Brian Kelly had some signature moments as the head coach at Notre Dame in 2012. Road wins over Top 10 teams Oklahoma and Michigan State. The win over USC to cap off an undefeated regular season. The epic goal line stand against Stanford. This past weekend’s victory, correction shut out, of Michigan, however is the greatest example of the influence he’s had as the head coach at the University of Notre Dame.
The environment inside Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday night was electric and part of the reason for the electricity were changes to the game day atmosphere that have started at Notre Dame under the watch of Brian Kelly.
For starters, the game was played in prime time. Before Kelly took over the program it had been more than 20 years since Notre Dame had seen a night game. In the five seasons that Kelly’s been in command of the Fighting Irish, they’ve now played four games under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium. Night games weren’t only Kelly’s doing but they did happen on his watch.
As the Irish lined up inside the tunnel ready to run out onto the field, a series of smoke machines fired up and created a tunnel of smoke for the Irish to run through as they entered the stadium. Eyes probably rolled by some but the majority of the crowd and the team loved it. Too many times in the past we’ve seen Notre Dame teams walk through the tunnel about as fired up as most of us are on the way to work on Mondays. Some will argue the players shouldn’t need smoke machines to get fired up, but if it helps any and the players – you know the ones playing the games – like it, then why not do it?
When Notre Dame took to the field, they ran onto the brand new FieldTurf at Notre Dame Stadium. Again, while there were a lot of people who had to sign on for the FieldTurf to replace the natural playing surface that had existed in Notre Dame Stadium since it was built, Kelly made it no secret that he pushed for the switch. He has not been shy to talk about how happy he is with it since it’s been installed either.
During the game, music blared over the speakers in the stadium too. Just another addition to the game day environment that has come since Brian Kelly’s arrival at Notre Dame.
Were all of these things the reason Notre Dame stomped Michigan to the tune of 31-0 this past weekend? Nope. Did they all help play a role in creating an electric atmosphere that has been largely missing from inside the House that Rockne built for about 25 years or so outside a few epic games? Definitely.
Like these changes or not – and I’m sure there’s a select group that don’t at all – they all exemplify the influence that Brian Kelly has had on the Notre Dame program. And these are just the game day changes he’s made. Let’s not forget that before Kelly arrived, Notre Dame didn’t even have a training table for its athletes.
Brian Kelly has placed his stamp on the Notre Dame program unlike any of his immediate predecessors have. Charlie Weis had a couple of traditions he’s started – some of which have stuck – but Weis never really did anything to try and change the game day atmosphere. Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie? Name me something either did to place their stamp on Notre Dame and I’ll be impressed.
You have to go back to Lou Holtz to find a coach who was able to both embrace everything that makes Notre Dame special while also placing his own stamp on the program. The Play Like a Champion Today sign has become such a tradition that people tend to forget it was Holtz who had the sign painted and hung up at the bottom of the stairs for the players to touch on their way to the field and that it hasn’t just always been there.
Smoke machines, music during games, and FieldTurf might not quite be at the Play Like A Champion Today level of tradition or significance, but no one can argue that Kelly isn’t leaving a last mark on the program. His teams are leaving their mark on the field too. Kelly coached teams are 23-5 over the last 28 games played for Notre Dame. If they keep winning at that rate, Kelly will continue to be able put his stamp on the program off the field.