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:

Brian Kelly
Current Position: Head Coach, University of Cincinnati

Work Experience

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 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:

Jim Tressel
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

Urban Meyer
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.


JimmyIrish said...

I completely agree with almost everything you have said here. I would however be careful saying this: "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."

Brian Kelly would have a huge incentive to leak the interview if he wanted to build some bargaining leverage in contract extension negotiations with Cincinnati. I'm not saying that's what I think he's doing, but we should recognize that there is a possibility that he or his agent is just trying to squeeze some more dime from UC.

That said, I love your take on the ND Nation boards. The vast majority of posters over there are having meltdowns. And for what? Because we're close to hiring a coach who led his team to an UNDEFEATED season? I don't care what your schedule looks like (and I actually don't think it was that much softer than ND's), it is difficult to win back-to-back conference titles; it is difficult to go undefeated in college football. It's difficult to go 3-0 against Top 25 teams, as any ND fan knows. Brian Kelly's team did all of these things.

Also, they ranked #24 in scoring defense this year; not spectacular, but certainly a lot better than you may think after spending a few minutes reading ND Nation.

I for one think Kelly would be a great hire. And you gotta think that if he does come to ND, "The Shirts" will be KELLY green for years to come. :)

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I've been telling people all this. And Harbaugh? Come on. Kelly is the man for the job. Hands down. GO IRISH!!!

valpodoc said...

I like it! Kelly lost ten starters off his defense last year and went undefeated the next year. He has used six different quarterbacks the last two years with excellent success. This guy knows how to make young men gel and play as a superstars. Going out on a limb I'll bet 9-3 or better next year.

Demosthenes said...

Great post and I agree with you on this. Would be a really good hire based on his resume... all new coaches are somewhat of a gamble when faced with new personnel adn the expectations that come with the ND job. That said, I think he is the man for the job and he seems pretty good with the media to. Now if he can also recruit, than it is a matter of 2-3 years before we can start thinking undefeated seasons... Hope Crist is back with a vengeance in the Spring

Anonymous said...

The people wetting their pants in indignation over at NDNation, are the same semi-delusional oldtimers who shout "Down in front!" at those of us who think a fourth quarter goal-line stand is best viewed from one's feet, and best supported at the top of one's lungs. I don't care what they think over there-back here in the real world, your post hits what I think are all the relevant points. We could do a HELL of a lot worse than score ourselves Brian Kelly.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comparisons you presented, and I know Kelly does some things we ND folks like, but there are other coaches who have failed using similar stats. Just to show Trussel and Meyer is not the whole of the coaching profession. VERY, VERY FEW COACHeS START OUT AT A MAJOR COLLEGE . . .And most fail!! Take a step back and look at the whole picture - coaches striving to get ahead, etc. Very few make it at the 'next step' on the ladder . . . very few!!!! To write in a manner that Brian Kelly will have similar results (though I think Trussel is a fraud) as the two (and only two you chose to present) coaches you mentioned is a joke!!! The vast majority of coaches fail(as in any free market endeavor). Unless while drinking your Kool-aid and kissing TARP money (redundant), you have to realize the next ND hire has nothing to do -statistically or otherwise - on Trussel or Meyer. To think any different is folly.

I like Kelly, but whatever Trussel or Meyer have done is irrelevant.
Is Kelly better than Nutt? I don't think so . . .
Is Kelly better than .. . I give up. You folks win. All Nd players are the best, and everyone wants to be at ND. Damn! I just wish the rest of the world thought the same. They don't - they aren't the one's drinkling Kool-aid!!
Go Irish!
But not with BS!!
But BCS!!

Mike D.
Knoxville, TN

Anonymous said...

I also completely agree with your discussion. I was talking with my wife yesterday and we were saying that ND would be lucky to get Kelly. The crazies at NDNation are smoking something... There is no way the big guys like Meyer, Stoops and Saban are going to leave top programs to come to ND. No Way. And they are talking about throwing insane amounts of money at these guys... whatever it takes. Isn't this still college football? These salaries are out of control; I thought universities were learning institutions.

Anonymous said...

I agree..I feel that we would be very lucky to get Kelly...If we don't,I dont know who Option B or C will be...

Clay said...

I couldn't agree more. Leave it to a fellow barrister to call those NDNation guys out for their absurd opinions. If you read their ridiculous post--as you astutely observe--only Meyer and Stoops would be acceptable hires. There's just one problem--established and successful coaches don't make lateral moves in the college game. The statistics bear out that proposition. Even assuming arguendo that ND is on the same level as Florida or Oklahoma--which I think few would assume--then moving to ND is still at best a lateral move for Stoops or Meyer.

I think Kelly will be a fantastic hire.

One other point--I thought NDNation was supposed to be a forum for free discussion among ND fans. I posted several comments critical of the BoardOps' absurd position. My comments were thoughtful and respectful, but the Ops refused to post them. I guess they're afraid of someone with a brain challenging what they see as their little intellectual fiefdom over ND fandom.

I'm done with NDNation BoardOps. They bypass "On Notice" and go straight to "Dead to Me." They attack Weis for ridiculous reasons like his character and personality and his decision to pursue his medical malpractice claim. First, Weis may be abrasive, but I think most of us would agree that he's a good man. Second, the poor guy almost died on the table. He wanted his day in court and was entitled to it. Third, with all of the evidence that we saw on Saturdays and the inescapable reality of a 6-6 record, why do we need to attack Weis the person? Weis the coach proved that he wasn't up to the job. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Those guys also blatantly contradict themselves. NDNation BoardOps is the Rush Limbaugh/Fox News equivalent of ND Football coverage.

Anyway, great post. Those NDNation "Down In Front" types (HT: Anon 10:39) are an embarrassment. They make us all look like snobs. Brian Kelly is better than a solid hire. He has won everywhere he's coached. I think Weis showed that winning at ND isn't--or shouldn't be, based on how well he recruited--as tough as everyone thinks. We have no reason to believe Kelly won't succeed. I'll be thrilled with Brian Kelly.

Anonymous said...

Great read. Don't waste your time reading ndnation boards. They are ridiculous over there.
Check out , you will find nd fans in touch with reality, positive in nature, and a great knowledge of football amongst its posters. We also refer to the behavior at ndnation as "douchebaggery".

We'd be very fortunate to get Kelly.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

I like reading NDNation, but by their criteria, coaches like Ara, Lou, and even Knute would not even be considered. Picking a head coach is certainly a gamble but Kelly at least has a coaching history with the results we want to see.

Ara: 36-35 at Northwestern.
Lou: 10-12 at Minnesota.
Knute: no prior head coaching experience

Christopher said...

Nice article.

I am not really into the Saban, Stoops et al. view... my view is directly related to Kelly and his ability to coach. And more directly to his offense... I hate it. Though I do think an offense more related to Oregon's spread option to be better.

It essentially turns South Bend into Texas Tech Midwest. It essentially amounts to basketball on grass. Further it is playing behind the curve. You can see teams already moving away from the spread it out and pass offense - see Meyer's comments about using less spread in the future. You can see Harbaugh's power offense giving teams a great deal of trouble.

ND shouldn't need to rely on gimic throw the ball around a ton to win games or to recruit. ND should be selling not only a great education but a pro-sytle offense that will get kids ready for the NFL if they are able.

My other issue with Kelly is that he is really just another version of Weis...all offense while ignoring the defense. ND's issue this year was poorly executed defensive schemes along with some really overrated players. I'd question the alleged talent ND has on that side of the ball given that some of those guys were constantly on the field making the same mistakes over and over again. Outside of Teo and Ethan Johnson playing in the wrong position...I would guess not a single ND defensive player would start at any team ranked in the top 25.

Regardless of who the coach is next year... they are going to struggle given the lack of a single QB health enough to take snaps in spring ball and with my view of defense above, it is very likely 4-8 should be considered a good year.

Wacko said...

Wait a second - Kelly is a former linebacker, whose only coaching experience prior to head coach was on the defensive side of the ball.

He lost 10 players off of last year's defense, and still did a pretty good job on that side of the ball.

Just because his offense has outshined his defense, doesn't mean he's forgotten how to coach defense.

And if you want some stats:

48th Total Defense
49th Pass Defense
56th Rushing Defense
24th Scoring Defense
12th Turnover Margin

That shows me that he took 10 new guys, threw them out on the field, and managed to come up with a pretty good result. Far better than anything Weis has scraped together.

Please try to stick to facts rather than conjecture. Yes, he likes to pass the ball - it doesn't mean he can't coach D.

Christopher said...

Well, I can play with facts too.

Cincy's def faced the following which isn't exactly murders row

Team Points score yards rank
Rutgers 99 60
Oregon st 29 22
So Missour St -- --
Miami(oh) 85 117
S Florida 72 67
Louisville 92 110
Syracuse 94 101
UConn 47 23
WVU 60 65
Illini 50 82
Pitt 45 16
Avg 63 62

To compare to ND they would rank 56 in facing offenses in points scored and 48 in yards average and ND defense was considered awful. So I'll postulate that Cincy's numbers were more attributable to playing mediocre offenses then they actually were that good.

I'll also postulate swing 7 points in each ND game and Cincy games over the last 4 weeks and Charlie is 10-2 and Kelly is 9-3.

As I said I am not in the we need one of the big three but my belief is that ND's biggest issues (and have been for the last 15 years has been on the defensive side of the ball) and thats who ND should be looking for to take over the HC spot - a defensive coach.

Kelly will likely be no different than Weis or Willingham.

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