Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brian Kelly is new Irish Head Football Coach

Received the following e-mail from the Alumni Association. Good and detailed writeup of Kelly's resume. The more I read, the more I like this hire.

The University has named Brian Kelly as Notre Dame’s new head football coach. Please see the press release below. A press conference is scheduled for Friday, December 11, at 1:30 pm EST, and can be viewed live at

For Notre Dame,

Chuck Lennon ’61, ’62 M.A.
Executive Director, Notre Dame Alumni Association
Associate Vice President, University Relations


December 10, 2009

Brian Kelly Named 29th Head Football Coach at Notre Dame

Brian Kelly, a veteran of 19 seasons as a collegiate head coach -- and most recently the architect of two consecutive Bowl Championship Series appearances at the University of Cincinnati, including a perfect 12-0 regular season in 2009 that earned him national-coach-of-the-year honors – tonight has been named the 29th head football coach at the University of Notre Dame.

Currently the ninth-winningest active coach in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in terms of victories, Kelly has signed a five-year contract to coach the Irish. He will be introduced at a 1:30 p.m. EST Friday press conference at the Guglielmino Athletics Center. Kelly officially takes over at Notre Dame on Monday; he will not coach the Bearcats in their Sugar Bowl date against Florida.

Kelly’s head coaching resume includes:

Three seasons at Cincinnati from 2007-09, including a 34-6 record (.850) and two straight outright BIG EAST Conference title teams that earned BCS appearances in 2008 (Orange Bowl) and ’09 (Sugar Bowl).
Three seasons at Central Michigan University from 2004-06, including a 19-16 overall record (.542) that featured a 9-4 mark and Mid-American Conference title in 2006.
Thirteen seasons at Grand Valley State University from 1991-2003, including a 118-35-2 record (.767) that was highlighted by NCAA Division II national championships in 2002 (14-0) and 2003 (14-1).
An overall record of 171-57-2 (.747) in those 19 seasons as a head coach.
“I am very pleased that a thorough and extensive search has led us to a new head coach in Brian Kelly, who I am confident will help us accomplish our goal of competing for national championships,” said Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick.

“I am absolutely delighted to welcome Brian and his family to the Notre Dame family,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president. “He brings to us a long and successful career as a head coach, and I am confident that he will have even greater success here. I’m also very pleased that he has put considerable emphasis on excellence in the classroom and that his student-athletes graduate at a rate well above the norm.”

Kelly earned the Home Depot National Coach of the Year Award in 2009, was the BIG EAST Conference Coach of the Year in 2007, 2008 and 2009 (the first time a BIG EAST football coach has won the award three straight years) -- and was the American Football Coaches Association Division II Coach of the Year in both 2002 and 2003. Kelly currently ranks ninth among active FBS head coaches in victories with 171. He is the winningest active BIG EAST football coach and the only league coach with more than 150 wins.

He boasted a 2-1 record at Cincinnati in postseason bowl games – including a 27-24 win over Western Michigan in the International Bowl after the 2006 season (he coached in that game immediately after taking the job at Cincinnati), a 31-21 win over Southern Mississippi in the Bowl after the ’07 season and a 20-7 loss to Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl after the ’08 campaign. Kelly’s ’06 Central Michigan team finished 9-4 and qualified for the Motor City Bowl (Central Michigan defeated Middle Tennessee 31-14, though he did not coach after accepting the head coaching position at Cincinnati) – and his 12-0 team in ’09 earned a Sugar Bowl assignment against Florida.

In six NCAA Division II playoff appearances at Grand Valley State, Kelly’s teams combined for an 11-4 (.733) postseason record – including four straight victories in winning both the ’02 and ’03 NCAA titles. His ’01 Grand Valley State team fell 17-14 to North Dakota in the Division II national title game.

Kelly’s ’09 team at Cincinnati finished third in the final BCS standings and fourth in both the final regular-season Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls. His ’08 team ended up 11-3 and 17th in both polls – and his ‘07 Bearcat squad finished 10-3 and 17th (AP) and 20th (USA Today/ESPN) in the final polls.

His 2009 Cincinnati team won all 12 of its regular-season games, led the nation in passing efficiency (166.19), ranked second in kickoff returns (29.2 each) and sixth in total offense (464.25 yards per game), passing yardage (320.33) and scoring (39.83 points). Meanwhile, Kelly’s Bearcat defense rated third nationally in tackles for losses (8.42 per game) and eighth in sacks (2.92). Among the standouts he coached on the ’09 Bearcat roster are first-team All-America receiver Mardy Gilyard (he ranks second nationally in all-purpose yards at 203.5 per game) and quarterback Tony Pike (ninth in passing efficiency at 155.36). Eleven Cincinnati players merited all-BIG EAST honors for ’09 (five first-team selections), including Gilyard, the league’s Special Teams Player of the Year for the second straight season.

In three years at the helm of the program, Kelly put together a 34-6 record and led the Bearcats to their first two BIG EAST Conference championships in 2008 and ‘09.

 Cincinnati achieved a then-school-record 11 victories in 2008, followed that up with a dozen wins in ’09, and had back-to-back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in school history. Kelly’s Bearcats in ’08 won the school's first outright conference championship since 1964, and earned the school's first berth in a BCS game, playing against Virginia Tech in the 75th FedEx Orange Bowl. 

In ’08 Cincinnati achieved its then-highest ranking to close the regular season – 12th in the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls and the BCS standings entering the Orange Bowl. The Bearcats held down a postseason ranking of 17th in both polls, tying the top postseason ranking in school history and marking the first time Cincinnati was ranked in the end-of-season polls in school history.

Following the close of the ’08 regular season, Kelly was named the BIG EAST Coach of the Year for the second straight season. He also was named the American Football Monthly Schutt Sports FBS Coach of the Year, earned AFCA Region 1 Coach of the Year honors and was named BIG EAST Coach of the Year by Sporting News.

Cincinnati placed 10 players on the 2008 all-BIG EAST teams (including first-team selection Connor Barwin) – with kick returner Gilyard named the BIG EAST Special Teams Player of the Year and punter Kevin Huber earning the first AFCA All-America nod in program history. Huber became the first two-time AP first-team All-America selection in Bearcat football history.

The Bearcats' 27-24 bowl victory over Western Michigan in 2006 came just 34 days after his hiring.

 Then, in his first full season at the helm in ‘07, Kelly put the Bearcats on the national radar by jumping out to a 6-0 start and earning the Bearcats their first appearance in the polls in more than 30 years. By winning 10 games for the first time since 1951, the Bearcats earned their 10th bowl appearance in program history and sixth bowl appearance in eight years. Cincinnati finished 17th in the AP poll, earning its first appearance in a final poll.

Along the way to the 2007 Bowl victory, the Bearcats’ third straight bowl win, Kelly earned BIG EAST Coach of the Year honors. Cincinnati listed seven individuals on the all-BIG EAST teams, including BIG EAST Special Teams Player of the Year and consensus All-America punter Huber. The national leader in punting, Huber was one of three Bearcats to be named to an All-America team.

 Cincinnati ranked second in the BIG EAST and 24th nationally in passing offense (254.1), and was also second in the league and 27th nationally in passing efficiency (139.4). At the same time, the Bearcat defense led the BIG EAST in sacks (2.9) and tackles for a loss (6.5).

 Kelly’s Bearcats led the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in net punting with an average of 41.5 yards per punt. Cincinnati also led the BIG EAST in kickoff returns (24.2).

During his three years at Central Michigan, he transformed a Chippewa program that had won more than three games only once in the past four seasons into a conference champion. Central Michigan posted a 9-4 record in 2006 en route to winning the MAC title and qualifying for its first bowl game in 12 years.

 Kelly inherited a program that had produced a mere 12 wins over its previous four seasons when he took the helm at Central Michigan in 2004. He guided the Chippewas to a 4-7 record in 2004 and a 6-5 slate -- the school's first winning season in seven years -- in 2005.

The Chippewas in 2005 defeated both defending MAC divisional champions, Miami and Toledo, and also knocked off eventual ‘05 league champ Akron. Central Michigan was ranked 35th nationally in total offense and 26th in passing offense while the team's rushing defense was ranked 20th (while leading the MAC at 113.7 yards per game, compared to 245.8 in ’03 -- the year before Kelly arrived). 

Kelly's 2006 Chippewas lost non-conference contests to bowl-bound Boston College and Kentucky by a combined 16 points. Central Michigan rolled up a 7-1 record in conference play to win the MAC West, then dominated Ohio 31-10 in the league championship game. Central Michigan boasted the 19th-most prolific passing attack in the nation, averaging 252.4 yards per game, and was ranked 31st in total offense (380.2 yards per game) and 24th in scoring offense (29.6 points). Quarterback Dan LeFevour, a freshman who passed for 2,869 yards and 25 touchdowns, was ranked 20th in passing efficiency and 14th in total offense. 

Kelly had 12 of his players achieve first-team all-conference honors over his three years at Central Michigan (including ’05 MAC Defensive Player of the Year Daniel Bazuin) -- and three advanced to the NFL (including 2005 draftees Eric Ghiacuic and Adam Kieft and free agent Tory Humphrey). 

Kelly arrived at Central Michigan after winning the back-to-back NCAA Division II national titles at Grand Valley State. The Lakers were 41-2 in Kelly's final three seasons, at one point winning 32 consecutive games. Grand Valley State went 14-0 in 2002 en route to its first national title and was 14-1 in 2003 when it claimed its second crown. Kelly was named the AFCA Division II Coach of the Year after both seasons. 

Kelly led the Lakers to five conference titles and six Division II playoff appearances in his 13 seasons at Grand Valley. The Lakers never finished lower than third in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference. 

Kelly mentored a pair of finalists for the Harlon Hill Award, presented annually to the top player in Division II. Curt Anes won the award in 2002 after finishing as runner-up in 2001, while Jeff Fox was third in the balloting in 1998. Both players were quarterbacks in Kelly's system. 

Kelly's Grand Valley State players earned 77 All-America awards (11 in 2002 alone). Four players moved on to the NFL and another three to the Canadian Football League.

His 2001 national runner-up squad set 77 NCAA, GLIAC and school records, including the all-time Division II scoring record by averaging 58.4 points per game. The 2001 team also became the first Division II unit in 53 years to average more than 600 yards per game in total offense (600.8). 

Grand Valley State followed up its record-shattering 2001 season by averaging 497.5 yards and 47.0 points during its undefeated 2002 national championship run (that ended with a 31-24 championship game win over Valdosta State) The 2003 team, meanwhile, was more noted for its defense. The Lakers defeated North Dakota 10-3 in the 2003 national title game.

 In 10 of his 13 seasons at Grand Valley State, Kelly’s teams won eight or more games – and he finished with a 103-22-2 mark in GLIAC contests.

Born Oct. 25, 1961, in Everett, Mass., and raised in Chelsea, Mass., Kelly attended St. John's Prep School in Danvers, Mass. He was a four-year letter-winner at Assumption College (Worchester, Mass.) as a linebacker, captaining the squad in both ’81 and ’82 under coach Paul Cantiani on teams that finished 8-3 and 7-1-1. After graduating from Assumption in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in political science, he served as linebacker coach, defensive coordinator and softball coach from 1983-86 at Assumption under head football coach Bernie Gaughan.

Kelly joined the Grand Valley State staff in 1987 as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach. He became the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator in 1989 and took over as head coach in 1991 (replacing Tom Beck, who left to become running backs coach at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz). His very first team Laker team finished 9-3 and qualified for the NCAA playoffs. In 2009 Kelly was inducted into the Grand Valley State Athletics Hall of Fame.

Kelly has served on the AFCA Ethics Committee – and he’s currently one of 59 FBS head coaches who vote in the USA Today poll.

Kelly and his wife Paqui are parents of three children – Patrick, Grace and Kenzel.


Year by Year with Brian Kelly

Year School Position Record/Postseason
1983 Assumption Defensive Coordinator/
Linebackers 4-5
1984 Assumption Defensive Coordinator/
1985 Assumption Defensive Coordinator/
Linebackers 5-3
1986 Assumption Defensive Coordinator/
Linebackers 1-8
1987 Grand Valley State Graduate Assistant/
Defensive Backs
1988 Grand Valley State Graduate Assistant/
Defensive Backs 7-4
1989 Grand Valley State Defensive Coordinator/
Recruiting Coordinator 11-1/NCAA Division II playoffs (0-1)
1990 Grand Valley State Defensive Coordinator/
Recruiting Coordinator 10-2/NCAA Division II playoffs (0-1)

1991 Grand Valley State Head Coach NCAA Division II playoffs (0-1)
1992 Grand Valley State Head Coach 8-3
1993 Grand Valley State Head Coach 6-3-2
1994 Grand Valley State Head Coach 8-4/NCAA Division II playoffs (0-1)
1995 Grand Valley State Head Coach 8-3
1996 Grand Valley State Head Coach 8-3
1997 Grand Valley State Head Coach 9-2
1998 Grand Valley State Head Coach 9-3/NCAA Division II playoffs (0-1)
1999 Grand Valley State Head Coach 5-5
2000 Grand Valley State Head Coach 7-4
2001 Grand Valley State Head Coach 13-1/NCAA Division II runner-up (3-1)
2002 Grand Valley State Head Coach 14-0/NCAA Division II champion (4-0)
2003 Grand Valley State Head Coach 14-1/NCAA Division II champion (4-0)
2004 Central Michigan Head Coach 4-7
2005 Central Michigan Head Coach 6-5
2006 Central Michigan Head Coach 9-4/qualified for Motor City Bowl
2006 Cincinnati Head Coach 1-0/International Bowl:
W 27-24 vs. Western Michigan
2007 Cincinnati Head Coach 10-3/ Bowl:
W 31-21 vs. Southern Mississippi
2008 Cincinnati Head Coach 11-3/Orange Bowl:
L 7-20 vs. Virginia Tech
2009 Cincinnati Head Coach 12-0/qualified for Sugar Bowl vs. Florida

Grand Valley State Totals (13 seasons) 118-35-2 .767
Central Michigan Totals (3 seasons) 19-16 .542
Cincinnati Totals (3 seasons) 34-6 .850
Overall Totals (19 seasons) 171-57-2 .747

Get used to Kelly Green!

It's not quite official, but Brian Kelly announced to his football team today that he will be accepting the head football coaching position at the University of Notre Dame. An official announcement should be coming tomorrow.

I like the hire, and while it's not the "home run" hire that Meyer or Stoops would have been, it's certainly at least a lead off triple.

If you want to know more about Kelly's background, please read my post earlier this week.

The thing that gives me the most hope about Brian Kelly is that he has a strong history of coaching kids to perform above their athletic ability. He's taken a Cincinnati team that had a bunch of unheralded kids,a nd has led them to an undefeated season and a #3 ranking in his third season on campus.

That tells me that this guy knows how to teach kids fundamentals, which is the one thing that has been sorely lacking under Weis' regime. Weis relied too much on athletic talent and didn't spend enough time drilling fundamentals.

There are many concerns about Kelly being bandied about on message boards, but most of them, near as I can tell, are misinformed.

First, let's look at the "Kelly can't recruit nationally" argument. Here are the last 6 years worth of rankings of recruiting classes on for Cincinnati:

2005: 94
2006: 102
2007: 89
*Kelly hired*
2008: 67
2009: 60
2010: 44

Before Kelly: average 98th recruiting class
During Kelly: average 58th recruiting class
Change: +40

That means that Kelly has built Cincy's talent base from a program that couldn't get anyone to come to campus into the top third in the country in recruiting.

Also, much has been made about Kelly's lack of experience at a major program. People apparently feel that the Big East is somehow not a big time conference, despite their automatic BCS bid. He doesn't have any idea what's coming under the spotlights at Notre Dame.

Now, to be fair, I don't think even Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops have any idea what it's like to work under the microscope that is the Notre Dame fan base. But, I hardly think that Utah and Bowling Green were better preparation the spotlight for Urban Meyer than Central Michigan and Cincinatti were for Kelly. And nobody seemed to complain about Meyer's ability to handle the spotlight four years ago. And I have never heard of anything controversial linked to Brian Kelly - no crazy comments, no off the field issues, nothing. Not even a hint of NCAA violations. Please, someone correct me if I'm wrong.

A lot of people complained about the "tweeting" issue when Kelly announced that he would listen to Notre Dame, and again when he said he wouldn't be interviewing on Tuesday. That it was somehow amateurish. I disagree. He was very careful in stating that he would listen, rather than issuing vague denials or outright lies like Saban did. He was open and honest about the process, and I'm certain he had a conversation with Notre Dame about controlling the flow of information and in making the decision to release those tweets.

Too many people are so quick to read ulterior motives in the absence of real information.

In fact, I must say that Jack Swarbrick really impressed me with the way this search was handled. I have no idea whether he contacted anyone else but Brian Kelly. And that's a good thing. There was no egg on our face from being left standing at the altar by Stoops or Meyer. There was no public outing of his whereabouts or that of the Notre Dame plane. In fact, the lid on this search was as tight as any I've ever seen at a major program.

Remember when Alabama hired Saban, they were publicly rebuffed by Rich Rodriguez first. And Florida, while they did wrap up the deal with Urban Meyer, could have been just as publicly humiliated as Notre Dame had we managed to pull Meyer to South Bend.

The news "leaks" from the media were all from unnamed sources, and all appeared to ultimately be from unreliable sources. Indeed, the whole "rumor" about Bielema (a total hoax) came from the fact that there was no other information out there, and so the media was forced to rely on whatever it could scrape together to drive readership onto their site.

I think Kelly is a great hire for Notre Dame, and with all of the talent stocked up by Coach Weis, he should be able to get this team performing at a top level in short order.

And if any of those fair weather malcontent posters on NDNation that don't want to support the new coach have extra tickets, I'll gladly take them off your hands. Just shoot me an e-mail at

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.