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The lesson Brian Kelly learned when his team stayed at a Reno casino

Notre Dame's veteran head coach is taking his preseason Top-10 Irish on the road at Florida State, and using a lesson learned long ago.
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For the second time in three seasons, Notre Dame is opening on the road, in a made-for-TV, primetime showcase against an Atlantic Coast Conference foe.

Two years ago, it was at Louisville.

Sunday, the preseason top-10 Fighting Irish are at Florida State, which is looking to take a significant step forward in Mike Norvell's second season atop the Seminoles program (7:30 p.m., ABC).

In sum, this will be the fourth time in Kelly's 12 years atop the Fighting Irish that he's opened on the road. He's 2-1 thus far – with a 2016, double-overtime loss at Texas the lone blemish.

But that game wasn't where Kelly said he learned one of his biggest lessons as a head coach. It was much earlier in his career, as he transformed NCAA Division II program Grand Valley State into a perennial national-title contender.

“I think one of the more interesting ones was, staying in Reno, Nevada, before we played the University of California at Davis when I was a young head coach at Grand Valley State,” said Kelly, beginning his 31st season as a head coach at the NCAA level. “And it really wasn't a great move.

“We stayed at a casino and not everybody made bed-check and I wasn't too happy about it and sat some guys in the first half and we didn't play very well. So I learned my lessons. Don't stay at a casino and if you're going to do that, make sure you have a more veteran football team.”

Kelly's team won that 2003 contest in a slog, 9-6, en route to the NCAA Division II national championship. The next year, Kelly was head coach at Central Michigan and on a path to then Cincinnati and finally now to Notre Dame.

Still, it's that ill-fated casino trip that Kelly said has shaped his modern approach.

“I think, you know, as you go through with these openers, I think it's much more about putting your kids in a great position through your preparation,” Kelly said. “So I've really focused now, so much more, I brought that up because I really turned that into a mess. I put them in a position where they couldn't succeed.

“So what I've learned over the years is really put them in a great environment where they can succeed. Let them go out and play. There's going to be some mistakes. Nobody's going to be perfect in an opener.”