Hutton: Kelly’s NFL flirtation disturbing for Notre Dame
By Mike Hutton firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @MikeHuttonPT January 10, 2013 11:18PM
FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2012, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly watches from the sideline during overtime of an NCAA college football game against Stanford in South Bend, Ind. The third-ranked Fighting Irish have been anything but dominating at home this season. Yet with a victory over Wake Forest on Saturday, they can go undefeated at home for the first time since 1998.(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
Updated: February 12, 2013 2:49PM
What evidence do you consider if you’re the Eagles general manager and you’re seriously considering making a run at Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly?
The end of the Tulsa game in 2010 when he decided to throw one into the end zone with an inexperienced freshman quarterback, Tommy Rees, instead of opting for an easy field goal? Hard to forget what happened next. Rees threw an interception, the Irish lost the game and in a postgame interview about the move, Kelly arrogantly told the world to get used to it because that’s how he rolls.
How about the stunning lack of composure the whole team and Kelly himself showed in the season opening 2011 loss to South Florida? The famous YouTube video of him excoriating TJ Jones with an expletive after he dropped a pass that bounded into the hands of a Bulls defender, to go with the five turnovers, started a bad season off on a sour note.
How about a scoring offense that was ranked 78th in the country this year? That number is confounding when considering that Kelly was brought in for his offensive expertise and that his teams have never been ranked higher than 49th since he arrived.
Or that he specializes in the spread offense, a system that has never really worked in the NFL.
How about this one? He’s not even the best coach on his staff. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has consistently improved the defense in three seasons, making it into one of the best in the country this year while being the go-to person for recruiting in that area.
Give Kelly credit for ditching the in-game meathead routines for every bonehead play his quarterback makes, for making the low output offense effective by limiting turnovers and for rearranging his staff in the offseason in a productive way. (He replaced offensive coordinator Charley Molenar with the popular and outgoing Chuck Martin and he brought in Harry Hiestand to coach the running backs). But it’s just one good season in high level Division I football. That’s it. Nothing more. It’s Ok to laugh out loud at the Eagles for believing that Kelly is really worth the risk and really, it’s Kelly’s good fortune that he is now considered NFL material.
Want to know why? The Irish were about two plays away from finishing the regular season with losses to Pittsburgh and Stanford and they were a handful of plays away from losing to Purdue and BYU. Alabama revealed just how fragile the Irish were in the first series when the Tide scored on a five-play, 82-yard drive.
There are all sorts of ways to view the semi-glamorous year: That Kelly maximized potential with a team that was definitely over its head in the BCS championship game. That they were lucky to be playing for the title in the first place. That he is a superb manager and that the notion that Kelly is a great college coach at the highest level is still an unanswered question.
View it through whichever prism you like but know this: Kelly has had two mediocre years as the Irish coach. He is 28-11 after three seasons, but he was 16-10 after two years. Charlie Weis was 19-6 after two years and 22-15 after three seasons. Kelly is only moderately ahead of the Weis curve and we all know how that ended.
All of this makes the Eagles’ dance with Kelly very fortunate for him and very puzzling for guys like me who have to write about this. The NFL landscape is littered with the carcasses of college coaches who jumped, usually for the money, and then failed. For every Jim Harbaugh, a college coach who left the comfortable confines of Stanford to discover instant success with the 49ers, there is a Steve Spurrier, a Lou Holtz, a Nick Saban and a Bobby Petrino disaster waiting to happen.
If Kelly is simply trying to leverage an NFL offer for something else — more money, better facilities — it’s a disturbing sign for the Irish. Those sorts of issues should be worked out privately without having to interview for another job.
If Kelly is legitimately interested in the NFL, which I believe he is, it’s a disturbing sign for the Irish because they’ll have to play this game every year at the same time.
The only way it stops is if Notre Dame starts losing again.
If Kelly is just having a professional mid-life crisis, it’s a disturbing sign. Notre Dame is an all-in kind of a job. The Irish already lost one four star recruit, Alex Anzalone, a linebacker from Pennsylvania, because of the Kelly bomb.
Kelly won’t leave. He’s not ready yet and the Eagles shouldn’t be ready to hire him. When he returns, though, it won’t be the same between him and athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who’ll have every reason to be skeptical of everything his restless, career-climbing coach says.