LSU football, reportedly, has its new head coach. His name is Brian Kelly.
The name should be a familiar one, with Kelly manning the often successful ship in South Bend for more than a decade, and leading his Irish squad into a BCS titile game or a College Football Playoff field four times over that span.
While neither program had yet made an official announcement regarding the hire as of Monday evening, the message Kelly sent to his Notre Dame roster, per a report from The Athletic, allowed for little mystery as to the end result.
With that in mind, here are five things to know about the man expected to take over for Ed Orgeron as LSU’s new head football coach.
1. KELLY GOES WAYYY BACK
When Orgeron was coaching LSU, he could pull from a coaching career that spanned nearly four decades, beginning as a Northwestern State graduate assistant in 1984.
Landing a coach with a longer track record was an unlikely outcome, but the Tigers managed to do it. Kelly, 60, has a coaching career that actually began a year earlier than Orgeron. He began in 1983 as a linebackers and defensive backs coach at Assumption College in Massachussetts, his alma mater. If the D-2 program sounds familiar, it’s the same school that produced former LSU kicker Cole Tracy, as well as Saints all-pro returner and WR Deonte Harris. Kelly remains an important figure at Assumption, most recently making a $1 million donation to the program. The university also named its multi-sport stadium in honor of Kelly.
His first head coaching stint also came in D-II, taking over at Grand Valley State in 1991 after serving four seasons as an assistant coach. From there he made the jump to Central Michigan, where he went 19-16 over three seasons before taking the head coach job at Cincinnatti.
Dating back to 2006, Kelly has a head coaching record of 126-45 (.737). Not too shabby, but roughly the same winning pace Ed Orgeron had in his LSU tenure, which ended with a record of 51-20 (.704). Those numbers are misleading, however, with the Tigers scuffling to a .500 record in the two years following a perfect season and LSU title in 2019.
2. A CINCINNATI BOOKEND
Kelly has become synomynous with Notre Dame since he took the head job with the Irish in 2010, but prior to that he was the man leading the charge for non-Power five programs.
Kelly’s success as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats was well-documented, and his crowning moment came in 2009. That year’s team went 12-0 and rose as high as No. 3 in the rankings to earn a spot across from the vaunted Florida Gators, led by quarterback Tim Tebow, down in New Orleans at the Sugar Bowl. Cincinnati was wallopped 51-24, but Kelly wasn’t there. He had already accepted the job at Notre Dame.
Fast forward to 2021 and again there’s a link to Cincinnati in Kelly’s departure. This year’s Irish team has an 11-1 record but sits at No. 6 and just outside the field for yet another CFP bid. There’s still an outside shot the Irish sneak in with some wild upsets, but it’s an unlikely scenario. One reason is his former Cincinnati team, which currently sits at No. 4 and in line to become the first non-Power Five program to land in the CFP field.
if not for Cincinnati’s emergence, might Kelly have been more focused on this year’s potential finish rather than a job offer in Baton Rouge? It’s tough to say. But with the Notre Dame job open, the current Bearcats coach, Luke Fickell, could be a candidate to enter the same Cincy to South Bend pipeline.
3. LOUISIANA, ERR, NEW ORLEANS LINKS
Kelly doesn’t have any known or notable links to the Baton Rouge area in his background, but he does have a few familiar faces that have set up shop about 70 miles down I-10.
That’d be in the form of Saints quarterback Ian Book and running back Tony Jones Jr., both of whom played for Kelly at Notre Dame before landing in New Orleans to play on Sundays.
Book hasn’t played yet after he was selected in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL draft, but he’s received positive marks from head coach Sean Payton as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart. He entered the NFL with a peak pedigree of winning due to his time at Notre Dame, where he won 30 of his 35 starts, setting the program record for wins by a quarterback.
Jones was also there for a good number of Book’s wins, playing four seasons under Kelly before landing with the Saints as an undrafted free agent in the 2020 season.
But wait, there’s more to join the welcome committee: Saints practice squad running back Josh Adams and defensive back KeiVarae Russell are also former Notre Dame players from Kelly’s tenure.
4. AN OFFENSIVE INNOVATOR
Despite roots on the defensive side of the ball, head coach Brian Kelly has been known as an offensive innovator, often leading high-powered passing attacks.
Those groups have been highlighted by QBs like Everett Golson, Deshone Kizer and Ian Book. It’s also featured dynamic WRs like Will Fuller and Miles Boykin.
LSU got a first-hand look at Book, Kelly and Boykin during the 2018 Citrus Bowl, with the WR snaring a one-handed grab and sprinting for a touchdown that sealed the Irish’s victory over LSU in Orgeron’s first full season as the Tigers head coach.
Kelly has earned coach of the year honors 11 different times across multiple publications dating back to 2009, including twice being named the AP coach of the year, first in 2012 and again in 2018.
Kelly has also developed peak performers along the offensive line, a group that’s included Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, both of whom earned All-American honors and went on to be first round NFL draft picks.
That track record will be music to the ears of LSU fans, who have watched an offense full of play-makers and veterans struggle mightily and hamstring the Tigers over the past two seasons.
5. HE’S DUE FOR A RAISE
Whatever the reasons for Kelly’s decision to jump from South Bend to Red Stick, a hefty payday will likely be among them.
Kelly was averaging a relatively meager salary of $2.67 million as Notre Dame’s head coach, a figure that put him well down the list of his contemporaries. LSU has a pretty hefty investment in an Orgeron buyout, but it’s a safe bet that Kelly’s salary number comes in significantly above his current compensation.
Orgeron, who renegotiated his deal following the national title, had a salary of more than $9 million per season, second only to Alabama’s Nick Saban among college head coaches. Whatever Kelly’s salary number lands at, it will continue the tradition of big fish hires among LSU coaches.
That group includes a pair of new hires over the past year that have included college basketball legend Kim Mulkey leading the Tigers women, and Jay Johnson taking over for Paul Mainieri as LSU’s baseball coach fresh off his second trip to Omaha and the College World Series with the Arizona Wildcats. Kelly’s hire also marks the second former Irish coach to land at LSU, with Mainieri following the same path from South Bend to Baton Rouge way back in 2007.