Notre Dame Finds Coach In Kelly

Cincinnati Coach Has Work Cut Out For Him In South Bend

December 11, 2009|By Brian Hamilton | Brian Hamilton , Tribune Newspapers

Brian Kelly will be introduced today as the next Notre Dame coach. He will, of course, instantly be ordained a savior, though he'll do well to just be Brian Kelly, with the peak-volume personality and production that suggests.

He is a championship-program craftsman. He has the magnetic, kinetic charisma befitting the son of an Irish-Catholic alderman from Boston. He led Cincinnati to two straight Bowl Championship Series bids. It is the hire Notre Dame had to make, the energy and optimism transfusion a lilting powerhouse had to have.

"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," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement announcing the hire.

After some tacit inspection of shoot-the-moon candidates, it's difficult to imagine a serpentine process leading to someone other than the guy who will embrace the place, is a 2009 National Coach of the Year and has won 75 percent of the games he has coached.

Kelly has a five-year contract and will not coach Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl against Florida. He is believed to have signed on at a salary approaching $3 million a year.

Thus ends a fairly smooth operation to land Kelly after Notre Dame dismissed Charlie Weis on Nov. 30, despite the teeth-gnashing over the past few days.

As previously reported by the Chicago Tribune, Kelly held a meeting last week about the opening with representatives of Notre Dame within days of Cincinnati's winning the Big East championship at Pittsburgh. That laid the groundwork for negotiations that ended Wednesday.

Kelly, 48, offers Notre Dame a winner who understands how to build championship-tier college programs.

At Grand Valley State, he won back-to-back Division II national titles. At Central Michigan, he took a moribund program to a 9-4 record and a Mid-American conference Championship. He has 33 wins over the past three years at Cincinnati, including a 12-0 record this year and two straight BCS berths.

But Notre Dame does present challenges - the greatest being a 16-21 record over the past three seasons. Kelly also will have to recruit on a national scale as he has not done before, making his selection of assistants crucial.

Kelly is known for offense - Cincinnati ranks sixth nationally - but repairing the Irish's defense is paramount. The Bearcats have ranked 50th, 31st and 48th nationally in total defense over the past three seasons, respectively.

A source indicated Notre Dame's strength coaches have emptied their offices, so it would be no shock if Kelly brought along Paul Longo, his valued strength coach for the past six seasons.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn, who has coached with Kelly for 22 seasons, seemed a shoo-in to follow, but he will coach the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl first. First-year defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has a history with Kelly dating to Central Michigan and could be seen as an up-and-coming defensive mind.

Should Diaco not come along, Grand Valley State coach Chuck Martin - 74-6 in six seasons - has told multiple outlets that he would take the coordinator job should Kelly ask. Another name to consider: former Marshall coach and Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.

Some Cincinnati players felt betrayed Thursday, with receiver Mardy Gilyard telling reporters "there was a little lying in the thing."

So Notre Dame's hiring of Kelly went as most of these changes go: Hard feelings on one side; good tidings on the other.

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