik Zaire, that's going to get a chance, too.
Q. Do you know off the top of your head injury updates, guys who had shoulders done, etcetera, things like that?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think all the shoulder guys are doing very, very well. Two guys in particular have exceeded all expectations and that's Ben Councell and Nick Martin. If they walked through here right now you would not know they had surgery.
They are well ahead of schedule, so we are very pleased there. Jarrett Grace's situation, he's still progressing but, you know, he broke that bone in four places, so that is a little bit slower in developing but he's making progress there with what was a very complicated fracture. But he's making progress.
I think we feel pretty good about all the guys that had surgery at this point. I think the one guy that's still needing to continue to develop is Jarrett, because that bone being fractured in four places is still getting there.
Q. And did you have guys that had additionally things done after the season?
COACH KELLY: You heard Butler, obviously he tweeted that out, so he had surgery but we don't expect that to be anything?? that was more?? we went in there and tightened some things up, not as complex of a surgery. He should be fine for us.
Q. And lastly, big picture with the staff and reinventing it a little bit. On the offensive side of the ball was this a fairly easy process for you? Did you feel like you reached out to a lot of people to gauge where you should go or did you sorta know immediately what you wanted to do with Mike and Matt?
COACH KELLY: I think it really came down to what I wanted to do, more than anything else. Whether I wanted to be involved in play calling or not this year.
I think once I made that decision, that I wanted to be involved in play calling, it made it pretty easy for what I wanted to do.
Q. Brian, you mentioned Malik. Can you list the positive characteristics that you saw during the fall that leads you to believe that he's ready to compete with a guy that competed in a national championship game?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, when we get into game situations he makes plays. Practice sometimes, you know, he tends to be a little mechanical, and, you know, makes some mistakes that you wished he didn't make over, but when the lights go on?? I know that's an overused phrase, but when he gets into competitive situations, he makes plays.
You love your quarterback to be a playmaker. He has all the intangibles, he has a strong arm, he's physically gifted, he's the first one in, the last one to leave. You can count on him, you can put everything on him and he's all about football. So there's a lot of traits that he carries with him that, when it's a competitive situation, he really rises his level of play, and I think you can go back to the spring game last year as a mid?year enrollee, he looked his best in the spring game. He didn't practice all that well but in the spring game when it's a competitive situation, he rises up.
Q. Is that frustrating for a coach when a guy doesn't practice as well as you would like him to or expect him to based upon how well he performed when the spotlight is brighter?
COACH KELLY: I think it's a good question and I think what I have to do is change a little bit my approach to the way I coached him. So as I became?? when it was apparent that I had to go in and spend more time with him, coaching him, we changed the way we coached him. In other words, when we were running a play, we had him run the play as well against air, and that helped him a lot!
Sometimes it's a matter of how you teach somebody and I think what we have to do is we really have to find out what clicked for Malik. I think that made all the difference in the world. So it was frustrating, but sometimes when it's frustrating, when a kid makes plays in games, sometimes you gotta look at yourself and the way you're coaching him. I think when we did that and found out some of the ways that we could coach him differently, it made a lot of difference, and I think we will continue to do that with him.
Q. One of the things that Chuck Martin said about Malik and I think it might have dated back to the spring about how quickly he grasped the concepts and understood the big picture of the offense, did that continue as you went into the fall?
COACH KELLY: It did. Now, we lost him a little bit, quite honestly, you know what I mean? When he sees himself as number three and a half, you know, and not getting in and not getting a lot of reps you lose a kid's concentration a little bit, and we lost him there for about four or five games. Once we got his attention back, it was clear that he had a pretty good knowledge base of what we wanted to do.
So I would tell you that by the end of the year, when we were quizzing him and saying, hey, listen, you have to be ready here, we felt like he had a pretty good knowledge base.
Q. And if I could revert back to the injuries, I think you have commented on him, but Baratti, where is he?
COACH KELLY: You know, he's going to be ready?? if we're playing a football game in April, he's cleared to play. Whether we put him in, in full contact because of a second surgery, I think that's still questionable. We may just want to ride right through the spring and have his first contact be in the fall but if we are playing he will be cleared to play.
Q. And shoulders, Doug Randolph?
COACH KELLY: Excellent, he will be full and he will contact in the spring.
Q. And Hanratty left late in the Pinstripe Bowl. Was that a blow to the head?
COACH KELLY: It was. Cleared.
Q. He's fine as far as you know?
COACH KELLY: Cleared.
COACH KELLY: Excellent. Again, he was right on the edge of contact in December. We probably could have pushed some contact at that point, so he will be full for everything that we do. Again, as you know, we're going early this year, we open up on March3rd, so he will be full go and ready to compete.
Q. And last one, Hounshell?
COACH KELLY: Yes, excellent and somebody that we could have ?? and I think we discussed that we could have done some things with him, but with a second surgery we wanted to err on being cautious.
Q. There has been a lot of the recruits talking about more of an emphasis on 4?3 than 3?4, is that the truth? Are you still going to be multiple? And is 4?3 going to be your base?
COACH KELLY: No, we will operate out of our base, 3 down, and my philosophy and Brian's has not changed; we're still going to be 50/50, and we've aired that out accordingly. Look, it's always going to be personnel driven, relative to your defensive structures, but we're going to be both 3 down and 4 down.
Q. How much did Matt's experience with Robert Griffin help him in you making that decision to bring him in with the guys you have?
COACH KELLY: You know, I think that's part of?? you know, when you're looking at the position itself, what are you looking for? You're looking for somebody that is an experienced play caller, are you looking for somebody that's experienced in the passing game, or are you look at somebody that's had a varied background in developing quarterbacks?
So that experience with two, young quarterbacks in Cousins and Griffin were certainly important in this situation because that's what I was looking for. You're going to have Everett who is still really in his second year, Malik Zaire, you've got a young guy coming in, whoever, right?
Now you have a similar situation and Matt's already experienced that kind of scenario again, so it made a difference that that's what I was looking for. When I was going through the interview process, the words that I was looking for weren't, "I got more routes for you, I can teach you the drive route" or "I got a great curl route for you" or "I like to call this on third down."
Those didn't resonate with me in the interviewing process. Great relationships, footwork, body position, balance, those were the words that resonated in the interview, and Matt hit every single one of those.
Q. With those type of players where you can get outside of pocket and a more dynamic player at quarterback, do you need a newer kind of quarterback coach to coach those and teach those fundamentals?
COACH KELLY: No, not necessarily, but I think what we're talking about is from an offensive standpoint Matt has always?? he's had that quarterback as well and he will go back to his experience as a quarterback. That's what he did.
He's used to being outside the pocket, then at Central Michigan with Dan LeFevour, so he's very familiar with what I like to do offensively as we talk in those terms.
Q. And withboth him and Denbrock, you are familiar with them in having coached with them in the past, how do you balance bringing guys that you've worked with and trying to infuse new ideas and get new ideas in the room?
COACH KELLY: Just because we're familiar doesn't mean that we're not opening to clinicing?? we do a great deal of clinicing outside of these walls, all of our coaches go outside these walls and clinic with other staffs, and we do that yearly.
So we're always looking outside our own walls to bring in other ideas. You know, I've always considered my offense, you know, the coast?to?coast offense. I've stolen great ideas from one coast to the other, and that's really what this is about. We look to find great ideas that can help our offense and we will continue to do that. They will bring in great ideas that will continue to strengthen what we do offensively.
Q. Tony Springmann, you mentioned he had a set?back with the infection there. His progress?
COACH KELLY: It's much better. He's moving around quite well, and we will see where it moves, but we're hoping that we're going to get a lot out of him moving forward.
Again, one of those things with the surgery, he had an infection, he had a PICC line put in there, we had to get that taken out. He's made good progress. We think that will continue to move forward.
Q. Is he cleared for spring?
COACH KELLY: I don't know if he's cleared at this moment, if he continues to show no side effects he will continue to do some things where I think we could be in that neighborhood.
Q. The question was brought up about the 3?4, 4?3 and you don't get many Louis Nix's out there, the ideal prototype, and nose guardwise, you would look at Jarron, maybe Tony as your ideal fits there or is there anyone else?
COACH KELLY: No, I think those guys would certainly be in the picture to play there. You know, again, when you're talking about the 3?4 defense you need size and we have recruited some guys that we feel like are going to address some of those needs as well. Those two are certainly where you're going to start.
Q. Brian, I'm not sure you can speak on it officially but have you decided on your fifth year seniors and is anybody pending your review thing class numbers?
COACH KELLY: Yeah, I think we always kind of wait until after signing day, but I think?? everybody knows what their status is, let's put it that way.
Q. Other than the four we know are gone, did all six want to return?
COACH KELLY: Yes.
THE MODERATOR: We will get started with Matt and Mike.
Q. Matt, looking at your bio, how big of a jump is it from Ashland to the Houston Texans?
MATT LaFLEUR: Shouldn't Mike get the first question here? No. (Chuckles.) It definitely was an enormous jump. The job I went to Houston in was from an offensive coordinator in Ashland to a quality control role in Houston, so my job responsibility wasn't such that I needed that experience at the NFL level.
Q. Mike, Coach Kelly talked about retooling the offense and so forth. I wonder if you could talk about if that includes a more steady, fast tempo and then maybe some things that you would like to add as offensive coordinator to that vision?
MIKE DENBROCK: I don't think there is any concept offensively that, if you've watched Coach Kelly's offenses in the past I think they encompass an offense that's more in an attacking style. He likes to go fast, he likes to keep the defense on their heels, he likes to be very aggressive with what he does, and I think that's the direction we're certainly moving into. With the athletes that we have we feel like we're in a position offensively to push the tempo more and to put our playmakers in positions where they can make big plays and do the things that all of us hope our offense looks like, one that's dynamic and can score more points and move the football consistently.
Q. Mike, you know Brian about as well as anybody and have coached with him for so long. Do you think Brian has been able to run the offense that he's wanted to for the last four years?
MIKE DENBROCK: I think he's a master at what we have all witnessed in the last four years in adapting to the circumstances that he was given. Whether it fits within the framework of his philosophy, he would have to answer that better than me, but I know he feels where we are now offensively from a personnel standpoint, how we have been able to build ourselves from recruiting to the players we have back in the program now, we have the ability to look more like he has wanted us to be offensively moving forward than maybe the last four years.
Q. I know it's early, you guys haven't had a game week but you're in a passing coordinator role, how much of a change is this going to be with the fact that he's calling the plays and I guess what differences you expect on a week?to?week basis?
MIKE DENBROCK: I think it's quite a bit from my standpoint. It was my job to assist Chuck Martin as much as he needed my assistance as he needed the game plan and put those things on the table and him and Coach Kelly had the final decisions, Coach Kelly in particular, but I think moving into this role I move into that seat a little bit more where with the help of a very talented offensive staff it's my responsibility to really make sure this thing looks the way Coach Kelly wants it to look, have the menu, if you feel, available to him that he feels like he needs on Saturday for us to be successful offensively, so that the game runs smooth and his play calling runs smoothly and our offense runs smoothly.
Q. Matt, talking to some of the coaches you worked with in the past at Saginaw Valley State and Ashland and asked them to describe your coaching style on a week?to?week basis. How would you describe your style on the practice field and how far or close are you in terms of Brian Kelly from that style?
MATT LaFLEUR: I try to get the most out of my players, however that would be. I think each guy learns a little bit different and really ultimately you have to find out what makes each guy tick, and that's what I'm going to try to do over these next few months is really develop that relationship with these guys and find out how they he perform the best to their ability.
Q. What's the biggest take?away you got from working for Coach Kelly for two years at Central?
MATT LaFLEUR: He's going to demand a lot not only from his players but from his coaches, and I have a lot of respect for him and it doesn't matter if you are the best player on the team or the worst player on the team, you're going to get "coached" and there is a level of expectation that will be set.
Q. Could you talk to us about the timeline of when he reached out to you or you reached out to him, how you got to the process from Washington to here today?
MATT LaFLEUR: There was a little bit after the season, and I ran into him at the convention and he asked what was going on in terms of I had a couple of things going on and more or less if I could make my way up to South Bend, and I was all in. This is where I wanted to be, without a doubt.
Q. When the things in Washington ended, did you have an opinion whether you wanted to stay at that level or go back to college or did it make a difference?
MATT LaFLEUR: To be honest with you, I just wanted to go to a place where there's great people. It's obvious?? as soon as I got on campus here, everybody that I met was first class and you can tell the players here especially just in my short time being here, they're very?? they're unique, unlike most players I've ever been around, just high?character guys and I just can't tell you how excited I am to get to work with these guys.
Q. Brian was talking about how everyone assumes that Everett is going to be the starter but that's not the case, including the players. What do you have to do in the coming month or two to get the message across that this is an open competition both to the other players and to the two quarterbacks?
MIKE DENBROCK: From my standpoint that's very simple because it's a philosophy that Coach Kelly has carried with him since he started coaching 25 years ago, and that's that the best player plays. He will make that clear to the football team as we move forward, as he has every year that we've been here, that demands that they stand up and perform and put themselves in a place where we can be counted on as a teammate and as one of the Notre Dame football players.
I think they understand that message already but as always, we will remind them moving forward here so that they all have a clear understanding for us to be at our best and for Notre Dame to be at its best, the best players have to be on the field at all times.
MATT LaFLEUR: That's pretty good! From my standpoint, both these guys are coming in with a blank slate as far as I'm concerned. I don't have history with either one of these guys so I'm just excited to see what these guys are all about and, you know, watch them work and see how they compete, just kinda learn along the way.
Q. You indicated that this is the place you wanted to be. Did you grow up following Notre Dame? Did you take any other visits here beforehand? Do you have any kind of history, or your family?
MATT LaFLEUR: I think everybody across the country knows about Notre Dame and especially growing up in Michigan, you know, it's a couple hours from where I was raised in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, so that's about three hours away from here. The history, the tradition, the passion that all the people associated with Notre Dame football, it's unlike anyplace in the country in my opinion. I've got to questions, I kinda grew up cheering for that Maize and Blue people up north but I've converted people already to Notre Dame fans.
Q. Is this the first time you've actually been on campus?
MATT LaFLEUR: It is, and it doesn't take long to?? just the aura of this campus and you're walking through these halls and you see the statutes of Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen, and you see the seven Heisman Trophy statues out there, and you can tell it's a special place.
Q. What was your experience in the two years that you coached with Coach Kelly at Central Michigan? What were the foundations and other aspects you learned during that time, because you completed against him as a player.
COACH KELLY: He was a mentor to me obviously just getting started in the profession and just the expectations that are set for each and every player. He has a unique ability of getting the most out of his team, whether they're the most talented team or not, and I've always admired that about him.
I'm exited to get another opportunity to work for him and see and try to understand how he goes about that and how he is able to maximize the abilities of all his players.
MIKE DENBROCK: I will say that Matt, going through the recruiting process as a student athlete, I believe he had Notre Dame in his top three along with Saginaw and?? right?
MATT LaFLEUR: Right.
MIKE DENBROCK: Hillsdale, so that was good!
Q. Matt, have you had a chance to meet with Malik and Everett yet, and what were your first impressions seeing them on film or talking with them?
MATT LaFLEUR: More or less I have had a chance to chat with them and obviously I was able to watch Everett from afar two years ago, but both great kids, got a big smile on their face, I can tell they're as excited as I am.
Q. Brian talked earlier about wanting the quarterback to be a playmaker going forward and get outside the pocket. From working with Robert Griffin in the past, what have you learned about a player like that and how do you coach what seems to be a natural instinct in a player like that?
MATT LaFLEUR: It's a fine line because as a coach, especially with the quarterback position everything is based on timing and rhythm. There is a fine line that you can't be too strict in your teachings to take that playmaker ability out of that quarterback.
Q. Mike, from a receivers coach perspective, your impressions of Malik Zaire and maybe the feedback you got from the receivers over the course of the season with regard to working with Malik?
MIKE DENBROCK: The receivers in particular feel very comfortable with Malik, not only as his work ethic and the way he goes about his business, which is a good thing for any football player to emulate, but they respect his ability to throw the football down the field.
Like all of us, we all understand we've got things we need to get better at, and I think what they respect the most about Malik is that he understands his strengths and weaknesses as good as anybody and say not afraid to dig in and make sure those weaknesses become strengths. And the receivers I hope have the same attitude about their own game.
Q. Matt, I asked a question of Brian VanGorder, coming from the NFL doesn't guarantee that you know more than anybody else per se, but what advantages, what assets, having been on that level and coaching at that level does that give you coming to Notre Dame?
MATT LaFLEUR: I just think when your job is 24 hours a day, all football, you're not out the month of Mayrecruiting it's all football all the time and you really talk about a lot of things, and it really opened up my brain to new ideas and just, you know, football, 100%?? all your attention is devoted to football.
Q. What do you have to learn when it comes to recruiting, especially recruiting for a place like Notre Dame?
MATT LaFLEUR: It definitely helps when you walk into a school with that "ND" on your chest. Those kids, you can see their eyes light up right away, but I've been out this last week in California. It was pretty nice out there; the weather was?? it was nice and warm! To be honest with you, it's just about developing the relationships with those kids and putting in the effort. Obviously that's our blood line, so we have got to go out and find the best players available and there is no doubt that you can do that at a place like Notre Dame.
Q. Mike, what did you take from holding the OC position on an interim basis during that period?
MIKE DENBROCK: I think more than anything how important it is to take input from the other staff members, make sure there is a consensus in the offensive staff room number one about where we're going and what we're doing. There are a lot of talented football coaches in the offensive staff room and their opinion is important to me and building a consensus within the room first and then making sure that Coach Kelly in particular who is going to be the play caller has a menu of things that he feels comfortable with that looks and plays and conducts itself the way he expects a Notre Dame offense to do.
Making his job as easy as possible as I can on Saturday afternoons, or Saturday at noon as the Pinstripe Bowl goes.