- Many have criticized Brian Kelly as being unsuitable for LSU, but this factor may be the most overrated criterion for coaches.
- 60-year-old Brian Kelly is the opposite of his predecessor Ed Orgeron and one of the four active college football coaches, including Mac Brown.
- John Makovich was once terribly fit for the Texans, but he won or shared three titles at the Longhorn Conferences.
ATLANTA – Brian Kelly was taken for the job, if not in the lumber room, and he hasn’t yet coached for a game at LSU.
Welcome to the south, stranger.
The meat of the former Notre Dame coach, who had never trained south of the Mason Dixon streak, became very public and almost instantaneously.
What Cajun dialect was suddenly adopted?
Did he just trade pasta and lobster for catfish etouff and shrimp popboys?
And we all know how much fam-uh-lee means to him.
Is he really that bad a dancer?
Gibbs, let the guy play a game first before the second guessing season begins.
All of the early criticism is due to one factor: Is Kelly a good fit at LSU?
Can. Maybe not.
Does it even matter if it suits him?
I’d argue that doesn’t happen at all as long as he embraces Cajun culture like Fam uh Lee, eats at least some okra and grilled oysters every day, and yes, wins a lot at LSU. Mostly if he wins big.
Fit to win.
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Ed Orgeron is suitable there. For a while, until LSU realized he was talking (terribly) and (a lot of) intimidating, recruiting, and motivating more than X and O smart, organized, and disciplined. Kelly isn’t a good Southern boy, but he’s smart and has proven to be observant. In less than eight months, he’s up and running and has hired 48 new employees and sent the message that he’s his businessman.
Les Miles fit in there a bit too until he chased himself from Baton Rouge all the way to Kansas and then into early retirement.
And imagine what? Kelly is the coach twice, none of these guys. Both won national championships at LSU, as Nick Saban, another West Virginia outsider who, like Kelly, trained in the Upper Midwest (Michigan) and was only associated with the culture or people there when he was accepting gloss trophies.
Very fit or inappropriate, this new Midwest with New England roots has been the best – if amazing – at LSU since Scott Woodward couldn’t convince Jimbo Fisher to reunite or Lincoln Riley to relocate. After all, Kelly suddenly left Notre Dame as the most winning coach ever at the only truly national school.
But Kelly knows if he doesn’t occasionally whip Alabama and hit Texas A&M and Florida regularly, he’ll immediately be back in the job market, despite his average $9.5 million salary with a 10-year deal. Or he could just buy himself a boat and become a cracked accent shrimp boat captain or retire to one of his Florida vacation homes.
For that salary, LSU reportedly guaranteed 90% of it and ridiculously included a $500,000 incentive bonus for getting into a bowl game. Uh, excuse me, but shouldn’t that be a half-million deduction that Kelly has to pay the school if he doesn’t qualify for a pot game?
For anyone asking why he’s moving south, know that Kelly was only making $2.7 million at Notre Dame.
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He’s also come under fire for the timing of his exit from South Bend as well, taking a job at LSU just six days before the final CFP rankings were considered strong but hardly left out the Irish by one notch. It’s hard to believe LSU wouldn’t have waited to close the deal if they had a gentleman’s deal. His hasty departure did not please Notre Dame fans and former players.
Kelly wouldn’t have come across more second-guessing if this avid golfer in his own right had announced that he would be joining the LIV Tour of golf.
When I asked Kelly on SEC media days about his fitness in his new job, he said, “It’s about being able to run a program at the highest level. I’ve had success in Notre Dame, Cincinnati, mid-Michigan, wherever I am. Running a program and developing a player, those are the things. Most important. I don’t think this has to be geographical.”
He is absolutely right. On top of that, he’s won everywhere he’s been, from a pair of National Division II titles at Grand Valley State to the Central American Championships in Central Michigan to a 34-6 record in Cincinnati.
In short, Kelly is everything his predecessor was not. Kelly, apart from an extrovert, has a sleek and glossy look while the social Orgeron appeared as a wrinkled suit. Kelly’s on organization, discipline and accountability while Ed O has been a man of the people – aka perfectly fit for a long time – yet he is distracted and satisfied only to become rosy just 21 months after winning the award.
“They have two very different styles,” Jack Beech told me. “Coach O has been a motivator to get the blood pumping. Coach Kelly is more like a CEO. He is very strategic and moves things like chess pieces. Everyone kissed him.”
Kelly is a CEO very much along the lines of Mac Brown—by the way two of the top four active college football coaches, along with Saban and Kirk Ferentz. Kelly’s attention to detail sets him apart. Ed O somehow let the program deteriorate to an 11-12 record for the past two seasons.
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“They are both great coaches and know how to win,” said BJ Ojulari, the LSU defense end. “Coach Kelly is very comfortable in this position. I’ve seen him dance and do things 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 may have hit his rooftop at Notre Dame, good enough to make it to the College Football Playoff but not good enough to get past Alabama, Ohio State or Clemson. The school has lost its last 10 BCS and/or CFP games and six New Year’s bowls and hasn’t celebrated a title since 1988. The stricter academic standards won’t follow up south, as Kelly does a better job of locking in talent in Louisiana at the same time exploits recruiting hotbeds from Houston to Miami.
If daring Miles and super-orgyron can win nicely at LSU, surely Kelly can.
It’s easier to recruit excellent talent in the Southeast, where wide receivers and backs (but maybe not a quarterback) grow on trees or in the bay, than it is in the upper Midwest, even for a global brand like the Irish.
It doesn’t hurt that he gets 50 hours of private jet time, according to a Sports Illustrated story.
Maybe he’s tired of the daunting demands of Notre Dame fans (although he might underestimate how badly Tiger Nation wants to win).
But back to the fits.
This is often the most exaggerated standard that is set for hiring a new coach, regardless of the sport.
Take Texas, for example.
John Makovich’s tough jersey fit horribly in Austin, yet he’s won or participated in the Southwest Conference or Big 12 title three times in six years and won his first Big 12 championship.
Stylish David McWilliams, Daryl’s royal pupil and favorite Texan son, may have been the best ever in Austin, but he’s suffered three losing seasons in five years and finished in a draw for fifth in the league three times.
Both have been separated.
Kelly might have been a logical fit in Austin as well, but the Texans never considered him and instead wanted a close relationship with the SEC, their new league, and settled on Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkissian.
Is Jimbo Fisher the perfect College Station match, even if the West Virginian speaks like a Yankee? Yes, I think it is.
Fisher loves hunting and fishing. He’s not shy about arguing with Saint Nick. He was under a lot less pressure at College Station than he did in Baton Rouge, where they fired the National Championship coaches.
Yes, he would have traded his $9 million a year deal with Aggies for a salary approaching $13 million a season from Aggies Pal Woodward. But Fisher hasn’t pulled his ass over the past four years and came out with the best signature class ever with six five-star blue-collar and NIL chassiss that would make Saban’s head explode only to toss it all and go back to LSU. Smart guy to stay where he is.
And Kelly may be a better coach than Fisher. Can. That should be determined, though, as Fisher has a Florida national championship ring, unlike Kelly. But Fisher has yet to win more than nine games in a season at A&M while Kelly has done 17 times in 32 seasons.
They both have really tough schedules. While both have to navigate killer SEC listings, Fisher has to face Miami this season and opens Kelly with tradition-rich Florida.
Fisher has been a really good fit at College Station.
“I get it now, I have a Boston, Midwest, Louisiana accent,” Kelly said. “It’s three dialects in one. It’s no longer ‘family’, I have all kinds of things to throw at you.”
Kelly said something very curious when he said he wanted to “be a part of restoring championship-quality football to LSU.”
It is formulated for a great and quick recovery.
“This guy is the winner,” said LSU linebacker Mike Jones, moving 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 deliver a top-tier program like LSU, and it could be, and it could be.”
LSU returns only 11 Novices and was selected to finish fifth at SEC West. He hasn’t had a clear starting quarterback since Max Johnson left for A&M.
But here Kelly bets on a big win.
“I got love where I am in Baton Rouge,” he said. “I love people and they love football. They love family, they love food, and that really works for me. I think I should have been in the south the whole time.”
we will see. But it wasn’t love at first okra.