Louisiana State University is hiring Brian Kelly away from the University of Notre Dame, a stunning move by one of the most accomplished coaches in college football jumping from the sport’s most storied program to a Southeastern Conference powerhouse.
The move was confirmed Monday night by a person familiar with the decision who spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because neither school was prepared to make an official announcement. Yahoo! Sports first reported the hire.
It was the second bombshell in college football in as many days, coming a little more than 24 hours after the University of Southern California lured Lincoln Riley away from Oklahoma. LSU might have topped it by luring Kelly from South Bend to Baton Rouge.
The 60-year-old Kelly became the winningest coach in Notre Dame history earlier this season, surpassing Knute Rockne. In 12 seasons with the Fighting Irish, Kelly is 113-40, including the current run of five straight double-digit-victory seasons.
Notre Dame completed an 11-1 season on Saturday and still is in contention to reach the College Football Playoff for the third time in the last four years.
No previous Notre Dame coach has ever left the Irish, winners of eight national championships as voted on by the AP, to take a job at another school.
LSU’s coaching search started in October, when it reached an agreement to part ways with coach Ed Orgeron at the end of the season. The change came less than two years after Coach O led the Tigers to a national championship.
The Tigers finished a 6-6 regular season on Saturday, upsetting Texas A&M at home in Orgeron’s last game.
Kelly is agreeing to take over the Tigers just a few weeks after he had publicly dismissed the idea of moving on when asked about possibly being a candidate at USC.
“No. I mean, look, I think Mike Tomlin had the best line, right?” Kelly told reporters, referring to the Pittsburgh Steelers coach. “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.”
LSU was paying Orgeron $9 million per season, among the highest in college football along with Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M. Kelly’s full salary at Notre Dame, a private school, is unknown but it is believed to be north of $5 million per year.
In the past month alone, Michigan State has given Mel Tucker a 10-year, $95 million deal and Penn State extended James Franklin’s contact to 10 years at $7.5 million per season, a deal similar to the 10-year guaranteed contract Fisher received from Texas A&M when he was lured away from Florida State at the end of the 2017 season.
Kelly is likely to be next in line for a megadeal.
Fisher’s move—a national championship-winning coach leaving for another traditional power—was rarity in college football.
Now there have have two similar moves in a matter of days. The coaching carousel, sped up by everything from impatient athletic directors seeking a winner to the early signing period for recruits and the always-busy transfer portal, won’t slow down any time soon. Oklahoma and Notre Dame alone are top destinations and there are others.
Kelly had brought stability and success to Notre Dame unlike the program had in almost two decades.
He has not been able to add a national championship, but the Fighting Irish have been winning at a clip they haven’t reached since Lou Holtz led the program in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Holtz and the Irish won the national title in 1988.
Notre Dame ran through three coaches after Holtz, never coming close to sustained success.
Notre Dame hired Kelly away from Cincinnati to replace Charlie Weis after the 2009 season. It took a while for Kelly to find the right mix of coaching staff and recruiting strategy to turn the Irish into the consistent national contender. Since going 4-8 in 2016, the Irish are 54-9 under Kelly—virtually the same as the 55-10 record of Riley at Oklahoma.
At LSU, he will follow Orgeron, who was a shooting star in Baton Rouge. The Cajun coach who grew up on the Bayou Lafourche and considered LSU his dream job won over skeptical fans and led one of the great college football teams in recent memory: The Tigers won the 2019 national title, going 15-0 behind Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.
LSU is not a place where only coaches with Southern roots can thrive. Les Miles was a Michigan man who coached at Oklahoma before leading the Tigers to a national title. Saban, a West Virginia native, came from Michigan State to win a national championship at LSU.
Kelly, an Irish-Catholic Bostonian, has won national titles, too—at Division II Grand Valley State. He worked his way up from there to Central Michigan and then to Cincinnati, always winning more than the coaches who preceded him.
He did the same thing at Notre Dame, but the national championship has eluded him. As good as the Fighting Irish have been, they have been outclassed in two playoff games and a BCS national championship game against Alabama in 2012.
At LSU, Kelly will try to fill the last remaining hole on his Hall of Fame resume with a school that has turned its last three coaches into national champions.