LSU next head coaching era doesn’t have the same Louisiana flair the program maintained under Ed Orgeron, and Brian Kelly made that clear with one hand gesture.
The Tigers new head coach said it was his first full day in Louisiana and raised his right hand with his thumb and forefinger raised to form an “L.”
“I didn’t know what this meant until today,” Kelly said. “I know what it means today, and I’m going to learn a lot more as we go.”
It was just one of the many examples of the shifting currents surrounding the LSU football program with the hire of one of the most accomplished coaches in NCAA history in Kelly, who spent the past 11 seasons with Notre Dame, with the Irish program he just left still in contention for yet another bid into the College Football Playoff.
But Kelly won’t be coaching in South Bend anymore, regardless. It’s also unclear how the LSU program will sort out its bowl game with its next leader in house. OL coach Brad Davis is expected to serve as the interim throughout that process, while Kelly gets his new-look LSU program, coaches and recruiting process in place.
But Wednesday afternoon wasn’t about a bowl game or rehashing Kelly’s accolades, although there was a lot of it. The day was about Kelly announcing his intentions for his new home and university. So with that in mind, here are Kelly’s top-10 quotes from his expansive and first address to Louisiana as the new LSU football coach.
WOODWARD: '[Kelly] checks every box'
First thing's first, LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward gave some insight into the hiring process. It was yet another hire that furthered Woodward's reputation as a big-name hunter. He was the man who drew Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M, and since taking over for Joe Alleva has already shown that ability to land splash hires has traveled. In the past year he's hired women's basketball legend Kim Mulkey away from Baylor to lead the Tigers women, he pilfered Jay Johnson, fresh off a second trip to Omaha, away from Arizona to lead Tigers baseball, and now Kelly.
“From my first memories of this place until the second I stepped up to this microphone today, there’s one constant that I know has never changed, never has and never will: LSU fans love a winner. And that’s why I know LSU fans will love Brian Kelly. Success follows him everywhere he goes. All he does is win.”
“Simply put, he checks every box. There was a lot of interest in this job from coaches with incredible pedigrees, but none of them — none of them held a candle to Brian Kelly. And while his credentials made that abundantly clear, our conversations convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that his winning days are just getting started. His plan to take this program to the next level is the same as ours. He’s not here to taste success. He’s here to sustain it. His vision for what LSU football can become is the same as ours. He’s not here to simply fit into our culture, he’s here to transform it. And most importantly, his expectations for LSU football are the same as ours. He’s not just here to win, he’s here to win championships.”
KELLY: There was no plan to leave Notre Dame
It may have been a no-brainer hire by the end, but Kelly said he had no plans going into the season that he'd be seeking another opportunity. And it's easy to believe, considering his Notre Dame roster followed up a CFP berth with an 11-1 season, despite sitting on the bubble outside of the current field at No. 6.
“There was no plan in place as I entered the 2021 season that I was looking for another opportunity. I had a great football team that we were developing, but when you get an opportunity to talk to Scott Woodward and he presents a clear vision of the plan here and the opportunity, it was an exciting vision for me to look at, and as I got a chance to speak to more people about this opportunity, I just felt it was something that I had to take on.”
LEAVING IS 'NEVER EASY'
Much has been written about Kelly's departure from Notre Dame, including a short meeting with players to tell them in person he'd be taking the job in Baton Rouge. Here's what Kelly had to say about that process.
“Leaving is never easy. It can never be done in a fashion that you could, like, say that it’s always the right way to do it. … This team at Notre Dame is an outstanding football team and they deserve to be in the playoffs, and you’re not going to be coaching them. So it’s never easy when you leave. We did you best. I wanted to get in front of them. And I was fortunate that I had that opportunity to get in front of them and tell them that I was coming to LSU, face-to-face, because that’s everything that we’ve done in my life and I’ll do the same thing at LSU. We will look you in the eye and we will tell you what we’re doing. We’ll be transparent. I don’t, legacies are not part of what I spend time thinking about. People will evaluate me based upon my life’s work and how I’ve treated people and make their own decisions."
NO ASSISTANT COACH CONVERSATIONS ... YET
A few names have been floated for coaches Kelly might retain from the current LSU staff, but he pumped the brakes on those rumors with a simple fact: He hasn't had a chance to speak with any of them yet, and that includes the coaches in South Bend he might want to bring along with him.
"The coaches that are on staff there at Notre Dame are still employed there. Are there coaches there that I would like to join me here? Certainly. But that’s a process that we’ll have to work through. There are teams to coach on both sides. This team is going to be preparing for a bowl game. Hopefully Notre Dame gets a chance to play in the playoffs, they’ll have to be prepared. So this has to be done with great communication and understanding that the players are part of this as well.”
“I have not made any decisions based upon who may stay and who may go. I have not had any individual conversations with any of them. So any narrative out there is not coming from any conversations that I’ve had with them. They are well respected and I will get an opportunity to vet our all of those coaches, they’ve done a great job. I know the business. They know the business. There are realities in this business. But we’ll get to all of those coaches because, as I mentioned earlier, they have families, they have lives and we have to get moving in that direction.”
BUT WHY LSU?
“I came down here because I wanted to be with the best. The resources here are outstanding, it starts with the alignment, excellence, the standard of expectation. Listen, you’re looked at in terms of championships here, and I want that. I want to be under the bright lights. I want to be on the Broadway stage. That’s what my passion is. And so, yea, that’s part of the draw, there’s no doubt about that."
“The SEC, we know about its prowess in terms of success and the players and the teams and the coaches. But I will say this: If LSU did not have the alignment and the leadership and the people and the desire for excellence, the SEC doesn’t really matter to me. It’s this university that happens to be in the SEC, matters to me the most. So when you get this university, LSU, with the leadership that it has and the cohesiveness of leadership across the board, and it’s in the SEC, ding, ding, ding. So for me, you add that, it made it an incredible opportunity for me.”
DOES LSU OFFER BETTER TITLE CHANCES THAN NOTRE DAME?
“I wound’t imply that. I would only say that this opportunity for me was one that I was ready for and excited to take on. And it had to do with everything that I’ve talked about. I think each opportunity you measure differently, and this opportunity is clearly different than any other opportunity I’ve had. But I would not imply that this one weighed better than the others, it just was for me, at the time, this opportunity … this was the right one for me. And that’s really the most important piece for me.”
WHAT'S YOUR COACHING STYLE?
“I’ve been called a player’s coach, a CEO, demanding, whatever narrative you want to come up with, I’ve hit all of those. Look, I think the most important thing is you’ve got to have relationships with your players, and you’ve got to know your players, you better know their strengths and weaknesses. You better be able to have the ability to reach your players and communicate with them, and be demanding but never demeaning. I think you need to be all those things, but it starts with relationships with your players. So, however that’s characterized, however you want to put that soundbyte out there that’s me, but it starts with: I’m gonna love my players. And that’s the centerpiece of who I’ve been for 31 years as a head coach.”
KELLY: 'I'm not here to win the first meeting'
LSU's new coach met with his team for the first time this week, but that was more of a meet-and-greet. The hard work will come, but trust-building comes first, he says.
“As I told them, 'look, this is the first meeting, I’m not here to win the first meeting, I’m here to just let you know I am so excited to be your head football coach. This is just the first meeting of many opportunities where we’ll build trust. It’s not going to happen today, but we’re gonna trust each other. And that trust will take time.' … You’ll see it with my deeds, my actions, how we interact on a day-to-day basis, and we’ll get to that point where these meetings will be very, very productive and we’ll get a lot accomplished.
“I would be disingenuous to tell you that I know this roster inside and out. I know the players, I know what the makeup is. I know some of the areas of concern that we have to address. That’s why I’m standing here, and we’ve got some work to do. But we have time. We have time to address those things. We don’t have forever, but we have to address those things in short order."
EXPECTATIONS FOR FANS
“Well, I want the fans here early and tailgating and having a great time and filling the stadium and being enthusiastic, but you’ve got to put a great product on the field, too. So my job is to put an exciting, winning football team on the field. And come early and stay late if you’d like. So, culture for me is standards, right? Everybody throws culture around like it’s this SAT word, but to me it’s hard work. It’s standards. It’s habits. It’s a way of life. And, you know, we’re gonna build that every single day. It’s gonna be a grind, but we’re gonna embrace it, because it’s gonna be who we are on a day-to-day basis. That’s going to be LSU football. So as far as the fans go, you know, I’m just so excited to see that stadium filled. I think we’ve got Garth Brooks coming before the first game. I’m pretty excited about that, that should be really cool.”
KELLY: Focused on 'process,' not 'outcomes'
LSU's new head coach isn't going to sit and worry about win-loss numbers. For Kelly, it'll be about the process the Tigers take to get there. If that's done the right way, the wins will follow, he says.
“Here’s what I’m gonna tell you: We didn’t come here not to be successful. Success for us is going to be the process. The outcomes — I’ve never worried about outcomes. I’ve always been focused on process, process, process and the outcomes kind of take care of themselves. So when you’ve done it as long as I’ve done it and your process is good, I’m never worried about what the outcomes look like.”