SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits to enter the field with his team before a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Brian Kelly
Updated: February 14, 2013 6:58AM
Brian Kelly is staying at Notre Dame to, in his words, “build the best football program in the country.” But first, he might have to rebuild his credibility with his players, his recruits, and his fan base.
Kelly’s sudden and surprising dalliance with the Philadelphia Eagles ended Saturday afternoon when Notre Dame announced Kelly would return for a fourth season at the helm of the Irish program — just two hours before Kelly was set to accept the Walter Camp Coach of the Year award at Yale. But with one top recruit already having bolted, and Kelly’s interest in the NFL now a known commodity, Kelly has some public relations work ahead of him to repair his image and regain the trust of Irish fans who didn’t take kindly to Kelly’s Philly flirtations.
“As I got a chance to sit back and look at it, my heart’s with Notre Dame,” Kelly said at the Walter Camp banquet Saturday night. “And my heart has always driven me in my career. So yes, I’m not turning pro.”
Kelly interviewed with the Eagles on Tuesday, mere hours after the Irish were trounced by Alabama in the BCS national championship game, and just three days after he said “leaving is not an option” and reiterating that Notre Dame was his “dream job.” Reports then surfaced Saturday morning that Kelly had a second interview scheduled this weekend, hiking speculation and fan outrage to a fever pitch, before the official announcement that Kelly was staying in South Bend.
“This week, I had an incredible opportunity to speak with one of the premier organizations in sports about becoming their head coach,” Kelly said in a statement released by the school. “Like every kid who has ever put on a pair of football cleats, I have had thoughts about being a part of the NFL. However, after much reflection and conversation with those closest to me, I have decided to remain at Notre Dame.
“This decision was motivated purely by my love for Notre Dame and the entire Fighting Irish community, the young men I have the great fortune to coach, and my desire to continue to build the best football program in the country. We still have a lot of work to do and my staff and I are excited about the challenges ahead.”
Kelly, in his third season at Notre Dame since leaving Cincinnati, led the Irish to a 12-0 regular season and the No. 1 ranking in the country before the BCS title game debacle in Miami Gardens, Fla. He became only the second coach in Irish history to win 12 games in a season (Lou Holtz, 1988). He’s 28-11 at Notre Dame, matching Dan Devine’s school-record win total through three seasons.
The Eagles, who also were rebuffed by Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, said they had “no regrets” about their search, which reportedly continued Saturday with Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.
“There is no question we spent a considerable amount of time and effort looking at who we thought were the best collegiate candidates for our head coaching job,” the Eagles said. “We did so knowing that there was a remote chance that these coaches would leave their current posts. We understood that going into the process, but we wanted to leave no stone unturned while trying to find the best head coach for the Philadelphia Eagles.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said last week that everything — including raises for Kelly and his staff, contract extensions, and program investments — was “on the table” in trying to make sure Kelly didn’t bolt for the NFL. He offered no details Saturday about what it took to keep Kelly, but said the Eagles requested permission to speak with the coach, and that Kelly kept him in the loop throughout the process.
“I was always confident that Brian would continue to lead our football program,” Swarbrick said in the release. “I am very happy to have that confirmed, and share Brian’s excitement about what lies ahead for our program.”