The Journal Gazette
Monday, November 29, 2021 10:50 pm

REPORTS: Brian Kelly set to become LSU coach

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly will be the next coach at LSU, according to multiple reports.

LSU will reportedly pay Kelly at least $10 million per season including incentives, a figure that would make him among the top two highest-paid coaches in college football, depending on the final details of Lincoln Riley's new contract with USC.

Notre Dame does not release salary figures for its employees, but Kelly is believed to have been making $7-8 million per season with the Irish, among the top 10 salaries in the country.

Kelly, 60, has been the head coach in South Bend since prior to the 2010 season, leaving him one year short of equaling Knute Rockne for longest tenure in Irish history. He has already passed Rockne atop the all-time Notre Dame wins list, a feat he accomplished with his 106th career victory in a Sept. 25 game against Wisconsin. Two months later, Kelly's Notre Dame-record win total has climbed to 113 against 40 losses, including a 5-5 record in bowl games.

Kelly's departure comes just two days after he coached the Irish to a 45-14 win against Stanford in the team's regular-season finale, pushing Notre Dame's record to 11-1.

When he broke Rockne's record for wins, Kelly emphasized he was happy at Notre Dame because of alignment philosophically with athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who originally hired Kelly away from Cincinnati.

"It takes a lot of things to be in place for that to happen," Kelly said when he tied Rockne's wins record. (Notre Dame president) Fr. John (Jenkins) has been with me on this journey. Jack's been on this journey. Consistency, leadership, alignment, all those things have to come together to get this point.

"I'm just saying it requires consistency to get to these marks and we have it with our leadership. We have it with our athletic director and we've had it in the coaching, because we have alignment, and because of that, that's helped a lot in being consistent and winning football games."

Under Kelly's stewardship, the Irish reached a BCS National Championship Game and two College Football Playoffs, though they are 0-3 in those events. They have also won 10 games in a season in each of the last five years, the first time they have done so in program history.

As the news broke tonight, several Notre Dame players reacted on social media. All-American safety Kyle Hamilton tweeted pictures of himself as a child in LSU gear, while running back Kyren Williams could only manage, "That's crazy."

Wide receiver Braden Lenzy was diplomatic:

"Chase the bag, business first I get it. Best of luck."

Kelly's reported departure from South Bend comes at a time when the Irish are still in the hunt for this season's national championship. Notre Dame is No. 6 in the AP Poll and will likely be in a similar position in Tueday's CFP rankings. Depending on what happens in Saturday's conference championship games, the Irish are well within reach of a third Playoff appearance in four years.

If the Irish fall short of the Playoff, they will almost certainly play in one of the prestigious New Year's Six bowls against a top-tier opponent. It is unclear whether Kelly would coach in that game or whether the Irish would turn to an interim coach.

LSU won a national championship in 2019 under coach Ed Orgeron, but has gone a combined 11-11 in the last two years. In October, the Tigers announced they would part ways with Orgeron at the end of the season. They have won three national titles under three different coaches since 2003 and quarterback Joe Burrow won the Heisman Trophy in 2019.

Notre Dame has not won a national title since 1988 and Kelly admitted as he neared Rockne's record that his failure to end that streak would likely be part of his legacy with the Irish.

"I can tell you exactly where I sit in Notre Dame history, the coach that won more games that hasn't won a national championship," Kelly said. "That's where I'll sit. What I feel like we've done is we've played consistent football and we brought Notre Dame football back to its relevance of competing for championships.

"Each year you raise the bar and you continue to build towards that goal of winning a national championship ... Everything's judged and rightly so on winning a national championship and I have no problem with that. I knew that coming in."

Kelly had been connected to the job opening at USC, which was filled Sunday when the Trojans hired Riley away from Oklahoma. Kelly was asked last week about whether he envisioned leaving Notre Dame for anything other than retirement.

"No," he responded. "I mean, look, I think (Pittsburgh Steelers coach) Mike Tomlin had the best line, right? Unless that fairy godmother comes by with that $250 million check, my wife would want to take a look at it first. I'd have to run it by her."

At the time, he called the reports of USC's inquiries about him "interesting"

"Where your name is brought up is where they probably want you to look, so you're not looking where you should be looking," Kelly said last Monday. "It's a smokescreen. This time of the year, you throw names out there so people don't look where they're supposed to look."

Former Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, now an analyst with Fox Sports, said he believes the facilities in South Bend were a sticking point for Kelly.

"They wanted a new football facility and that hasn't been done yet," Quinn said. "I've heard that was a frustrating part in this breakup with Brian Kelly and the University of Notre Dame. Other resources that he asked for maybe weren't there, at least not to the degree that LSU was able to provide. Let's not get this twisted, LSU was desperate."

Kelly had reportedly turned down LSU when the Tigers first tried to gauge his interest at the start of their coaching search. LSU then reportedly zeroed in on Riley, who spurned them for USC, bringing the Tigers back to Kelly.

In his time in South Bend, Kelly stabilized a Notre Dame program that had been wandering in the wilderness for 15 years when he took the job. Three head coaches – Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis – had tried and failed to recapture the success of the Lou Holtz Era, Notre Dame's last sustained period at the pinnacle of the sport.

Under Kelly, the Irish found a version of that success again, though a national championship remains elusive. They won 10 games seven times, 11 games four times and went undefeated in the regular season three times in Kelly's tenure.

Swarbrick and the Irish will immediately begin the search for a new coach. A hire will likely need to be made speedily: the early signing period for the 2022 recruiting class begins Dec. 15 and Notre Dame could see its class poached if it does not have someone in place.

The Irish class is No. 4 in the country, per, which would have been the highest-ranked class in Kelly's tenure.

Among the candidates for the job will likely be defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who chose Notre Dame over LSU in January. In his first year in South Bend, he has presided over a defense that did not give up a touchdown for a 3 1/2-game stretch in recent weeks and is just one sack short of tying the all-time Notre Dame record.

The Irish will also probably be in contact with Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, who led his Bearcats to a victory over the Irish in October and has them in line to be the first Group of Five (small conference) team to reach the CFP. 

"This has been a wild Monday night," Irish defensive end Isaiah Foskey tweeted.

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