We’ve already dissected how the University of Notre Dame football program could be at an advantage on the field this coming fall because of the benefits of limited staff turnover.
Principle #9 from The Toyota Way (“Grow leaders who thoroughly understand the work, live the philosophy, and teach it to others.”) applies to the Irish program because Kelly has carried many coaches from his previous staffs at Grand Valley State University, Central Michigan University, and the University of Cincinnati to Notre Dame, and he and his staffs have accomplished significant on-field success at each of his stops.
By not suffering from staff defections and new hires Kelly has not had to handle as much training and integration of new staff members to his coaching philosophies and style. Kelly has been fortunate to limit staff turnover, and as a result the constancy and consistency of his programs’ culture and priorities have not been turned over either. Fewer new faces means less time needed to train up and shorter learning curves, and also means staff cohesiveness is higher.
But what about the players? That’s where the rubber meets the road! If you recall, Principle #10 from The Toyota Way states:
Develop exceptional people and teams who follow your company’s philosophy.
Coach Kelly has a philosophy for his program and with limited staff defections over the years he maintains the constancy of that philosophy. Now he and his staff must bring in recruits that will buy into that program philosophy and also align with rigorous physical, mental, and high character expectations.
Kelly’s recruiting philosophy is referred to as finding “RKG” – the Right Kind of Guy. This means that any player that Kelly recruits will not only fall within physical specifications for their projected role on the team (role buckets known as “Skill” and “Big Skill” and “Power”) but also have the character, mental, and emotional merits of an individual who would succeed as a student at the University as well.
The University of Notre Dame has different expectations of their student athletes than other schools but also provides different benefits. As a result of higher standards and expectations, Notre Dame can only recruit from a smaller subset of the pool of potential recruits. Being courted by Notre Dame means you meet the characteristics of an individual who can succeed as both a student and an athlete there.
It’s pretty obvious that the mental and character traits of a potential student-athlete are rigorously evaluated but for Kelly’s program the physical attributes are very stringent as well. Here’s an excerpt from an article on Inside the Irish by Keith Arnold:
After watching the Irish flip-flop defensive identities throughout the (former coach Charlie) Weis years, and put together a roster filled with tweeners and mismatched parts, Kelly has defined a prototype for what he’s looking for at position groupings, regardless of whether or not a recruit garners four-stars from a recruiting service.
Looking for a perfect example? Take Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden. While he was good enough to earn offers from the Wolverines and Penn State while garnering a Top 250 ranking by Rivals, the Irish coaching staff was shockingly candid when they turned down the 6-foot-3, 230-pound outside linebacker for being too small.
“Notre Dame told me they wanted a 6-foot-4 linebacker and that I am not their guy,” Bolden told the Detroit News. “I’m not upset if I don’t fit your profile, I was just surprised about height, because I have always believed that it’s not the size of the dog, but it’s the dog’s bite.”
This is the new Irish recruiting philosophy. Coach Kelly only wants players that meet the outlined characteristics for his program. While the pool of potential recruits is considerably smaller, Kelly has still continued to sign players to the program that are highly-rated by the scouting services and put together highly-ranked classes.
After two 8-5 seasons at the helm of the program, it remains to be seen whether Kelly’s recruiting philosophy will pay dividends on the field.
It’s highly unlikely that Brian Kelly is a genuine lean thinker or has even read The Toyota Way (especially after the purple-faced sideline tirade indicated by Mark Graban – there are better ways to motivate your players!) so it’s likely coincidental, but the fact that his philosophies and activities align with two principles of The Toyota Way bodes well for the future of the program.