Brian Kelly Likely In as Notre Dame Coach
by Trevor Whenham - 12/10/2009
After months of speculation, it seems like Notre Dame has a new coach. Though it hasn't officially been announced yet, it seems as if Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly will be the next to helm the historic school in South Bend, Indiana. The schools aren't expected to make an announcement until after Thursday's football banquet at Cincinnati. The media had been invited to to the event, but were uninvited on Thursday, so the expectation is that Kelly will use that occasion to announce his departure to his players.
From a Notre Dame perspective the hiring of Kelly is a no-brainer. He is a winning machine, and he particularly shines at turning a team around. He got his start at Division II Grand Valley State where he was the head coach for 13 years. He won five division titles there, and won the national championships in 2002 and 2003.
The next stop was Central Michigan. He took over a lousy team that had only won more than three games once in the four previous years, yet he had them in a bowl in the second year, and he won the MAC in year three. The school continues to be a conference power, and this year's champion, while still running the systems and embracing the approaches of Kelly.
From there he headed to Cincinnati, where he took over a team that was bowl eligible, but only playing in the International Bowl. In his first year the team had just their second ever 10-win season, and their first since 1949. In 2008 the school won its first Big East title before losing in the Orange Bowl, and this year his undefeated Bearcats are headed to the Sugar Bowl to face Florida. Kelly has an incredible record of success, and will benefit from his first true national recruiting base.
Kelly must really have impressed the Notre Dame administration. Charlie Weis was criticized for many reasons, but chief among them was that he focused on the offense and virtually ignored the defense. It was widely speculated that the school would look for a more defensive-minded coach next, but Kelly is unquestionably an offensive coach as well.
Kelly is taking a bigger risk than Notre Dame. If he succeeds in this job then he will be a coaching legend, and a successful coach at Notre Dame has a virtual annual ticket to the BCS. The problem, though, is that Notre Dame has been where coaches have gone to die over the last decade. Charlie Weis was a disaster after arriving amongst high expectations, and before that Ty Willingham and Bob Davie saw the momentum of promising careers come crashing to a halt. Like any successful coach, Kelly has a massive ego. Here's hoping it hasn't finally gotten the best of him.
The loser in this story is Cincinnati. Their excitement about playing in their second straight BCS Bowl will be significantly tempered by the fact that they won't have the coach that got them there on the sidelines. Cincinnati also has a good recruiting class set up, but since none are officially signed yet it seems likely that some will follow Kelly to Notre Dame. Cincinnati isn't unfamiliar with this situation, though - they hired Kelly after Mark Dantonio bolted for Michigan State. Schools like Cincinnati have to know the risks of hiring a talented, ambitious coach.
It will be a while until we know what Kelly's staff will look like, though we can safely assume that little of the Weis staff will be held over. One coach likely to follow Kelly to Notre Dame is offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn. Quinn is Kelly's right hand, and has been working with him for 24 years. The only thing that might interfere with that is if Quinn were chosen to take over at Cincinnati. He's an obvious candidate along with Skip Holtz of East Carolina, and Butch Jones, the man who replaced Kelly at Central Michigan. Jones would make sense because he has already shown his ability to continue the success that Kelly has started. The leader in the race seems to be Kerry Coombs, the associate head coach at Cincinnati. If he were to get the job it would be the end of a remarkable journey - he was a successful high school coach in Cincinnati as recently as 2007.
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