It has been a long season and my wedding anniversary (and it’s a big one) coincided with the end of the regular season. Great time to take a few days off after the ND football beat grind of the last 13 weeks, after all I was already in Palo Alto for the Stanford finale. So here I sit now even farther west- half a world away and the biggest story in the 25 years I’ve covered ND football, hits like a typhoon.
With a bow to the Kubler-Ross 1969 psychology classic, The Five Stages of Grief, in the last 24 hours , in spite of the beautiful scenery here and time spent with my precious and loving wife of 35 years, as the news alerts and texts rolled in and the Kelly to LSU story exploded, I have hit all five stages of emotion described by Kubler-Ross.
First, Denial as in, “No way! BK just told us to our faces a week ago he would not leave for another job”. Then, Anger-“How can Kelly do this over money? We trusted him. Clean his office out now and toss his stuff to the curb out in front of the Gug. I’m done with him”. Bargaining is next and it entered my mind, “Well, maybe it can all workout if ND hires someone quickly, and the staff, players and recruits stay in place.” But, Depression quickly followed when I realized no matter what, significant damage has been done. And the final stage acceptance, is now here because as a sports journalist it’s part of my job to figure out why and what comes nest.
Why? I have mulled over much trying to figure out why a 60 year old man who was adored and revered by tens of millions of Notre Dame fans would chuck it all away. Did he do it for the money? No doubt $95 million made it easier to justify. But money at a certain level, does not make you any happier or even secure. BK has plenty, now he has a little more, so what.
There has to be more.
Back in 2013 a few hours after Kelly had led the Irish to the BCS championship game, Kelly was off and secretly interviewing with the Philadelphia Eagles. Since then I did not trust that he was a Notre Dame Man who was in this thing for Notre Dame as much as he was in it strictly for himself, that is until recently.
About two years ago, while watching his every public move and hanging on every public word, I changed my mind. Brian Kelly now looked and sounded like a Notre Dame Man, and he was 60 years old and had built a machine at ND that was close to conquering the college football world. Staff, recruiting, facilities, and 54 wins in 5 years! The Fighting Irish program was on the precipice of the college football super elite. At this stage of his career it would make no sense to go anywhere else, he had built a shining Blue and Gold city in South Bend, and now on the downslope of his career, it was time to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Which gets us back to why? Brian Kelly it would seem is not driven by being a part of the success of NOTRE DAME, Brian Kelly apparently is driven by the success of BRIAN KELLY. Not only that, but I would postulate that Brian Kelly cares little about what others think about him, he cares only about what he thinks of him. Why else would he do something that 10s of millions of Notre Dame fans will hate him for, forever?
That my friends makes for one helluva competitor, driven by an insatiable desire to win. At a certain level, you want a guy like him on your side, or on your sideline. LSU saw that in Brian Kelly and went and got him. LSU is the same school that has fired their last two coaches ,Les Miles and Ed Orgeron, both of whom won them National Championships!
It is said that Brian Kelly’s farewell speech to his former team the morning after his resignation lasted about three minutes. He walked in, said goodbye and walked out. Reportedly much of his staff was blindsided. Minutes before the move to LSU was confirmed he was with a recruit and his family denying that he was leaving ND.
That my friends is cold blooded and takes nerves of steel… or krypton.
So the “why” of it, as in, why did Brian Kelly leave Notre Dame, is simple. Brian Kelly cared more about doing something for Brian Kelly than he cared about Notre Dame, his players, or the fans. He did what was right for Brian Kelly, which is his right.
After all, not everyone has what it takes to be a Notre Dame Man.
What comes next? The team at this moment seems to be united, but because of Kelly the odds of making the final four just became longer. Now 6th in the CFP, a big game in on the horizon no matter what. Holding the recruiting class together without a new leader in place is very tricky at this moment.
The fact that Jack Swarbrick has declined to name a interim head coach I think indicates a quick hire. At least that would seem to be the preferred course of action. It is likely that both Marcus Freeman and Tommy Rees are on their way to Baton Rouge along with their former boss unless ND quickly hires the 35 year old Freeman as the next ND head coach. Beyond that Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell is the hottest group of five guy available, that would be perceived as a great hire albeit an ironic one, considering Kelly’s Cincy roots. The news that strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis apparently wants to stay at ND may signal a quick move to Freeman.
Other Candidates One would be Matt Campbell from Iowa State, I recall a few years ago when I watched Campbell in action first hand at the Camping World Bowl, and being impressed by his persona. Others getting mention right now include Pat Narduzzi of Pittsburgh, and Pat Fitzgerald from Northwestern. I believe Urban Meyer’s ship has sailed.
One qualification that should be number one on Jack Swarbrick’s application right now is however: “candidate must have the desire and ability to be a Notre Dame Man“.