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SOUTH BEND – In this world there are doers and there are dreamers. USC football coach Lane Kiffin falls under one category and his counterpart at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly, under the other.
Kelly made his task for the 2012 season crystal clear during his opening news conference at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on Friday.
“Anytime that you play a game that it’s worth keeping score, it’s something that you want to win,” Kelly explained. “Success for us is winning in everything that we do, on the field, off of the field.”
That’s nice rhetoric, however, the problem with the Fighting Irish is that too often over the past two decades, they have spoken at length about winning, but they just haven’t actually done so.
Even Kelly acknowledged that on Friday.
“We have (enthusiasm),” Kelly said. “We’re excited about (this season). But I think that it is better if we save that talk for action, and that is what this year is about. It’s about doing it, not talking about it. That will probably be the theme as we move forward.”
“Doing it, not talking about it” are very interesting words for Kelly to have chosen, because as recently as last week, his philosophy – and that of Kiffin’s - in regard to the recruitment of Penn State players demonstrated just the opposite.
In the wake of the NCAA rewarding every Nittany Lion player with the college-version of free agency, masses of college coaches descended into ‘Happy Valley’ in search of talent. Those that didn’t visit the Penn State players literally, did so by reaching out to family members and high school coaches, which is what Kiffin elected to do. Kelly, by his own admission Friday, did nothing.
“We treated it as if those players were committed to Penn State,” Kelly said. “We kind of used the recruiting scenario, if you will. The only way that we would be involved was if they would decommit.”
That is a virtuous philosophy, however, that is exactly why Kiffin got the best Nittany Lion available, and in the bigger picture, why the Trojans have dominated Notre Dame over the past 10 seasons (winning nine times by an average of 21 points).
Kiffin is a doer, not a dreamer.
Third-ranked USC isn’t weak in many areas, with the exception of running back. By coincidence, the most valuable commodity that Penn State had was running back Silas Redd.
Kiffin told ESPN recently that even before the NCAA ruled, he and his coaching staff gathered in anticipation of the ruling, and made preparation for the recruitment of Redd.
Kiffin is a doer, not a dreamer.
“I picked up the phone, in true SC fashion and called one of our great donors Ted Jones,” Kiffin explained. “So he sent his big ole Mercedes jet, which was in Vegas to pick us up in LA.”
Within hours, Kiffin, and as many of his assistants as he could gather on a moment’s notice (six coaches in all), were in Redd’s Connecticut home making what would ultimately be a successful sales pitch.
Kiffin is a doer… yeah, yeah, you get the point.
Now Notre Dame needs another running back like I need less hair, so adding Redd to the Irish roster would not have made much sense. However, Penn State has won 28 games over the past three seasons, so it would be surprising to discover that the Irish had no need of anyone (for arguments sake, a cornerback or wide receiver) off of the Nittany Lions’ roster.
Kelly certainly knows his program better than I do, so perhaps there were no players (though I seriously doubt it) that could have aided the Irish. But the aggressiveness shown by the Trojans epitomizes why they are capable of competing for championships even while hindered by scholarship limitations, and Notre Dame is trying to sell the notion of Heisman Trophies and national titles to kids that have never been alive when those things were achieved in South Bend.
Kiffin was drug through the mud by the national media as some type of sleaze ball for his aggressive tactics, but the truth of the matter is, he was simply doing – within the scope of the NCAA rules – what it took to be successful on the field. If Kelly would have done the same thing, Notre Dame fans would have heralded him as a recruiter extraordinaire. But he didn’t.
“If they publicly said that they were looking to transfer,” Kelly said. “Then we would have taken it to the next step. It never got to that point.”
It may not have gotten to that point for the team that will have to fight like heck to win eight games this season, but it certainly did for the one that very well may be the best in the nation.