From Comcast SportsNetSOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- After two seasons as Notre Dame coach, Brian Kelly decided he wasn't spending enough time doing the best part of his job: coaching players.Kelly changed that in 2012, and he shuffled his staff. Then, with Kelly more in tune to his team and the assistants in sync with the head coach, Notre Dame went from unranked to top-ranked.For leading the Fighting Irish to the BCS championship for the first time, Kelly was voted Associated Press college football coach of the year."When you're talking about the coach of the year, there's so many things that go into it," Kelly said. "I know it's an individual award and it goes to one guy, but the feelings that I get from it is you're building the right staff, that you've got the right players and to me that is a validation of the program. That you put together the right business plan."Kelly received 25 votes from the AP college football poll panel. Penn State's Bill O'Brien was second with 14 votes. Stanford's David Shaw (four), Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin (three), Kansas State's Bill Snyder (two) and Alabama's Nick Saban (one) also received votes.Kelly is the first Notre Dame coach to win the AP award, which started in 1998.Of course, the Irish haven't played for a national championship since 1988 and spent much of the past two decades trying to find a coach who could restore a program that was becoming a relic of its proud past.It turns out Kelly was the answer.He arrived in 2010 after two decades spent climbing the coaching ladder and winning big everywhere he worked. But in the world of college football, Notre Dame is a long way from Grand Valley State -- where Kelly won Division II national titles -- and Cincinnati, his previous stop, for that matter."I think the job tends to distract you," Kelly said earlier this week. "There are a lot of things that pull you away from the primary reason why you want to be head coach of Notre Dame, and that is graduate your players and play for a national championship."Now, to do that you have to have the pulse of your football team and you've got to have relationships with your players. If you're already going around the country doing other things other than working with your football team, it's hard to have the pulse of your team."Kelly said he made a point of spending more time with the team this year."That's why I got into this. I want to develop 18 to 21 year olds. My development as the head coach at Notre Dame this year has been about getting back to why you would want to coach college players. You want to learn about them; you want to know their strengths and weaknesses; you want to help them with leadership skills; you want to help them when they're not feeling confident in their ability."For me, that is why it's been the most enjoyable year as the head coach at Notre Dame, is that I got a chance to spend more time with my team."The first step, though, toward a successful 2012 season for Notre Dame can be traced to Feb. 10. On that day Kelly announced his coaching staff. The most notable change was moving Chuck Martin from defensive backs coach to offensive coordinator to fill the hole left when Charley Molnar became the coach of Massachusetts.Martin was defensive coordinator for Kelly at Grand Valley State, then replaced his boss as head coach of the Division II power when Kelly was hired by Central Michigan after the 2003 season.The move might have seemed odd to some, but Kelly, who built his reputation on offensive acumen, wanted a right-hand man who understood exactly what he wanted.To replace Martin on the defensive side, Bob Elliot was hired from Iowa State to coach safeties. Harry Hiestand was hired away from Tennessee to replace offensive line coach Ed Warinner, and co-defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who had been with Kelly at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, was promoted to assistant head coach."The voice of your coordinators has got to be in lock step with the head coach," Kelly said. "Now both of these guys have been with me a long time."Chuck Martin on offense, I wanted a voice that went back with me to Grand Valley State. And with Bob Diaco someone that goes back to Central Michigan with me. So yeah, it was important to get that voice right."The last change Kelly needed to make involved Xs and Os. Kelly wanted to win now, but with a first-year starter and redshirt freshmen at quarterback. He had to adjust his style.Out went the push-the-pace offense that had helped him reach two BCS games at Cincinnati. In came a more deliberate approach."We conduct the game differently," Martin said. "We set out how we thought this team could win with the personnel we had and with the young quarterback. Most people say OK, you're going to play the young guy, you're playing for the future.' We just went 12-0 with the young guy and he got yanked four times."The rest of the world wants 12-0 with no warts. We have plenty of warts. Somehow we're 12-0. Just goes to show the job (Kelly) did that we made it work week in and week out with what we have."Kelly's ability and willingness to adapt have been his greatest strengths."He made some of his biggest changes ever in the last year. Going away from some things that really were his bread and butter, and 12-0 later, the guy did it again," Martin said."He saw what Notre Dame football needed in 2012 and he got to know this university."
Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.
MORE ON CELTICS-SIXERS
- C's hold on for 107-106 victory
- Stars, studs and duds: Another sterling fourth-quarter performance from Thomas
But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.
Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.
And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.
Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.
But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.
The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6).
And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.
“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”
Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.
Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.
“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”
And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.
Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.
Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.
“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”
The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.
MORE ON CELTICS-SIXERS
Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.
Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.
Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.
“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”
And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.
“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”
And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.
“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.
Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.
Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.
Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.
Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.
Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.