At LSU, Kelly’s ‘process’ gets credit for Tigers’ turnaround
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Every morning for nearly a year since LSU hired coach Brian Kelly, Tigers defensive end BJ Ojulari and his teammates have filled out questionnaires detailing how they slept, how they ate, and other aspects of their mental and physical well-being.
It’s among a number of new requirements of being an LSU football player that, when taken all together, are meant to promote accountability and maximize performance.
It’s hard to argue with the results in Year 1.
LSU (9-3, 6-2 SEC, No. 16 CFP), which did not finish either of the previous two seasons with a winning record, closed out the 2022 regular season ranked 11th in the AP Top 25 and is preparing to meet No. 1 Georgia (12-0, 8-0, No. 1 CFP) in the SEC title game in Atlanta this Saturday.
“Coach Kelly, he just has a certain process,” Ojulari said this week. “During this season, it’s proven to be very successful, given the big leap from last season.”
Linebacker Micah Baskerville cited as helpful sessions on regulating one’s breathing, as well as mental exercises in which he visualized making plays.
Running back Josh Williams thought that dividing the roster into competitive “SWAT” teams helped keep players focused on collective and individual goals.
Kelly said his approach has been aimed at “setting a standard so our guys knew what the expectations were.”
“They come into our building and we’re not throwing them curve balls,” Kelly said. “They know exactly what they’re getting. It’s a consistency every day that creates an atmosphere within the building that they can trust.”
At LSU, “SWAT” stands for spring/summer workout accountability teams. That acronym has become dated because Kelly keeps it going year-round. And while it emphasizes weight training and conditioning, it encompasses much more.
Players can gain or lose points for their teams based on how well they keep appointments with the medical training staff, or with tutors at the academic support center. They can gain points by attending other LSU sporting events together in the offseason or lose points for failing to be on time for meetings.
“You can earn and lose points socially, academically and in the weight room,” said LSU special teams coordinator Brian Polian, who followed Kelly from Notre Dame to LSU last winter and also helps oversee recruiting. “It creates a consistent atmosphere of competition and accountability.”
Players also can lose points by failing to timely fill out the daily wellness questionnaire, which is meant not only to inform staff about players, but also get the players in the habit of being mindful about how lifestyle choices affect them.
It also can improve relationships and communication between players and coaches.
If a player is having a bad practice, Polian noted, “instead of a position coach jumping the guy, maybe now we have information. ‘Hey, he didn’t sleep well last night.’”
“You don’t give him a free pass, but at least now you know what you’re dealing with,” Polian said.
Kelly is routinely described by those around him as “data driven.”
While Kelly replaced all but one assistant coach and overhauled the weight training staff, he has continued to utilize data and analytics provided by Jack Marucci, LSU’s director of performance innovation, who provided similar services for previous coach Ed Orgeron.
Marucci’s work shows, for example, the tempo and types of plays that best suit quarterback Jayden Daniels. Marucci also provides data relating to player character traits and how efficiently they process and react to what they see on the field.
Kelly also relies on data to regulate workloads at practice in order to maintain consistent energy levels throughout the season.
“He doesn’t try to judge whether a team’s tired through the eye test,” Polian said. “He uses the numbers.”
Kelly said when he came to LSU, he wanted to respect tradition “without worshipping it and falling into that kind of, ‘Hey, we have to do it this way because it’s always been (like that) here.’”
Kelly didn’t ask for past evaluations of players he inherited at LSU. Rather, he wanted everyone to have a fresh start and make his own determinations.
The Tigers have accomplished much since then. But Kelly stresses the program has a considerable way to go.
“That just takes time,” Kelly said. “The first year is really setting those standards.
“I think we’re at that level of conscious competence. We know what to do. We know how to do it. But it’s really hard for us,” Kelly said. “We want to get to where it’s unconscious competence,” so that “we don’t have to think about it. It’s just we do it and we do it the right way every day.”
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