Kelly's growth leads Notre Dame down championship path

966433.png

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."

White Sox officially announce signing of Luis Robert

White Sox officially announce signing of Luis Robert

The worst kept secret is finally out of the bag.

The White Sox officially announced the signing of free agent Cuban outfielder Luis Robert to a minor-league contract, which includes a $26-million signing bonus.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

“We are excited to add Luis — another young, extremely talented and impactful prospect — to the White Sox organization,” White Sox senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn said. “Luis has the potential to be a dynamic, five-tool player at the major-league level, and we look forward to watching him develop in our system over coming seasons. Luis will immediately be viewed as one of the top prospects in baseball, and his signing adds to the growing depth of quality young players within our organization.”

The 19-year-old Robert played in 210 career games (including postseason) with Ciego de Ávila in the Cuban Serie Nacional and had a .315/.402/.467 slash line with 20 home runs, 92 RBI and 29 stolen bases.

Robert slides into the No. 2 spot on the White Sox Top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.

Blackhawks sign defenseman Michal Kempny to extension

Blackhawks sign defenseman Michal Kempny to extension

Michal Kempny was in and out of the Blackhawks lineup last season but he’ll likely get a bigger opportunity this coming season. On Saturday, he was assured of coming back to get that chance.

Kempny and the Blackhawks agreed to a one-year extension, the team announced on Saturday morning.

“Michal’s style of play is an asset to our defense,” general manager Stan Bowman said in a statement. “He is the type of player who will continue to improve now that he has transitioned to the National Hockey League. We look forward to his continued development on the ice for the Blackhawks.”

Kempny was part of a very crowded blue line last season — he was one of eight defensemen at the start of it — and played 50 regular-season games. He recorded two goals and six assists in those contests but did not play in the Blackhawks’ four postseason contests. With Johnny Oduya and Brian Campbell likely not returning, however, Kempny should get a bigger opportunity this season.

The 26-year-old Kempny also had two goals and an assist in eight games for the Czech Republic team at the 2017 World Championship.