Brian Kelly sensed his players were feeling uptight as they entered Notre Dame Stadium on Friday night for a practice session. So Kelly had a message for them.
"I told them to stop thinking about being Notre Dame football players and just play the game," Kelly said. "Just go play."
It's advice the first-year head coach also follows. Kelly said he couldn't come to work every day thinking that he's the Notre Dame football coach or he'd get overwhelmed. So he just focuses on the process and the preparation, and that's what he wants his players to do.
Several freshmen or first-year players will be hitting the field for the first time on Saturday against Purdue, and they'll all be nervous just like their coach. For a little while.
"I'll be excited running out and being on the field for the first time," Kelly said. "But that will go away, just like it goes away for a player when you get that first hit. It goes away when you make that first play call. Especially if they boo you. That gets your attention right away."
Of course, Kelly hopes the home crowd doesn't have to voice too much displeasure. Opening his tenure with a win is obviously the best-case scenario for all involved.
"There's no question that if you win everybody is feeling pretty good about things," Kelly said. "But I'm about concerned about if we have a loss or a hiccup during the season that those guys are going to go, 'This guy doesn't know what he's doing.'"
Kelly's credibility, he says, comes from the trust and relationship he's built with the players. Their confidence should come from the way they've prepared, which Kelly says is as well as anyone in the country. Just don't expect any "Win one for the Gipper" pre-game orations.
"I'm not going to be giving any big rah-rah speeches," Kelly said. "I just don't do that. Most of my work comes during the week."
Some other quick notes from Kelly's first game-week Irish news conference:
Tommy Rees is listed as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, but only because Kelly said he couldn't list a 2a and a 2b. Rees and Montana are still locked in a competition which could last throughout the season. Montana, by the way, has been put on scholarship.
Starting quarterback Dayne Crist won't feel his first hit since last year's knee injury until Saturday. "We did not have the luxury to bang him around," Kelly said.
Linebacker Steve Paskorz is out at least three weeks with a leg injury, while David Posluszny is doubtful for Saturday with a hamstring issue. In better linebacker injury news, Anthony McDonald is recovering from a leg injury and may play Saturday.
Braxston Cave won the center job thanks in large part to an injury that limited Dan Wenger this fall camp. But Kelly said Wenger and Chris Watt will play a lot on the offensive line even if they do not start.