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SOUTH BEND, IND. (AP) - After two seasons as Notre Dame coach, Brian Kelly decided he wasn’t spending enough time doing the best part of his job: coaching players.
Kelly changed that in 2012, and he shuffled his staff. Then, with Kelly more in tune to his team and the assistants in sync with the head coach, Notre Dame went from unranked to top-ranked.
For leading the Fighting Irish to the BCS championship for the first time, Kelly was voted Associated Press college football coach of the year.
“When you’re talking about the coach of the year, there’s so many things that go into it,” Kelly said. “I know it’s an individual award and it goes to one guy, but the feelings that I get from it is you’re building the right staff, that you’ve got the right players and to me that is a validation of the program. That you put together the right business plan.”
Kelly received 25 votes from the AP college football poll panel. Penn State’s Bill O’Brien was second with 14 votes. 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 is the first Notre Dame coach to win the AP award, which started in 1998.
Of course, the Irish haven’t played for a national championship since 1988 and spent much of the past two decades trying to find a coach who could restore a program that was becoming a relic of its proud past.
It turns out Kelly was the answer.
He arrived in 2010 after two decades spent climbing the coaching ladder and winning big everywhere he worked. But in the world of college football, Notre Dame is a long way from Grand Valley State _ where Kelly won Division II national titles _ and Cincinnati, his previous stop, for that matter.
“I think the job tends to distract you,” Kelly said earlier this week. “There are a lot of things that pull you away from the primary reason why you want to be head coach of Notre Dame, and that is graduate your players and play for a national championship.
“Now, to do that you have to have the pulse of your football team and you’ve got to have relationships with your players. If you’re already going around the country doing other things other than working with your football team, it’s hard to have the pulse of your team.”
Kelly said he made a point of spending more time with the team this year.
“That’s why I got into this. I want to develop 18 to 21 year olds. 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. 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.”
The first step, though, toward a successful 2012 season for Notre Dame can be traced to Feb. 10. On that day Kelly announced his coaching staff. The most notable change was moving Chuck Martin from defensive backs coach to offensive coordinator to fill the hole left when Charley Molnar became the coach of Massachusetts.
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