Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Kelly left with as much grace as a rabid rhino.
Brian Kelly leaving Notre Dame for LSU has become one of the stupidest, most ham-fisted coaching departures in recent memory. In a week where headlines have been dominated by Lincoln Riley departing Oklahoma for USC, Kelly limboed under the wire in a move that’s somehow even more surprising, bizarre, and all out ridiculous.
The main reason this whole situation is so weird is that Kelly legitimately, sincerely, has a chance of taking Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff this year. Sure, it depends on what happened during Championship Week, but at 11-1 there was a very reasonable chance the Irish will be one of the four teams in. Granted, nobody really thinks Notre Dame has what it takes to win the natty this year, but still — it’s like being on the bubble of the playoffs, then quitting with one week to go.
Kelly’s reasoning for all this might seem confusing, or it could be diabolically genius. It would have been easy enough to agree with LSU in principle, but tell them he wanted to play out the season. I think most people would have respected that, however, consider the last time Kelly make a deep run to the National Championship in 2013 the Irish subsequently had their world DESTROYED by Alabama in a 42-14 beatdown that saw the Crimson Tide lead 28-0 at halftime. There’s a definite element of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” to Kelly heading to the SEC, and you don’t really want to start off that new era of LSU football with the lingering taste of getting destroyed in your mouth.
We can debate the cowardice behind bailing on Notre Dame at this point, but there’s at least some logic behind it when it comes to recruiting. Also, coaches leave all the time for other jobs, and while it hurts, it’s just the nature of the business. What’s inexcusable, however, is how Kelly bent over backwards to tell people he wasn’t going anywhere as recently as last week.
Here was Notre Dame HC Brian Kelly last week when asked about reports linking him to other jobs.
I guess Scott Woodward is that fairy godmother (father) with a $250 million dollar check.
Kelly to LSU!
College football features some cold-blooded characters. pic.twitter.com/964gkrGwPg
— Fletcher Mackel (@FletcherWDSU) November 30, 2021
There really isn’t any Aaron Rodgers-esque semantics here. Kelly was asked if he’d leave Notre Dame of his own power, and he said “no,” point blank. Sure, he double backed with a Mike Tomlin quote about a $250 million cheque from the Fairy Godmother, but we know the intention there was to tell people “it’s not going to happen.” It should be noted that it didn’t take $250M, it took $95M over 10 years to pry him away.
I’ll never understand why coaches are so resolute they’re never, ever going to leave when they know damn well it’s a lie. It would have been really easy to be honest here, and just say “I don’t have any plans to leave Notre Dame, but it’s impossible to predict the future.”
To this you might retort, “well, that would have caused a distraction.” I can assure you it would have been less of a distraction than ABANDONING AN 11-1 TEAM THAT STILL HAS A CHANCE TO WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP.
So, Brian Kelly accepts the LSU job and the news leaks. He is well aware that eventually it’ll get out, but that doesn’t stop him sitting in a recruit’s living room, trying to convince him to come to Notre Dame, knowing full well he’s just screwing around.
Brian Kelly was doing a home visit with a recruit when the news started breaking that he was leaving Notre Dame.
What a business.
— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) November 30, 2021
Either that or he just Homer Simpson’d his way back into the bush and emerged mid-conversation with an LSU flag and was talking up the beauty of Baton Rouge.
So, in case it hasn’t been made clear, this whole thing was a colossal mess. You have a guy in charge of an elite team with real playoff chances, who told the world he wasn’t leaving last week, now leaving without really letting anyone know. In full damage control, and desperate to make a solid explanation, Kelly called a 7 a.m. team meeting to explain his departure and talk to his players. Considering all this one would expect a lengthy discussion, with players having a lot of questions about why this was happening now when they’d busted ass all season for him. Rest assured, Brian Kelly gave his played exactly as much time as he felt this all deserved.
Heard Brian Kelly met with the Notre Dame team for 11 minutes this morning and then left.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) November 30, 2021
Eleven minutes. That’s one minute per win this season. I’ve waited in lines at Chipotle for over 11 minutes, and my biggest concern was whether there was still barbacoa available, not, I dunno, how my decision to leave my job would impact dozens of athletes during one of the most important runs of their college careers.
College Football is a tough business. Nobody is saying the process of coaches leaving will ever be easy, but Kelly’s stupid, goofy, all-out ridiculous way of handling this didn’t tear off a bandaid, it pried open the wound and dumped a container of cajun seasoning in it. It was really dumb, and unfair, and Notre Dame will now try to find its next “forever” coach, at least until the next Fairy Godmother of the SEC comes along.