CULVER, Ind. — Coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame players say improved strength and conditioning was evident during the opening practice Tuesday, crediting an improved offseason program under new strength coach Matt Balis with having them prepared to bounce back from a disappointing 4-8 season.
“I didn’t see the guys wilting at all later in practice as it got a lot hotter out here,” Kelly said after the Irish opened practice at Culver Academies, 35 miles south of campus. “I thought our last period there was good effort. Guys were running around.”
Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, a team captain, said the Irish had more energy than a year ago.
“You go out here last year and you feel lethargic on your first day. You feel not as strong as you want to be and it takes a while to get that back,” he said. “I was more tired under any of the Balis workouts than I was here today. That’s definitely huge.”
After posting the first losing record in seven seasons under Kelly, and Notre Dame’s first losing mark since finishing 3-9 in 2007 under Charlie Weis, Kelly hired Balis to replace his longtime friend Paul Longo, who also had been Kelly’s strength coach at Central Michigan and Cincinnati. It was part of a massive staff shakeup for Kelly, who brought in six new assistants, including defensive coordinator Mike Elko, offensive coordinator Chip Long and special teams coordinator Brian Polian.
Kelly said he knew the Irish had “some issues” heading into last season, starting with six players being arrested in two separate incidents during a weekend off before the semester began.
“We had some things that I had done a poor job in developing our leadership and the message was not clear within the program,” Kelly said.
Kelly has tried to set a different tone during the offseason by stressing accountability, having the six team captains clean up the locker room instead of janitors. Kelly said that forced others to take on more accountability. He said he’s also more focused on the process of getting better each day rather than on production.
“I let our football team down not focusing on those very important values and that process and went right to production,” Kelly said.
The focus heading into this season is paying attention to the details. Linebacker Drue Tranquill said it comes down to taking pride in the small things..
“I saw some areas of good attention to detail and then I saw areas of bad attention to detail,” said Tranquill, pointing to some poor footwork by him as practice wore on Tuesday.