Monday, December 07, 2009
Reality check: Brian Kelly
So, I've been perusing the NDNation boards, and I'm absolutely amazed at the level of arrogance being put forth by the posters over there, especially the BoardOps, who seem to view the hiring of any person not named Meyer, Stoops, Saban or Gruden as a sign that Notre Dame will shortly fold up football operations and become the next University of Chicago.
So, I thought I would attempt to provide some of the facts on Kelly's background, and why I think that he is the best possible hire the Fightin' Irish could make right now. I'm not saying that the Irish are definitely going to hire Kelly, but based on the fact that his interview with the Irish tomorrow has been leaked, I have to believe that there is much more than just passing interest - there is no way that either side leaks the "interview" unless both sides have already gotten past the getting to know you phase, and are just trying to finish the details to tie the knot.
First, I think that the Notre Dame fan base needs to realize that they are not head and shoulders above everyone else, that they can just swoop into any school, wave around a bunch of money, and hire away a coach from another top tier football program. Alabama, Oklahoma, and yes, even Florida, are not "below" the Irish such that a coach would necessarily look at taking the Irish job as a step up. At best, it would be a lateral move. I thought we had a shot at Stoops because he had a rough season, and is a midwest Catholic boy - I thought maybe his upbringing might sway him to try something new.
But, he decided to stay put at Oklahoma, and I can't say that I blame him.
And once you take those names off the board, you put yourself in a position to look at the best "up-and-coming" coaches out there. And when you look at Kelly's resume objectively, it looks very similar to the resumes of the likes of Meyer and Tressel when they took over their current positions at top-tier programs.
So let's take a look at Kelly's resume:
Current Position: Head Coach, University of Cincinnati
Grand Valley State University
Graduate Assistant & Defensive Backs Coach, 1987-1988
Defensive Coordinator 1989-1990
Head Coach 1991 - 2003
Record (Head Coach): 118-35-2 (0.767 winning percentage)
2 Division II National Titles, 5 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference titles
He had a pretty quick rise from position coach to coordinator to head coach, but he did have two seasons at each, meaning that he understands what it takes to be a position coach and coordinator, unlike Willingham or the Redskins' Jim Zorn.
As head coach, he built GVSU into a championship team. He won Division II National Championships in 2002 and 2003, also earning Coach of the Year honors in both of those seasons. In 13 seasons, he won 5 conference titles, and appeared in 6 Division II playoffs. He never finished lower than third in his conference.
He set numerous records for offensive production as head coach, despite his defensive background.
Central Michigan University
Head Coach, 2004 - 2006
Record (Head Coach): 19-16 (0.543 winning percentage)
1 Mid-American Conference title
Taking over for an awful Central Michigan team, Kelly coached the Chippewas to only a 4 win season in his first year (on par or slightly above the perennial win total for the Chippewas).
In his second season, he coached the Chippewas to their first winning season in 7 years.
In his third (and final) season, he led the Chippewas to the MAC Championship (their first since 1994). He then left to coach at Cincinnati.
University of Cincinnati
Head Coach, 2006 - present
Record (Head Coach): 34-6 (0.850 winning percentage)
2 Big East Conference titles, 1 undefeated regular season
Taking over for Mark Dantonio who left Cincinnati to go to Michigan State, Kelly coached the Bearcats in their bowl game, leading them to a win over Western Michigan - making him the first coach ever to beat a team twice in the same season with two different teams.
In his first year at the helm, he improved on Dantonio's 7 win total from the previous season, eventually going 10-3, including a victory in the PapaJohns.com bowl and a 3rd place finish in the Big East conference.
His second year saw the Bearcats' first ever Big East Conference Championship and BCS appearance, a 20-7 loss to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
This year saw the Bearcats' second straight Big East Conference Championship, an undefeated regular season, and a chance to play Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
For comparison purposes, here's a quick rundown of Urban Meyer's and Jim Tressel's resumes prior to their current positions:
1975 - 1985 - Various assistant positions
1986 - 2000 - Head Coach, Youngstown State (Div. I-AA)Record: 135-57-2 (0.701 winning percentage), 4 Div. I-AA National Titles
1986 - 2000 - Various assistant positions
2001 - 2002 - Head Coach, Bowling Green (Div. 1-A, MAC) Record: 17-6 (0.739 winning percentage), o Mid-American Conference Championships
2003 - 2004 - Head Coach, Utah (Div. 1-A, MWC) Record: 22-2 (0.917 winning percentage), 2 Mountain West Conference Championships, 1 BCS appearance (Win over Pitt)
Clearly, Brian Kelly's resume is not all that different from Tressel and Meyer, both of whom went on to win championships at their next stops. Indeed, Meyer was a big risk, big reward type of candidate when he came to Florida (and was clearly our #1 choice 5 years ago). Kelly has been coaching longer, had sustained success for longer, played in arguably a better (or at least equal) conference than Meyer did at Utah, and had a similar level of success.
With all of the negativity on the NDNation boards, you'd think that Kelly was the worst possible hire and an unproven coach. That's ridiculous, as everything he's ever touched has turned to gold. Indeed, if not for undefeated seasons by the preseason hype machines Texas and Alabama, he'd be right in the heart of the National Championship talk.
And he did that at Cincinnati in three years.
My advice - let this interview process play itself out, and take off those ridiculous blinders. Kelly would be a very good, very safe hire for this program, and should be able to take the talent that Weis has assembled and do some pretty amazing things with it.
That said, with the interview scheduled tomorrow having been leaked, if we whiff on Brian Kelly, then there are some serious problems. There are other candidates out there with decent resumes, but missing on Kelly means that there is something wrong with our hiring process. Four years ago, Florida had already wrapped up the deal with Urban Meyer, so that provided enough cover to move down our list. This year, there is no other elite team pursuing Kelly - if he turns us down, it will be to stay at Cincinnati. Notre Dame should still be a clear step up from Cincy, and if Kelly doesn't view it that way, then we may have another embarrassing trip down our list of targets before completing another underwhelming hire.