Kelly changing Irish's atmosphere

Updated: March 23, 2010, 6:47 PM ET
Associated Press

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly recently tried to send a message to his new players about what it takes to be successful by having them show up at 5 a.m. for winter workouts on a field still surrounded by snowbanks.

"We're creating, really, an atmosphere that's a little bit different," he said Tuesday after speaking to nearly 500 people at a College Football Hall of Fame luncheon.

Kelly said the workouts showed the coaches and players there's a lot of work to be done if Notre Dame is to end the longest championship drought in the school's history. Notre Dame last won a title in 1988, before many of the current players were born.

The Irish players know the workouts have shown they need to be more disciplined and pay more attention to detail, Kelly said.

"You have to work for it. It hasn't worked out so well the last three years. You're 15-21. You are who you are," he said. "If you want to be a championship football team you have to be able to pay attention to detail. Our guys are starting to understand that."

Some of the former Notre Dame players working out for NFL scouts during the school's pro day on Tuesday said they have heard good things about the workouts under the new coaching staff.

"They seem excited," center Eric Olsen said. "They seem like they're really buying into the strength program in the offseason and they're excited about what coach Kelly has done in the past and the success he's had. They hope that he brings it here."

Olsen laughed talking about some of his former teammates spending the 5 a.m. workouts "standing over trash cans."

Offensive tackle Sam Young said the linemen have been talking about how their body fat is down. "Guys are buying in. I think at this early stage to be able to do that is phenomenal," Young said.

Wide receiver Golden Tate, who hopes to be a first-round draft pick, said his former teammates have been telling him the workouts are a lot "different."

"I asked them if it's a good different or a bad different. They say, 'Neither, it's just different,'" Tate said.

Kelly said he was encouraged by the team's desire to win and work as the team prepares to start spring practices on Friday.

"We did not lose one guy in this football program, where in the last three programs we had mass exodus. So this group understands how important it is to jump on board," he said.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen attended the pro day, but did not participate because he is still recovering from surgery on torn ligaments in his right foot. He played most of last season thinking he had turf toe. Clausen said Monday was the first day he was able to jog since undergoing the surgery in early January.

He was the last person to leave the facility after talking to representatives of the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers. He also attended the NFL combine. Clausen said NFL teams have been asking him questions ranging from why he chose to attend Notre Dame to what type of tree he would be, if he had to choose.

"Just to try to get a feel for you as a person," he said.

He said his agent has set up some meetings with NFL teams. The first is with the Buffalo Bills, but Clausen doesn't know what others have been scheduled.

Clausen, who said he's gained about 17 pounds of muscle since the end of the season, said he plans to throw for pro teams at Notre Dame on April 9.

"My arm feels great, better than it's ever felt," he said. "The ball is coming out pretty good."

Kelly did not attend the pro day events.

Kelly did follow up on athletic director Jack Swarbrick's recent comments about Notre Dame's desire to remain independent in football despite concerns that sweeping changes in conferences could change that. Kelly said he prefers the independent status.

"You love the independence status as it relates to football, being able to play on the West Coast and the East Coast and not have to play at those same destination stops. I think it's great for everybody, and our fan base goes coast to coast," he said. "If we can continue to do that, that would be a preference. But again, I'm a realist. We're going to do what's right for the University of Notre Dame."

Notes

Three players will be at different positions when practice begins. Theo Riddick, who was fourth on the team in rushing last season, will move from tailback to slot receiver. Lane Clelland will move from offensive tackle to defensive end. Steve Paskorz will move back to linebacker after moving to fullback last season.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press