Brian Kelly refers to Alabama as the model in college football. Naturally, the Notre Dame coach hopes his program can match that success. And Kelly certainly would like to follow the path of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.
Saban won a national title at Alabama in his third season; Kelly is in his third season at Notre Dame. The teams will meet in Miami for the BCS championship Jan. 7, giving Kelly the opportunity to duplicate Saban's feat.
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"I had an evaluation in my contract after the third year, so I figured we needed to get it done in three years," Kelly joked about the rapid resurgence of the Fighting Irish. "I think it's a process that you undertake and you don't normally have a destination date. We had a blueprint of what we felt was going to be successful at Notre Dame and we just went to work and this is the culmination of three years of doing that job."
Kelly and Saban were at the NASDAQ MarketSite in Times Square Wednesday for the national championship game introductory news conference. The mutual respect was evident as the coaches sat side by side.
"To see the kind of improvement that they have made, first year, second year, now third year, and culminating that with an undefeated season -- but it's also the way they play," Saban said. "They have good players, but a lot of people have good players. But the way they compete and the relentless sort of competitive attitude they have, I think that's what I admire most."
When asked what about the Crimson Tide will keep him awake at night during the next month of preparation, Kelly cracked, "Everything about them." Alabama is a talented and athletic group, but Kelly singled out the discipline that stems from Saban.
"As coaches, we always look for those opportunities where there's a weakness somewhere," Kelly said. "With this Alabama football team, the way it's coached and the way it's constructed, they are not going to beat themselves. You're going to have to beat them and that's an uphill challenge."
That description is one Kelly hopes will apply to Notre Dame.
"The way we wanted to construct this football team is that if we got to a national championship, you're going to have to play physical football," Kelly said. "There's no tricks. There's no gimmicks. It's going to be basic fundamental football when you get to this level. I think it was just a maturation and a development of our football team to get bigger, stronger, faster, and then have a will. That's been the process for us at Notre Dame."