The Irishman

Brian Kelly brings solid resume, questions to LSU

Illustration by Paddy Mills

Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football.

SU’s athletic department has made clear its expectations. The lede of its press release announcing the hiring of former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly read, “The search for LSU Football’s next championship head coach is over.”

The Fighting Tigers won national championships with Nick Saban in 2003, Les Miles in 2007, and Ed Orgeron in 2019. The purple and gold faithful have put their trust in Kelly, to make the program national champions once again.

Kelly brings an amazing resume to Baton Rouge. LSU athletics director Scott Woodward called him, “the most accomplished hire in program history.” In 2021, he moved ahead of the legendary coach Knute Rockne for most wins by a Notre Dame head coach (113), has more victories (280) than any active coach in college football, and led the Irish to the 2012 BCS national title game as well as College Football Playoff appearances in 2018 and 2020. Of interest to fans and potential recruits, Notre Dame produced 53 NFL Draft picks since 2012, including nine in the first round.

“Brian Kelly is the epitome of a winner,” Woodward said at the press conference to formally introduce the new hire. “His credentials and consistency speak for themselves.”

He’s getting paid like it, too. LSU signed Kelly to a 10-year, $95 million contract, plus incentives, but he’ll have his work cut out for him as he tries to rebuild a team coming off consecutive .500 seasons and not living up to the program’s high expectations.

“I could not be more excited to join a program with the commitment to excellence, rich traditions, and unrivaled pride and passion of LSU Football,” Kelly said at his introductory press conference. “I am fully committed to recruiting, developing, and graduating elite student-athletes, winning championships, and working together with our administration to make Louisiana proud.”

Tiger fans have to be excited about his drive to win a national title. However, it will be an interesting relationship to watch. Despite raising banners in Tiger Stadium, LSU fired its last two head coaches mid-season. The ongoing Title IX litigation and accusations of mishandling of sexual assault reports still hangs over the program and could have negative effects.

Additionally, the way Kelly left the Irish may impact his ability to draw talent to LSU. There is thought that without Notre Dame’s rigorous academic requirements, LSU’s program will attract talent who may perform better on the field than the classroom, and finally get himself on the College Football Playoff trophy presentation stage. But will LSU’s recruits – and their parents – believe Kelly has their best intentions in mind or his?

Going into 2021 conference championship weekend, the Irish stood at 11-1 and ranked No. 6 in the nation. Despite the opportunity for Notre Dame to move into the four-team playoff, he left the program and flew south for, as he said, an “easier path to the national championship.”

College sports – especially off the field rules and regulations – have changed dramatically in recent years. Coaches bounce from program to program in search of the best opportunities. Players can transfer from team to team without penalty. But relationships – especially between players and coaches – are still at the heart of the game.

Hopefully, Kelly can return LSU to a championship caliber. He’ll be doing it in the toughest division in the toughest conference in the nation – 13 of the SEC’s 14 teams qualified for bowls this year. He’ll have to win early to shake the malaise of the rabid fanbase and do it with players former coach Ed Orgeron recruited. Max Johnson, the 2021 starting quarterback, has already announced his intention to transfer. Some recruits have rescinded their commitments to enroll. Kelly’s first task will be to turn the tide of people leaving and establishing a level of trust with current and potential players. He’ll be questioned about his loyalty to his players – and some may be turned off by the way he left Notre Dame. That’s a tough way to start a re-building project. He has shown he has the skill to build a winner, but will he be able to meet LSU’s level of expectations? That is one of the biggest questions as the Tigers enter a new era with Kelly at the helm.