FORT WAYNE — Brian Kelly added a third coach-of-the-year award Wednesday for guiding No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) to its first undefeated season since 1988 and a spot in the BCS championship game against No. 2 Alabama (12-1) on Jan. 7 in Miami.
The Associated Press voted Kelly its coach of the year with the third-year Irish coach receiving 25 votes from the AP college football poll panel.
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien was second with 14 votes, and Stanford’s David Shaw (four), Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin (three), Kansas State’s Bill Snyder (two) and Alabama’s Nick Saban (one) also received votes.
Kelly had already been named the Home Depot coach of the year and the Eddie Robinson coach of the year. He is the first Notre Dame coach to win the AP award, which was established in 1998, and he is the only coach to win the Home Depot award twice after also winning that award at Cincinnati in 2009.
Kelly credited his coaching staff and players for him being able to win postseason coaching honors.
“When you talk about pride, you talk about pride from within. In other words, all of our players know, as well as our coaches, what we had to sacrifice to get to this point,” Kelly said. “I’ve said this a number of times, what we have done this year more than anything else is our guys care about each other. I’m not going to say they hang out together every one of them and they love each other, but they really care about each other. When you care about each other you have a chance to be a good football team.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco credits Kelly for Notre Dame being able to return to the top of college football.
“Coach Kelly took over a program, which was quoted many times by people as almost irrelevant nationally,” said Diaco, who first worked for Kelly in 2005 at Central Michigan and has been with Kelly since joining Cincinnati’s staff in 2009.
“To turn that back into something that is relevant is really an awesome thing. There is now an expectation of national championships and national dominance, and that’s a really awesome thing.”
For Kelly, the best part of the season came from a change he made in his philosophy of being the coach at Notre Dame.
Kelly decided he wasn’t spending enough time with his players and worked to carve out more time to be around his team.
“My development as the head coach at Notre Dame this year has been about getting back to why you would want to coach college players,” Kelly said. “You want to learn about them; you want to know their strengths and weaknesses; you want to help them with leadership skills; you want to help them when they’re not feeling confident in their ability.
“For me, that is why it’s been the most enjoyable year as the head coach at Notre Dame, is that I got a chance to spend more time with my team.”