LSU Kelly Football

FILE - Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly looks on during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Navy in South Bend, Ind., Nov. 6, 2021. LSU is hiring away from Notre Dame, a stunning move of one of the most accomplished coaches in college football jumping from the sport's most storied program to a Southeastern Conference powerhouse. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

“He’s an organized dude. He’s gonna get that place right,” current Chicago Bear and former Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet said while hanging out with former players in a Twitter Space late Monday night. 

The “he” in this situation is newly announced LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly. The space went on for hours as former, current and incoming players joined together to share their shock at the news. 

Rumors linking Kelly to LSU started swirling Monday afternoon, and most brushed them off as another coach trying to get a raise at his current school. But no, LSU has found their guy, and a wild coaching search is coming to an end. 

Many went into a spiral after it was announced ex-Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was going to USC, and UL-Lafayette coach Billy Napier had taken the Florida job. There was a feeling in the Baton Rouge air that LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward had failed and that LSU was going to panic and hire a “Plan C” type of coach. 

Instead, it was one of the most successful active coaches in college football. Kelly’s contract with LSU will pay him $95 million, plus incentives, over 10 years. He’ll land in Baton Rouge on Tuesday afternoon. 

It’s hard to find a bigger name or better resumé in college football than Kelly’s, outside of Nick Saban’s, of course. Kelly has led Notre Dame to seven 10-win seasons since 2010. He has the most wins of any active college coach, and has a winning percentage that is second among coaches with at least 15 years of head coaching experience. Kelly has actually led the Fighting Irish to more playoff appearances than LSU has had, but of course, LSU finished theirs with a championship. That championship is what Kelly is missing to solidify his already great, nearly hall-of-fame career.

The Irish’s win over Stanford on Saturday propelled Kelly’s squad to the No. 6 spot in College Football rankings. If chosen for the top-four, it will be Notre Dame's second consecutive playoff appearance and third berth in four years. Throughout his tenure in South Bend, Indiana, Kelly boasts a 113-40 record.

Before his time with the Fighting Irish, Kelly spent three seasons with the Wildcats of Cincinnati from 2007-2009. There, he won 34 games and lost only six. His departure from Cincinnati actually has a lot of parallels to the Notre Dame departure. Kelly left during the bowl season, while Cincinnati was ranked third in the BCS standings. 

A big initial worry of the public with Brian Kelly came with recruiting: Could he escape the midwest and get big names? 

He has never coached further south than Cincinnati. In the 2022 class, he has landed recruits out of South Carolina (5-star linebacker Jaylen Sneed), multiple out of California, Washington, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana itself and more. Coaching and recruiting out of South Bend has given Kelly the opportunity to recruit across the country. Locking down Louisiana and fighting off other SEC schools are other challenges, but Kelly has proven he can get great players. 

Baton Rouge will also give Kelly a talent pool and level of athlete he’s never had, which should be reason for excitement, given what he’s done with what he had before.

One big thing that former players rave about when it comes to Kelly is his organization. Kelly is all about business, a no-nonsense coach, players say. Many believe that LSU needs a guy like that to bring the team back from the many stories of dysfunction that have been shared since 2019. It’s also very obvious that at least the offense was disorganized for a lot of the season, based on the play fans saw on the field.

There is plenty to like on the surface of this hire, but also plenty to worry about if you’re an LSU fan. Kelly is 31-27 against top-25 teams. Notre Dame consistently finishes the season at the top, with two playoff appearances, but Kelly’s teams have yet to win it all. While Kelly’s criticisms of on-field play are there, much more prevalent is a notable tragedy that has some LSU fans questioning Kelly’s character: the 2010 death of Declan Sullivan, then a 20-year-old student videographer for Notre Dame football. 

Sullivan was high atop a hydraulic lift, videotaping practice, when strong winds toppled the lift and sent Sullivan to his death. An independent investigation later found that staffers were concerned about the weather that day and that Sullivan had objected to filming practice to at least one staffer. 

Kelly said he looked at the forecast, thought the weather would be ordinary and called for normal outdoor practice, even though the National Weather Service advised wind gusts could reach 60 miles per hour that day. Notre Dame was levied a large fine for the accident. 

“Most importantly, Coach Kelly’s players and programs exemplify excellence in all aspects of the student-athlete experience–in competition, in the classroom, and throughout the community–and he shares our values and vision for elevating our university and our state,” Woodward said in a press release. “We’re thrilled to welcome him and his family to Baton Rouge, and we are excited to work with him as we add to the championship legacy of LSU Football.”

Kelly and his wife, Paqui, founded the Kelly Cares Foundation, which has given  nearly $6 million to support breast cancer research since 2008. 

“I could not be more excited to join a program with the commitment to excellence, rich traditions, and unrivaled pride and passion of LSU Football,” Kelly said. “I am fully committed to recruiting, developing and graduating elite student-athletes, winning championships and working together with our administration to make Louisiana proud. Our potential is unlimited, and I cannot wait to call Baton Rouge home.”

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