Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 JANUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED A good-looking Irish Catholic from Notre Dame crazy Bos- ton, and a man with more than 20 years' experience coach- ing in the seasonal Midwest, Brian Kelly really was the perfect fit as the 29th Irish head football coach, until he wasn't anymore. What a strange way to welcome in December. Coaches move on, no secret there. They want new challenges, they want more money, they want a fresh start, they want an ego boost, they want a chance to reach greater heights, and Kelly obvi- ously believed that LSU provided him all of those when he covertly left South Bend for Baton Rouge on Nov. 29. But did it have to go down like this? Divorce is always messy, and the timing of a coaching separation is never ideal. But when Kelly added LSU colors and the caption "CALLIN' BATON ROUGE" to his Twitter account the day before he even met with the Irish players, it pro- vided a glimpse and an uneasiness into how the coach thinks and operates. Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick admitted the day after Kel- ly's bolt to Baton Rouge to being neither informed nor surprised by his former employee's relocation plan … even if the rest of the college football world sure as hell was. "There's just a sense you get when you work closely with somebody for 12 years that there's a certain restlessness, and I could sense that," Swarbrick said. "I have contemplated for some period of time that there had to be an endpoint coming." Interestingly, Kelly was actually asked only about a week prior to his career move if he'd ever consider leaving Notre Dame before his contract expired in 2024. "No," he said, adding, "unless that fairy godmother comes by with a $250 million check." Multiple outlets report Kelly's con- tract with LSU is worth $95 million over 10 years, so not fairy godmother money, but certainly fairytale money. And, as if Kelly didn't already do enough damage through his selfish program abandonment, the stories are well-documented that he tried to take Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and several other top Irish assistants with him. If you're going to burn down a bridge, you may as well burn down everything the bridge connects you to. The Notre Dame coaching core held together, Swarbrick bid Kelly best wishes and a brief adieu, and a depar- ture that could've destabilized a suc- cessful program instead galvanized it when Freeman was promoted from defensive coordinator to the 30th Irish head coach. In the midst of turbulence that many thought would create panic and a "now what" frenzy when Kelly checked out without warning, the news and devel- opments surprisingly turned into more of a "don't let the door hit you in the rear" story less than 48 hours later. Swarbrick's decision to promote Freeman, 35, seemed unanimously supported and celebrated by both the current Irish and the committed high school players from the 2022 and 2023 recruiting classes, two groups that Rivals rates among the nation's best and that Freeman has been instrumental in building. Business returned to usual, Freeman and his staff immedi- ately hit the recruiting trail, sealed the deal on a terrific 2022 class, began preparing for a Fiesta Bowl matchup Jan. 1, against Oklahoma State, and there was nothing left to see here. Brian who? Again, leaving Notre Dame was Kelly's right, but the callous in- difference that he showed to his players, his staff, his recruits and the entire program was not right. Though, it shouldn't surprise given that Kelly took the same course in 2009 when he jetted without any warning from Cin- cinnati to Notre Dame a few weeks be- fore the Bearcats were set to play in the Sugar Bowl. After 12 seasons on the job and for the sake of a relatively smooth transition, Kelly owed his players and program some openness and transparency with this decision, instead of the same dis- loyalty, phoniness, secrecy, dishonesty and cowardliness he used when flirting with the Philadelphia Eagles before and after the 2012 BCS National Champion- ship Game. When Notre Dame beat Wisconsin on Sept. 25, and Kelly passed Knute Rockne as Notre Dame's all-time winningest coach, I argued that even without a na- tional title, Kelly had built up enough respect, equity and success to deserve his own statue outside of Notre Dame Stadium, one to sit alongside the five Irish coaches who did win titles. Well, scrap that idea. Maybe instead, he can work on a de- sign for one outside of Tiger Stadium … if he can ever find a way to beat Nick Saban and Alabama. ✦ Just 10 weeks after becoming Notre Dame's all-time winningest coach, Brian Kelly showed a callous indifference to his players, staff and the university when he suddenly bolted for LSU. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA Kelly's Selfish Departure May Become A Blessing UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at

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