Kelly going to Notre Dame

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 11, 2009

By Tom Coyne
Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. ó Notre Dame is betting Brian Kelly is the man who can finally win it all for the Irish.
The two people confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that a deal has been reached with the Cincinnati coach. They requested anonymity because an official announcement had not been made.
Notre Dame has been searching for a coach for about a week and a half since firing Charlie Weis, who failed to lift the Irish out of mediocrity, much like his two predecessors.
Now, it’s up to the man who turned Cincinnati into a national championship contender to revive the fortunes of a team that just completed the worst decade of football in the history of the storied program with a 70-52 record and three losing seasons.
Bearcats players still hadn’t heard anything official when they showed up for their annual football banquet at a downtown hotel on Thursday night. Kelly arrived at the banquet after most players, accompanied by police officers. He didn’t stop to talk to reporters, saying, “No word. We’re here to celebrate out seniors.”
Members of the University of Cincinnati’s board of trustees, however, already had been told of Kelly’s decision, a person in the school’s administration told the AP on condition of anonymity because the school had not made an announcement.
The 47-year-old Kelly is 34-6 in three seasons at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to back-to-back Big East titles and two straight Bowl Championship Series berths. The Bearcats set a school record last season for victories with an 11-3 record, then topped that with a 12-0 mark this season.
There was no immediate word on who would coach the No. 4 Bearcats in their first Sugar Bowl game against Florida.
Receiver Mardy Gilyard, one of the last players to arrive at the banquet, said in an interview that he was upset Kelly had accepted the Notre Dame job after telling him and other players before their last game that he was staying.
“I don’t like it,” said Gilyard, the Big East’s top receiver and kick returner. “I feel there was a little lying in the thing. I feel like he’d known this the whole time. Everybody knows Notre Dame’s got the money. I kind of had a gut feeling he was going to stay just because he told me he was going to be here.”
Kelly informed the team last Monday that Notre Dame had contacted him and he would listen.
Quarterback Tony Pike said Kelly told them last week, before their title-clinching win over Pittsburgh, that he was happy in Cincinnati.
“The Tuesday when we were practicing for Pittsburgh, he said he loves it here and he loves this team and loves coaching here and his family loves it here,” Pike said.
Kelly has long admired Notre Dame, which seemed to be the perfect fit for an Irish Catholic coach raised in the Boston area. His name first popped up as a possible candidate last season before Notre Dame said Weis would be back for a fifth year.
When Kelly arrived in Cincinnati three years ago, then-university president Nancy Zimpher told Kelly she expected him to turn the football program into a Top 25 mainstay, win a Big East title right away and make sure his players graduate. He’ll face even higher expectations at Notre Dame.
It won’t be easy; the Irish have a 16-21 record over the past three seasons. And he’ll have to do it without two of Notre Dame’s best players.
Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and his favorite receiver, Golden Tate, announced Monday they will bypass their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft.
Kelly grew up in Chelsea, Mass., and went to Assumption College.
But football won out.
He learned how to be a head coach at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan, where he won back-to-back national titles and 32 consecutive games over one stretch. He moved on to the Mid-American Conference and turned Central Michigan into a winning program in only three years.