Kelly's growth leads Notre Dame down championship path

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Kelly's growth leads Notre Dame down championship path

The Associated Press named Brian Kelly its 2012 Coach of the Year Wednesday, completing a trifecta of major honors for the third-year Notre Dame coach. Kelly had already won the Home Depot Coach of the Year (ESPNABC) and Eddie Robinson Award (FWAA), earning recognition for Notre Dame's 12-0 season.

"When you're talking about the coach of the year, there's so many things that go into it," Kelly said Wednesday. "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."

That business plan involved successfully growing with a quarterback who played a grand total of zero snaps at the collegiate level before he led Notre Dame on to the field in Dublin for the team's season opener. It involved Kelly, whose rise through the ranks was built on offense, fostering one of the nation's best defenses along with right-hand man Bob Diaco.

More importantly, it involved Kelly cultivating a trust with his players that didn't necessarily exist in his first two years.

"The first couple years I had to set a bar and a standard and an operation of the way we wanted things done on a daytoday basis. Sometimes that means that you got to be hard on some guys," Kelly said last month. "This third year was a year where you knew our guys knew exactly what was expected, and it allowed me to spend more time with my players and build those relationships that are so important to having great morale."

Gone are Kelly's purple-faced outbursts directed at players and foot-in-the-mouth comments that were sprinkled across a disappointing 2011 season. Those rubbed some players the wrong way -- Manti Te'o admitted that his relationship with Kelly was a little rough in the beginning.

"It was bumpy at first, but now it's great," Te'o said after Notre Dame beat USC in November. "I'm happy to have him as my coach. He's the best coach in college football."

Kelly navigated a minefield in September, coming out of the benching, insertion, benching, insertion and benching of a popular veteran with a 4-0 record and the support of his team. Those personal relationships and trust Kelly built likely paid off during the Tommy ReesEverett Golson saga that was the season's first month.

"I think the job tends to distract you," Kelly explained Monday. "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 made an effort to do more himself instead of delegating certain messages for assistants to direct to players. He loosened up a bit, too, allowing music to blare over the loudspeakers during portions of preseason practice.

Notre Dame doesn't achieve its success without players buying what Kelly was selling. That wasn't always the case -- look no further than the Pittsburgh game, after which T.J. Jones admitted some figured they could play their 'B' game and still win -- but in a 12-0 season, any other examples are the product of picking nits.

Big picture, few coaches are able to successfully implement a system as soon as they set foot on campus. Nick Saban went 6-6 in his first year at Alabama, while Lou Holtz went 5-6 and 8-4 in his first two years in South Bend. Getting over that hump isn't easy, but Kelly did that in 2012 -- and it's resulted in a BCS Championship berth.

"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," Kelly said. "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."

About TOMBOY

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About TOMBOY

Equal opportunities and mutual respect for women and girls stand among the most hotly contested social issues in America. The divisions that exist affect the development of confidence, disturb corporate boardrooms and even disrupt presidential politics. In the testosterone-heavy sports world, the journey of the female athlete is often discouraging, and despite progress achieved during the Title IX era, gender equity in athletics has a long way to go.

In TOMBOY, CSN explores female participation in organized sports and the challenges faced at every level. From the obstacles that young girls encounter at the recreational stage, to the stereotypes, language issues and cultural disparities that follow, and ultimately the insufficient media coverage and compensation that afflicts elite professional athletes seeking full recognition for their talents.

TOMBOY presents an unadulterated account heard through the voices of many of the world’s most prominent female athletes, broadcasters and sports executives:
Ann Meyers Drysdale - basketball Hall of Famer/NBC Olympics commentator
Hilary Knight - hockey four-time World Champion/two-time Olympic silver medalist
Tobin Heath - soccer World Cup champion/two-time Olympic gold medalist
Nadine Angerer - soccer World Cup champion/2013 FIFA World Player of the Year
Angela Hucles - soccer two-time Olympic gold medalist
Monica Abbott - softball “Million Dollar Arm” pitcher/Olympic silver medalist
Miesha Tate - UFC bantamweight champion
Kim Ng - MLB Senior VP of Operations

TOMBOY is a multiplatform documentary project encompassing a one-hour television special premiering nationally on January 20, 2017. Weekly content released through CSN’s websites and social media platforms accompany a series of related podcasts and forums designed to foster public engagement and dialogue.

Quotes from TOMBOY:

“We want to have the best of both worlds. I want to be able to play with Barbies, I want to be able to play dress up, and I also want to be able to go outside and pitch a 77 mile-per-hour softball.”

- Monica Abbott, National Pro Fastpitch “Million Dollar Arm”

“When I was five years old, my grandma asked me what do you want to be when you grow up? And I told her I want to be a hockey player. She said, oh, girls don’t play hockey.”

- Hilary Knight, USA Hockey four-time World Champion

“I just seem to identify more with the male characteristics… of not limiting yourself, and doing whatever it is that makes you happy, following your heart and not segregating yourself based on your sex.”

- UFC Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate

“There’s nothing weak about being strong. Whether it’s strong arms, or strong body or strong mind – and that strong can be really sexy too. But we need to continue to change that message, because that’s not the message that I hear.”

- Former USA Soccer player and current NBC commentator Danielle Slaton

“I see hope, and I see opportunity, and it is within arm’s reach. I’m tired, but I will never rest. Women will never rest.”

- National Pro Fastpitch champion Emily Allard

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

Major League Baseball’s owners and the players’ union avoided a foolish labor war by crafting a new five-year collective bargaining agreement that should spur some action next week. As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “trying to identify those kind of starting pitchers and those kind of relief pitchers and how to match up with them. It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

That’s all-consuming. The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. 

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

The Cubs figure to add a lefty reliever, someone like Boone Logan or Jerry Blevins. The New York Post reported the Cubs were among the teams in pursuit of Brett Cecil, who got a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals, another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline. 

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.”