Brian Kelly, the pride and joy of South Bend football, visited the Notre Dame Club of Central Missouri at the Hampton Inn Suites Wednesday afternoon.
Having the coach come to Columbia was a contest the club won against other Notre Dame clubs across the country.
Its members, about 40 at the luncheon, dressed in the familiar green gold of their beloved Irish, spent a casual afternoon meeting greeting and eating with the coach of their favorite team.
The club is its sixth year of existence and its members consists of either Notre Dame alums, parents of Notre Dame students, or just Irish fans living in Columbia. President of the club, Craig Simon is a Notre Dame alumni but born and raised in Columbia so you’d think his allegiances would be complicated, but that’s not the case.
“I’m a Tiger fan… as long they’re not playing Notre Dame.”
Coach Kelly was also able to answer a few questions from the media.
Q: As an outside observer watching other programs, how do you think coach Pinkel has raised the bar here at Missouri?
A: “I think the first thing he’s done is he’s brought consistency. When you talk about elevating programs, it starts with consistency. It’s kind of what we’re going through at Notre Dame. We have to build that same consistency in our program. So coach Pinkel has done a great job there. Now it’s a time to reach for higher expectations, and I think all the Missouri fans can think in those terms because they’ve had great consistency.”
Q: As you know, Missouri is going to the SEC. Is that a good choice in your view?
A: “It’s better than going to the American League East. You know, it’s the same kind of power conference. Its great football. Obviously the national championship has run through the SEC, so if you want to reach for those high expectations that Missouri fans have, going to the SEC is a great challenge.”
Q: Has Notre Dame considered any conference realignment of its own?
A: “Oh yeah. We’re right in the middle of it. Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame athletic director) has got his fingers on the pulse of what’s going on there. And you know, there’s a lot of moving pieces, but I’m confident that we’re in good hands. Coaches around the country are all worrying about what might happen, but I feel very confident that the leadership we have is going to put us in a great position.
Q: Do you have any preference about Notre Dame going anywhere?
A: “Well I think maintaining our independence is obviously very important. Doing that is very tricky right now because of all the conference realignments and TV contracts and BCS playoffs, so I’m going to leave that up to my boss to figure out how that goes. But clearly, as the head football coach at Notre Dame, we want to try and maintain that independence.”
Q: With all the talk of BCS playoffs, how do you think they could affect Notre Dame?
A: “Well again, I think Jack is very confident there is going to be an avenue in for Notre Dame as it relates to the BCS. And as long as you’re ranked high enough, and with the schedule that we play; if you win enough games on the schedule we play, we’ll be part of that equation as well. We feel pretty good that we’ll be a part of that playoff as long as we win enough games
Q: What’s your take on Columbia, Missouri?
A: “Well first of all, we got into Columbia and the first thing I saw, driving up the street was the stadium, so as a football coach, it doesn’t get any better than that. You know, obviously what coach Pinkel has done here in building a consistent winner, and a program now that’s going to go to the SEC, you know, you can see and sense that this is a great college environment, and one I think college football is really going to benefit from.”
Q: Talk about the national prominence of Notre Dame. You come all the way out to mid-Missouri and there is a club dedicated to your school. What’s that like?
A: “It’s the great thing about Notre Dame. That across the country, from the east coast to the west coast, Topeka, Kansas to Columbia, Missouri, we have over 250 alumni clubs across the country. For me to get out and get an opportunity to get out and meet our fans and obviously talk about Notre Dame football is why I’m here today.”