Brian Kelly wants to make LSU more fit to win championships
- Many have criticized Brian Kelly as a poor candidate for LSU, but this factor is perhaps the most overrated criteria for judging coaches.
- Brian Kelly, 60, is the opposite of his predecessor Ed Orgeron and one of the four most winning active college football coaches, including Mack Brown.
- John Mackovic was once a terrible game for Texas but still won or shared three conference titles for the Longhorns.
ATLANTA — Brian Kelly has been taken to task, if not the stake, and has yet to coach a game at LSU.
Welcome to the South, outsider.
The beefs with the former Notre Dame coach, who never coached south of the Mason-Dixon line, became very public and almost instantaneous.
What is the suddenly adopted Cajun accent?
Did he just swap pasta and lobster for catfish etoufe and shrimp poboys?
And we all know how much fam-uh-lee means to him.
Is he really such a bad dancer?
Jeepers, let the man have a game before the second guessing season begins.
All of the premature criticism boiled down to one factor: is Kelly right for LSU?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Does it even matter if it fits?
I claim that’s not the case at all as long as he embraces Cajun culture like his own fam-uh-lee, eats okra and grilled oysters at least every other day and, oh yeah, wins big at USL. Especially if he wins big.
Ed Orgeron has his place there. For a while, until LSU realized it was more (seriously) and (a lot) swaggering, recruiting and motivating than the smart, organized, disciplined X and O’s. Kelly isn’t a good ol’ Southern boy, but he’s smart, proven, and committed. In less than eight months, he started up and hired 48 new employees and sent a message that he is his own man.
The Miles adapted to it a bit too until he sort of chased himself from Baton Rouge to Kansas and then retired early.
And guess what? Kelly is twice the coach of either of these guys. And they both won national championships at LSU, as did Nick Saban, another outsider from West Virginia who, like Kelly, coached in the upper Midwest (State of Michigan) and never really connected to the culture. or to the people there, except when he was accepting shiny trophies.
So good or bad fit, this new Midwest with New England roots was the best — if superb — hire for LSU since Scott Woodward couldn’t get Jimbo Fisher to reunite or Lincoln Riley to move. After all, Kelly abruptly left Notre Dame as the national school’s single most earning coach.
But Kelly knows that if he doesn’t occasionally whip Alabama and consistently beat Texas A&M and Florida, he’ll be back in the workforce, despite his $9.5 million average salary with a 10-year contract. Or he could just buy himself a boat and become a shrimp boat captain with a broken accent or retire to one of his two vacation homes in Florida.
As for that salary, LSU reportedly guaranteed 90% of it and ridiculously included a $500,000 incentive bonus for reaching a bowling game. Um, excuse me, but shouldn’t that be a half-million discount that Kelly has to pay to school if he DOES NOT qualify for a game of bowling?
For anyone wondering why the hell would he move south, know that Kelly only made $2.7 million at Notre Dame.
He was also criticized for the timing of his exit from South Bend, taking the LSU job just six days before the final CFP rankings which heavily considered but barely ruled out the Irish one step. It’s hard to believe that LSU wouldn’t have waited to seal the deal if they had reached a gentleman’s agreement. His hasty departure did not sit well with fans and former Notre Dame players.
Kelly would not have been subject to more doubts if this avid golfer had announced that he was joining the LIV Golf Tour.
When I asked Kelly at SEC media days about his fit for his new job, he replied, “Fitness is about the ability to run a program at the highest level. I’ve had success in Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Central Michigan, everywhere I’ve been. Managing a program and player development are the most important things. I don’t think it has to be geographical.
He is absolutely right. Besides, he won everywhere he went, from a pair of Division II national titles at Grand Valley State to a Mid-American championship at Central Michigan to a 34-6 record at Cincinnati.
In short, Kelly is everything his predecessor was not. Kelly, more aloof than outgoing, sports a neat and polished look while the gregarious Orgeron comes in the form of a wrinkled suit. Kelly is into organization, discipline and accountability while Ed O was a man of the people – that is, a perfect fit for a long time – but was distracted and complacent to be slipped pink at just 21 months after winning a natty.
“They have two very different styles,” Tigers catcher Jack Bech told me. “Coach O was a motivator that gets your blood pumping. Coach Kelly is more like a CEO. He’s very strategic and moves things around like chess pieces. Everyone accepted that.
Kelly is truly a CEO in the line of Mack Brown — incidentally, two of the four most successful active college football coaches, along with Saban and Kirk Ferentz. Kelly’s attention to detail sets him apart; Ed O has kind of let the program deteriorate to an 11-12 record over the past two seasons.
“Both are great coaches and know how to win,” LSU defensive end BJ Ojulari said. “Coach Kelly is very comfortable in this position. I’ve seen him dance and do stuff like that, but I’m not the best dancer so it’s not for me to judge.
Kelly is in Baton Rouge and not South Bend in 2022 for several reasons.
He had probably hit his ceiling at Notre Dame, good enough to make the college football playoffs but never good enough to pass an Alabama or Ohio State or Clemson. The school has lost its last 10 BCS and/or CFP games and all six New Year’s Bowls and hasn’t celebrated a title since 1988. Higher academic standards won’t follow it south, where Kelly thinks he’ll make a best job locking up Louisiana talent. at the same time, it operates recruiting hotbeds from Houston to Miami.
If the running Miles and outclassed Orgeron can earn a natty at LSU, Kelly surely can.
It’s easier to recruit top-notch talent in the Southeast, where wide receivers and running backs (but maybe not quarterbacks) grow on trees or in the bayous, than in the Upper -Midwest, even for a global brand like the Irish.
It doesn’t hurt that he gets 50 hours on a private jet, according to a Sports Illustrated article.
He’s probably tired of the intimidating demands of Notre Dame fans (although he may be seriously underestimating how badly Tiger Nation wants to win).
But back to the crises.
This is almost always the most overrated criterion for a new coaching hire, regardless of the sport.
Take Texas, for example.
The stiff shirt that was John Mackovic was an awful fit in Austin, but he won or shared a Southwestern Conference or Big 12 title three times in six years and captured the first-ever Big 12 championship.
Likeable David McWilliams, disciple of Darrell Royal and favorite son of Texas, was perhaps Austin’s best ever fit, but suffered three losing seasons in five years and finished tied for fifth in the league at three times.
Both were fired.
Kelly might have been a logical choice in Austin too, but Texas never considered him and instead wanted a close connection to the SEC, its new league, and went with Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. .
Is Jimbo Fisher the perfect match in College Station, even though the West Virginia talks like a Yankee? Yes, I think he is.
Fisher likes to hunt and fish. He does not hesitate to train with Saint Nick. He’s got a lot less pressure in College Station than he ever would in Baton Rouge, where they’re firing Nationals coaches.
Yeah, he could have traded his $9 million a year contract with the Aggies for a salary approaching $13 million a season from Aggies pal Woodward. But Fisher hasn’t recruited his butt in the last four years and walked away with the best signing class ever with six five-star blue-chipers and put in place a NIL structure that will blow Saban’s head only to crush it all and go back to LSU. Smart man to stay where he is.
And Kelly might be a better coach than Fisher. Maybe. That is yet to be determined, although Fisher has a national championship ring from Florida State, while Kelly does not. But Fisher is yet to win more than nine games in a season at A&M, while Kelly has won 17 times in 32 seasons.
Both have very busy schedules. While they both must navigate killer slates in the SEC, Fisher is scheduled to face Miami this season and Kelly opens with tradition-rich Florida State.
Fisher has already settled in well at College Station.
“Now understand, I now have a Boston, Midwest, and Louisiana accent,” Kelly said. “It’s three dialects in one. It’s not ‘family’ anymore, I got all kinds of things to throw at you.
Kelly said something very curious when he said he wanted to “be part of restoring championship-quality football at LSU.”
He’s ready for a big, quick rebound.
“This man is a winner,” said LSU linebacker Mike Jones, a transfer from Clemson a year ago. “When I think about where I see LSU in the next five or 10 years, I don’t think they could have hired anyone better to bring a top-tier program like LSU should be, can be, and will be.”
LSU returns just 11 starters and was chosen to finish fifth in SEC West. He hasn’t had a definite starting quarterback since Max Johnson left for A&M.
But I bet Kelly wins big.
“I learned to love where I am in Baton Rouge,” he said. “I love people and they love football. They love family and they love food, and that’s fine with me. I guess I should have been in the South from the start.
We will see. But it wasn’t love at first gumbo.