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Kelly follows unusual path to lead Irish to No. 1

Kelly follows unusual path to lead Irish to No. 1

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Brian Kelly appears to be the coach with all the right answers.

Nearly every decision he's made this season has seemed to work out, from picking Everett Golson as starting quarterback to having Tommy Rees replace him at key times. Kelly has led Notre Dame from unranked to the brink of what could be one of the best chapters in the storied program's history as the top-ranked Irish (11-0) prepare to face Southern California (7-4) on Saturday.

Those who know Kelly say that all he has been through during his coaching career has led him to this moment. Kelly took an unusual path to Notre Dame.

He played football at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., when it was a club sport, and planned a life in politics. But his love of football was too great.

So he took a steep pay cut to become a graduate assistant. That set him on the road to becoming the head coach who may be on the verge of proving himself a worthy successor to Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz.

``I'm not surprised at all by what he's done,'' said Curt Anes, who played quarterback for Kelly when Grand Valley State won the Division II national championship in 2002. ``It's the nature of who he is. He's such a leader. He's tenacious in what he does. He's just really doggone good at it.''

Kelly always dreamed big. He remembers applying for a graduate assistant job at Southern Connecticut State and being asked during the interview where he saw himself in five years. He said he wanted to be a head coach.

``They obviously thought, `This kid just doesn't get it,''' Kelly said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Kelly started coaching on a part-time basis a few years earlier. He was the defensive coordinator/linebackers coach at Assumption while working as an aide to a Massachusetts state senator and for Gary Hart's presidential campaign in 1984. He was earning more than $25,000 a year, but missed football.

Former teammate Dave Conroy describes Kelly as ``Assumption's Manti Te'o,'' saying as a player Kelly was the vocal leader who pushed those around him to be better. He remembers Kelly, a two-time captain, exhorting his teammates not to give up in the second half of the final game of the season in a 43-2 loss to Worcester State.

``He's in the huddle. He had eye black on. He has tears streaming down his face, and he's screaming at us, `Play with pride! Play with pride! Don't stop!''' Conroy said.

Kelly, who set a then school record with 314 career tackles, loved football so much he worked the midnight to 8 a.m. shift on campus security so his job wouldn't interfere with practice. It was that passion that led him to quit his job in politics and accept the graduate assistant's job at Grand Valley State, where he was paid $460 every two weeks.

Kelly got some breaks along the way. After two years as a Grand Valley graduate assistant, the defensive coordinator left and he was offered the job. Kelly became head coach in 1991 after Tom Beck was hired by Holtz as an assistant at Notre Dame.

``If there's a chapter to the start of my career, it's when I was presented with an opportunity, I took advantage of it,'' Kelly said.

Kelly was doing well at Grand Valley State, regularly winning eight or nine games, but thought he needed something to push the Lakers to the national level. He heard about the spread offense Louisiana Tech was running and went down there to learn it.

``I stole some of their spread ideas and then I implemented within our system and communication. That got me to start to spread the field. Then it just became addition, deletion. This works, this doesn't work,'' he said.

In 2001, the Lakers advanced to the Division II title game, leading the nation in scoring and total offense. Grand Valley State won the next two national championships. It was that offense the propelled Kelly to success at Central Michigan and Cincinnati as well.

Kelly said people used to ask him why he stayed at Grand Valley State so long.

``I was trying to figure it out. I didn't have all the answers,'' he said. ``Even as the head coach I was taking the lowest-paying jobs at camps just to learn more about the game.''

Working at a small school forced Kelly to learn every aspect of the program, right down to overseeing the team's laundry program.

``So I had to learn how to organize special teams. I had to understand how to take on a blitz patterns. I had to draw the cards that graduate assistants show,'' he said.

Michigan Tech coach Tom Kearly knows him from the days when Kelly was at Grand Valley State and Kearly was offensive coordinator at Central Michigan and they'd trade ideas. Kearly believes what makes Kelly a good coach is he is always asking questions.

``He was always the guy to ask the question to provoke himself to get to the next step, to keep going to not ever get stagnant,'' Kearly said.

When Kelly got to Notre Dame, he thought he needed to focus more on the defensive side.

``Having lived in that world of trying to outscore opponents, I felt that the best blueprint that we could put together for a national championship was through our defense,'' he said.

The Irish are sixth in the nation in total defense, giving up 288 yards a game, and first in scoring defense at 10.09 as they seek to win their first national championship since 1988.

Kelly is confident the Irish are ready for prolonged excellence.

``I think the one word I've used is consistency in approach,'' he said. ``If there's a consistency every single day where you come and have the same expectations, then you can build it for a long period of time.''

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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.

Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers

Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby. Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.

2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1. It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.   

3-Braden Holtby, Capitals

Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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Wizards take out Cavs on road to continue impressive run after All-Star break

Wizards take out Cavs on road to continue impressive run after All-Star break

The Washington Wizards beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-103 on Thursday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Wizards keep it rolling: Even a week off for the All-Star break couldn't slow the Wizards' roll. 

Though they started a bit slow in the first quarter, the Wizards picked up right where they left off with an impressive win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team many feel improved significantly at the trade deadline.

The Cavs have some newfound confidence, but the result on Thursday was another notch on the Wizards' belt. They moved to 8-2 since John Wall got injured and to 34-24 on the season overall, 10 games above .500 for the first time in 2017-18.

Beating the Cavs was a great sign for the Wizards who are just beginning an extremely difficult part of their schedule. Of their next 16 games, 14 will be against teams currently slated to be in the playoffs. A win at Cleveland bodes well with matchups against the Warriors, Celtics and Raptors on the horizon.

Since Wall got injured, the Wizards have taken out the Cavs, Thunder and Raptors. They keep proving they can compete with anyone even without their All-Star point guard.

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Satoransky continues to thrive: More and more teams are learning what Tomas Satoransky is capable of. The second-year pro had another gem of a game with 17 points (6-for-7 FG), eight assists, four rebounds, two steals and zero turnovers.

The Cavs added a lot of athleticism to their backcourt at the trade deadline, but it was nothing to Satoransky. He even made easy work of George Hill, an experienced and physical perimeter defender.

Satoransky also proved a much more even match for Jordan Clarkson, who was giving Tim Frazier fits before the Wizards went away from him in favor of Satoransky and Bradley Beal (18 points, nine assists) running point.

Satoransky and Beal helped lead another well-rounded effort for the Wizards offensively. They had 29 assists and five guys reached double figures. 

When Wall comes back, Satoransky will slide back to the bench as the primary backup point guard. He will still be part of the rotation, but games like this beg the question of whether his role should expand into something larger.

Given Wall plays so much, it will require Satoransky to start producing as a backup shooting guard or small forward. There are reasons to believe he's ready for those responsibilities. He can spread the floor with a consistent three-point shot and has made some nice plays off the ball in the fastbreak. He doesn't need to be the primary ball-handler to produce on offense, he just needs to gain some confidence in doing it.

Oubre was much better: The last few weeks leading up to the All-Star break were tough for Kelly Oubre, Jr. In his last 11 games entering Thursday night, Oubre was averaging just 9.4 points while shooting 31.2 percent. He was looking for a breakthrough and he got one against the Cavs.

After beginning the game 2-for-6 from the field, Oubre got hot in the second quarter and had 12 points by halftime. He went scoreless in the third quarter, but hits some big shots in the fourth to end up with 17 points. He also had five rebounds, two assists and a steal.

Oubre's second quarter surge helped turn the game around. The Wizards had trailed by as much as 11 points and were shooting just 37 percent at the end of the first quarter. Oubre hit a pair of threes in the second including one to give the Wizards a lead with just over two minutes to go in the half.

Oubre has been contributing in ways other than scoring lately, but the Wizards can certainly use more from him on offense. The Wizards' bench can be limited offensively and everything opens up when his three is falling consistently.

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New-look Cavs: The Wizards took some shine off what many have praised as a rejuvenated Cavaliers team following the trade deadline. Cleveland overhauled their roster and had won three games since. But the Wizards stopped that streak and did so by holding a lot of the Cavs' players in check.

LeBron James had a big night per usual with 32 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and two steals. But many others were stymied including Hill (six points, 2-for-10 FG), Rodney Hood (eight points), Clarkson (nine points), Larry Nance, Jr. (six points) and Jeff Green (five points), who happens to have hurt the Wizards on numerous occasions recently.

How the Wizards would match up with the revamped Cavs was particularly interesting because the old Cleveland crew beat the Wizards twice earlier this season. Of all the teams in the East, the Wizards seemed to match up worse with the Cavs than anyone. It was only one game, but the Wizards looked much better against this version of the Cavs than they did against the previous group.

Up next: The Wizards return home to play the second game of a back-to-back. They host the Charlotte Hornets with a 7 p.m. tipoff on NBC Sports Washington.

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