HUSKER FOOTBALL: Former NU assistant on Irish's side of field
BY STEVEN M. SIPPLE Lincoln Journal Star
George Kelly, a passionate member of the Notre Dame football family, enjoys this time of year. The Irish schedule is typically difficult, the season always filled with intrigue.
This week, however, has been particularly interesting for Kelly.
"Maybe more so than any I've been part of," he said.
The 73-year-old Kelly anticipates a flood of memories when top-ranked Nebraska faces No. 23 Notre Dame at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at South Bend, Ind.
Kelly, a 1953 Notre Dame graduate and now an assistant athletic director at the school, carries fond memories of his days at Nebraska, where he served as an assistant coach from 1961 to 1968.
As a defensive coach, Kelly helped guide a unit that led the nation in total defense in 1963 and 1967. Nebraska's Blackshirt tradition can be traced to Kelly, who distributed black jerseys to first-string defenders before each practice during the mid-1960s. If a player performed poorly, he'd lose his jersey.
"It gave them something to rally around," Kelly said.
In addition, Kelly was point man in the recruitment of a diminutive running back out of Cleveland Holy Name High School. Frank Solich, of course, became an All-Big Eight fullback and Saturday will roam the sidelines as NU's third-year head coach.
Perhaps you've heard the story. Nebraska, as the legend goes, was scouting Cleveland Holy Name running back Mike Worley when Kelly kept noticing the other guy in the backfield.
"It was always little Frankie doing the heavy work," Kelly recalls.
Kelly said Worley weighed considerably more than the 160-pound Solich, but Worley wasn't much taller. Kelly recalls introducing the two players to Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney during their recruiting visit.
"Bob looked at me like I'd lost my mind," Kelly recalls.
Kelly said the only reason he's not still part of the Nebraska football family is because he couldn't turn down a chance to return to Notre Dame. After the 1968 season, Irish head coach Ara Parseghian hired Kelly to replace linebackers coach John Ray, who became head coach at Kentucky.
"It was always a dream of mine to return to Notre Dame," said Kelly, who left coaching for an administrative position after the 1985 season.
Kelly enjoyed seeing several of his old friends at Devaney's funeral in Lincoln in May 1997. But he's lost track of a lot of his old Husker connections, he said.
"But I've gotten a lot of calls this week . . . for tickets, that is," he said.
NOTRE DAME NOTEBOOK
By Curt McKeever
** PEP RALLY MOVED: To accommodate the larger-than-usual crowd expected, Notre Dame's traditional Friday night pep rally in South Bend is being moved from the 11,418-seat Joyce Center to Notre Dame Stadium. The only other times that has happened came in 1997 before games against Georgia Tech and Michigan State. That was the year the stadium was rededicated and the opening-game rally drew an estimated 35,000 fans.
** RUDY, THE SEQUEL?: The only Nebraskan playing for the Irish is Joseph Mueller, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound walk-on linebacker from O'Neill. That might be news to Notre Dame coach Bob Davie. When asked about Mueller on Tuesday, Davie paused and politely said he'd want to research the matter before commenting. Mueller, an honors student in pre-medicine and art, was away from organized football for three years before going through spring drills. He survived a series of cuts to become one of 18 non-scholarship players who made the team.
** STAYING CLOSE: Davie said Notre Dame's hopes of pulling off an upset hinge on whether the Irish can keep it close early. "That's easier said than done," he said. "They can get rolling on you. But we're not going to be intimidated . . . We've got some confidence. And we've got some toughness, too. It'll be interesting."
** NO BIG DEAL: Jabari Holloway, an All-American candidate at tight end, says playing the position for the Irish isn't that complicated. Nebraska recruited him to play rush end. "I thought it was pretty easy to grasp," Holloway said. "Then again, I'm an engineering major, so everything else is a piece of cake."