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Friday at 4: Trust The Process


When Irish coach Brian Kelly previewed this past spring’s 15 practices, he said it eight different times. It was one of his seeming-clichés so relied upon, this scribe poked fun via everyone’s least favorite social medium.

Following the Blue-Gold Game, Kelly said it eight times again. The day before, defensive coordinator Mike Elko used the buzzword four times.

Following the spring finale, junior running back Dexter Williams said it twice. Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush brought it up, as did sophomore quarterback Ian Book and senior safety and captain Drue Tranquill.

Process, process, process.

It was sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes, though, who phrased his sentence such that any self-respecting Sam Hinkie defender should have noticed. I own a politically-themed “I’m with Hinkie” notebook. I consider myself a Hinkie apologist, but I noted Hayes’ syntax with little more than a chuckle.

“I just think obviously with last year being the year that we had, there was definitely a yearning for change,” Hayes said. “When you have basically a reboot of the program, the guys are hungry and they don’t want to have to experience the same season as last year. Just continue to trust in that process. We’re hungry for something to cling on and buy into.”

Hayes’ version is not as succinct as the NBA lifestyle the former Philadelphia 76ers general manager figuratively died for, but it certainly gets across Hayes’ point. If still missing the message, the backs of the shirts Notre Dame is apparently wearing in summer workouts makes the statement clear.

Trust The Process.
TTP for those in the know.

For those unfamiliar with the backstory, a quick 160-character summary: The 76ers were bad. Hinkie intentionally made them worse to stockpile young talent. Three terrible years followed. The 76ers are now on the verge of being good.

Obviously there is more to the story. It involves a Cameroonian, a Croatian and an Australian. In his 13-page resignation manifesto, Hinkie cited the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffet and Elon Musk. The 76ers looming success will come, in part, thanks to the mistakes made by those in Chicago, Indianapolis and, before long, Cleveland.

One reading of Notre Dame’s shirts could be, 2016 was the equivalent of those three years plummeting to the NBA lottery. One reading could be, the process took — will take — years, though obviously college football’s system of rebuilding greatly defers from the NBA’s. (Just take a look at the slow but steady improvement of Miami [Ohio] under the leadership of former Irish assistant Chuck Martin.)

The most logical and likely the most accurate reading of that workout attire would be to take the phrasing at face value. There is no harm in reminding the players July’s work effects November’s fourth quarters.

In a sport defined by recruiting cycles and four-year windows, a view five months ahead is the long view. To quote Hinkie’s departure memo, “The long view picks at the lock of mediocrity.”

To some extent, it seems Notre Dame Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick took the long view when he doubled down on Kelly this offseason, pouring resources into a coaching staff remodel. A new coach may have won the press conference, but Swarbrick wagered on the ideal of having the longest view in the room.

The other tenet of Hinkie’s model, of The Process, is to “divorce process from outcome. You can be right for the wrong reasons.”

Compare that to some of Kelly’s words the day before spring practice commenced.

“The spring for me will be a lot more about the process than production,” Kelly said. “I’m not as interested in what the route looks like, what the technique looks like. I’m more interested in attention to detail. I’m more interested in laser focus. I’m more interested in grit. I’m more interested in those traits that are necessary to win a championship.”

The latter half of that paragraph may be filled with intangibles, but the original sentiment holds. Kelly was more concerned with how his team went about practice than exactly what was accomplished in practice. Doing something the right way does not always yield the right result. It certainly sounds Hinkie-esque.

For that matter, much of Kelly’s offseason comments echoed Hinkie’s introduction in the aforementioned farewell letter. (It really is a great read, if you are so inclined.)

“You should anticipate some mild cheerleading (of others) sprinkled with a healthy dose of self-flagellation about things I’ve done wrong,” Hinkie wrote.

In February and March, Kelly repeatedly praised his new assistants and thanked his players for their critiques in 2016’s exit interviews. He spoke of things he needed to do differently. Unlike Hinkie, Kelly did all this while still employed, rather than simply in retrospect.

Trusting The Process has yet to actually yield 76ers fans anything. They have a roster filled with potential, but some of the most-tantalizing pieces are plagued by injury histories. That Process needed to be trusted because it necessitated years of futility, of frustration, of failure. That is somewhat an effect of the current NBA.

If Notre Dame’s Process lasts three seasons, including last year or not, it will not be trusted. It certainly is not the expectation.

However, it is a valid point as a reminder to the players to endure the early summer morning sprints. Few think of a late November trip to northern California while drenching a shirt with sweat in July. Come late November, even fewer will think back to July.

“We’re in the process,” Wimbush said following the Blue-Gold Game. “It’s delayed gratification that comes with it.”

That delayed gratification will not be a playoff berth this season, strength coordinator Matt Balis’ line in the workout hype video aside. The Irish defensive line alone should temper any aspirations that ambitious. But in two or three years, perhaps this young team will be ready for that kind of season. Coincidentally enough, that is probably about the soonest the 76ers could find themselves reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, the NBA’s final four. The Processes could align.

To be clear, it is more likely Notre Dame is one of the last four by 2020 than it is Philadelphia has managed as much. In college football, though, looking three years ahead is a view so long it is nearly moot. This Process is not intended for that. It is undoubtedly aimed at this fall.

As a Sam Hinkie truther, I am taking those shirts as license to apply his musings more often in these parts. The Process philosophy can quickly be applied to recruiting in general and to debates about run-oriented offensive gameplans. For now, I find myself somewhat wanting one of those workout shirts. Worlds have collided.