Kelly pleased as Irish begin journey toward 2020 CFP berth

FILE - In this Dec. 28, 2019, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches warmups before the Camping World Bowl NCAA college football game against Iowa State in Orlando, Fla. Notre Dame heads to spring practice with question marks at various spots, but not at quarterback where Ian Book will be returning for the Fighting Irish. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
FILE - In this Dec. 28, 2019, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches warmups before the Camping World Bowl NCAA college football game against Iowa State in Orlando, Fla. Notre Dame heads to spring practice with question marks at various spots, but not at quarterback where Ian Book will be returning for the Fighting Irish. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Brian Kelly already knows the outcome of Notre Dame’s next football game. It’s the rest of the schedule that matters as the Fighting Irish try to end a national championship drought that dates to 1988.

“In spring practice we’re not out to win – we’ve already won the spring game,” Kelly said Wednesday following the first of 14 practices ahead of the annual Blue-Gold Game on April 18.

Kelly watched his 11th Notre Dame team go through a pad-less, 2¼-hour morning workout inside, told his staff and players he liked what he saw, and then dismissed them for 12 days because of spring break.

“We practiced the right way today,” Kelly said. “The pace, the competitiveness … it doesn’t get much better than that for a first-day practice. There was a high level of execution and there was really good tempo to the practice. Got a lot of work done technically and tactically. We took a good step forward in the construction of this team.”

Workouts resume March 17 for the Irish, who open their 2020 season Aug. 29 in Dublin, Ireland, against Navy.

Kelly’s Fighting Irish finished the 2019 campaign 11-2 and ranked No. 12. It continued a three-year resurgence for Kelly’s program following a 4-8 disaster in 2016. Since then, Notre Dame is 33-6, including a 12-0 regular season in 2018 that earned the Irish a College Football Playoff berth.

The push for another national title actually began shortly after Notre Dame’s regular season-ending victory at Stanford when Kelly dismissed offensive coordinator Chip Long. He eventually promoted 27-year-old quarterbacks coach Tommy Rees, who played the position for Kelly from 2010-13, to coordinator and play-caller. He also promoted running backs coach Lance Taylor to run game coordinator.

Following a bowl victory, Kelly hired veteran assistant John McNulty as tight ends coach and Mike Mickens, an All-American under Kelly at Cincinnati, to tutor the cornerbacks. He told both what he expected from them.