Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar is ensconced in all things offense during the practice week. But when a team’s head coach is also its play-caller on Saturdays, fans naturally wonder what Molnar, or other offensive coordinators in similar roles preside over for the 60-minute contest.
Molnar’s job is to be one step ahead – of everyone.
“The way we work together is, he’s one play ahead of me in terms of play calling,” Kelly offered of Molnar’s in-game approach. “So let’s say we called a run on 2nd and 10: he’s got a third down pass ready.
“I try to get him thinking with options (such as) ‘Hey, what are you thinking on third down?’ I always try to keep him a down ahead. (If) It’s 3rd down, he’s already got a 4th down play….We’ve got a pretty good working relationship. Sometimes it’s just getting me to zone in on a particular play,” Kelly added.
Also involved in the offensive play-by-play is running backs coach, Tim Hinton.
“Tim Hinton is helping me with down and distance and hash,” Kelly offered. “So (if listening), you would hear down and distance, hash mark, then there may not be anything unless we’re in a down and distance situation. And (Hinton) is talking about blitz patterns as well. It’s really a couple conversations.”
When the defense has the ball, Kelly is involved, but he understands his coordinator Bob Diaco might need to remain in his own play-calling zone.
“I’ll talk to Bob as a head coach, not as a defensive coordinator; he’s got a thought process,” Kelly explained. “But if there are some things that I think we need to consider, whether it be, ‘Let’s come after them, let’s go with a pressure situation here or let’s play zone,’ we’ll talk about those things.”
The man in the red hat
Outside of the coaching staff, one could surmise that three players have the best grasp of Kelly’s offense: starting quarterback Tommy Rees, backup Dayne Crist, and of course, senior walk-on Matt Mulvey.
“What we do, which is unique, is we signal every single play in practice as well,” Kelly said. “(Mulvey’s) got a script. So he’s seeing the plays and he’s gaining a great bit of knowledge with the game plan too. He’s not detached and just signaling. He knows what’s going on,” Kelly said of the senior quarterback in his second year with this staff.
“And he’ll have some good suggestions along the way too. He’ll make a couple suggestions based upon what he’s signaling in. So yeah, I think it’s more than just signaling plays.”
Kelly, whose trusted aid last year was since-graduated walk-on quarterback Brian Castello, surprised many when he admitted Mulvey offers “suggestions.” Kelly explained Mulvey offers reminders more than ideas for combination routes or adjustments to beat the blitz. “He’ll say, ‘Hey, we haven’t called Wildcat yet; just letting you know,’” Kelly explained. “Very simple (reminders), but that’s how our relationship is built.”
Also on the sidelines for the past two seasons is offensive line coach and running game coordinator Ed Warinner, the latter title a new portion of his responsibilities this season. Warinner, Molnar and Kelly work in congress when late-week or pre-game adjustments are needed.
“I have my fingers in everything because that’s my role and that’s my job as mandated by Coach Kelly. But I work with a bunch of very good college football coaches,” Molnar said of the inherent trust he has in his fellow assistants. “You don’t get to Notre Dame by luck and nobody is a first-timer coaching here. They’ve all paid their dues and are at the top of their trade.”
Through six games, the Kelly, Molnar, Warinner, Hinton, and wide receivers coach Tony Alford have presided over a unit that averages 467 yards per contest, a mere 10 yards fewer than the group led by Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, Mo Stovall, and Darius Walker from 2005, whose 447 yards of total offense were the most at the school since Ara Parseghian’s squad from 1970 set the single-season program record (510.5).
“Everything we do is a collaborative effort,” Molnar said prior to the season. “It’s good to know that when I’m not in the room (at one offensive meeting but not another simultaneously), that the ship keeps moving forward and things don’t stagnate.”
The turnovers that plagued the Irish in September disappeared through two games in October. Stagnation won’t be a problem for the foreseeable future.