Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly reiterated early Sunday that he plans to be back as coach of the Fighting Irish after a 45-27 loss to rival Southern California dropped the Fighting Irish to 4-8, their second-worst record in five decades.
Kelly said in the postgame news conference Saturday that "Absolutely. I'll be back."
Hours later, Yahoo Sports reported that Kelly had reached out through representatives to explore coaching options outside Notre Dame. About 3:40 a.m. Sunday, the school tweeted a statement from Kelly saying he thought he had been clear that he plans to return.
"I have not been, am not, and will not be interested in options outside of Notre Dame. I'm fully committed to leading this program in the future," Kelly said in a tweet.
Because Kelly said he wouldn't stay in California recruiting as long as he has in past seasons after finishing the season, some compared that to 2009 when Charlie Weis returned to South Bend after a loss at Stanford and was fired. Kelly didn't return with the team to South Bend after the loss on Saturday, but acknowledged he's coming back early.
"I don't believe I'm coming back early because I'm getting fired," he said.
Kelly said Saturday he wasn't surprised about the speculation about his job status.
"You can't be surprised when you go 4-8 that you're going to get those questions asked as well," he said.
Kelly said he plans to conduct exit interviews with players Wednesday through Friday to get an idea on what changes need to be made. He said he has to evaluate a lot of things, including his assistant coaches.
"I've always felt the continuity of blend and change is the sweet spot. For me, we need to clearly look at where that is because it was off," he said.
Kelly won at least eight games in each of his first six seasons and started this season ranked No. 10 and finished with eight losses. There have been few seasons when hopes started so high and finished so low. The Irish opened the 1956 season ranked No. 3 and finished 2-8, and were No. 4 to start the 1981 season in Gerry Faust's first season and finished 5-6.
Kelly's players also backed him after the Irish wrapped up their worst season since Charlie Weis went 3-9 in 2007 with a dreary, waterlogged loss in Los Angeles.
"If anything, Coach Kelly deserves another chance if people are talking about him being fired because this is just one bad season," defensive tackle Jarron Jones said. "Just because we have one trip-up doesn't mean he should be fired."
The season will be remembered for Notre Dame's inability to come up with big plays in close losses to bad teams, falling to Texas (5-6), Michigan State (3-8), Duke (4-7) and North Carolina State (5-6). It's just the 14th time in 128 seasons of playing football the Irish have finished with a losing record.
"I thought we could play with anybody this year," Kelly said. "We just have not been able to sustain consistent performance for four quarters. We have shown a propensity for some self-inflicted wounds, whether they be on special teams or offense or defense."
Kelly called the defense a young group that is "ascending" and "will make big strides next year."
As for the offense, its status will depend on whether Kizer declares for the NFL draft or returns to school for his redshirt junior season. Kizer said he has not made a decision yet.
Kelly said the school had requested draft evaluations for Kizer, left tackle Mike McGlinchey, left guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Nyles Morgan from the NFL.
Kizer did say the disappointing year gives him plenty of difficult tape to review and situations he could learn from, trying to take some positives from a bad situation.
Jones believes the same holds true for Kelly's tenure at Notre Dame.
"You never want to think about the negative stuff, because the negative stuff taints the positive memories," Jones said.