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HUTTON: Muted expectations make Kelly a winner already

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly addresses mediduring news conference NCAA college football mediday Thursday Aug. 22 2013 South Bend Ind.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly addresses the media during a news conference at NCAA college football media day Thursday Aug. 22, 2013, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Joe Raymond) ORG XMIT: INJR108

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Updated: September 29, 2013 6:28AM



The more I look at Brian Kelly, the more I see Brad Stevens.

Jump to the NFL sooner rather than later Mr. Kelly. If it doesn’t work out you’ll have your pick of quality college jobs when the time comes. Who could blame the slick, overly confident coaching martyr for wanting to better his situation?

Kelly is a natural networker, a corporate, coaching climber who knows how to work a room, like a politician stumping for votes on the campaign trail and manage a football team.

Remember, Irish fans, the last most, beloved Notre Dame coach, Lou Holtz, bounced around from Arkansas to Minnesota to the Jets before landing at Notre Dame and leaving (or getting pushed), eventually for South Carolina. There is nothing wrong with plying your trade, wherever you can find work.

Notre Dame just isn’t the job it used to be, though Kelly certainly has made it better than what it was after getting to the BCS title game last year.

Kelly certainly set the table for a potential exit when he danced with the Eagles while Notre Dame was playing for the national championship. He irritated some people because of his wandering eye, but now everyone knows where he stands.

Alas, though, this column isn’t about Kelly’s next job. It’s about his current one and about how, frankly, this Irish team fits the mold for a perfect exit for greater things for Kelly.

They will play with essentially a backup quarterback, Tommy Rees, who it seems like he should’ve graduated a few years ago.

Can you remember the last time Notre Dame didn’t have any NFL prospect at tight end? Their last three have been Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson — all playing professionally. That’s not to say that Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack couldn’t be one of those NFL guys, but they are both a long way from being called productive pass catchers and blockers, let alone NFL prospects.

The running back situation is murky at best, with Amir Carlisle, a USC transfer and George Atkinson, a junior with plenty of potential, leading the pack. Neither is that seasoned.

They have plenty of depth at wide receiver but no one that leaps at you, like say, Michael Floyd. Darvis Daniels? Could be a breakout year for him. We’ll see. TJ Jones? He made the Biletnikoff watch list but he also was on it in 2011 and 2012. He’s solid but not a pass catcher that demands a double team.

The strength of this team is its offensive line and its defense.

Stephon Tuitt is a potential first rounder at defensive end and Louis Nix III is one of the best nose guards in the country. Prince Shembo is a dynamic outside linebacker and freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith is so good that he’ll make an impact this season for the Irish.

Notre Dame, under any light, doesn’t have the look or feel of a great team. Certainly not one, like last year (which wasn’t great) that finished the regular season 12-0.

Unless there has been some dramatic shift in his arm and mobility, the best Kelly can ask from Rees is to manage the game.

The Irish defense has always buttered the bread for Kelly since he started in 2010, one of the great ironies of his tenure, since he was hailed as an offensive genius.

The fact that expectations are already dampened with this team after Notre Dame made the national title game last season serves Kelly well.

He has done some of his best work at Central Michigan and Cincinnati when no one expected too much.

He can preach the next-man-in theme more effectively and with more credibility than any coach in the country. No one stays on message better than the ultra-disciplined Kelly.

And if this team does finish 9-4, no one will be too disappointed. That just means that next year both Everett Gholson and Kelly will return for sure.



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