Notre Dame has settled on Brian Kelly as the man who can restore its faded glory, just as he turned Cincinnati into a national title contender.
CINCINNATI — Notre Dame has settled on Brian Kelly as the man who can restore its faded glory, just as he turned Cincinnati into a national title contender.
He’s leaving behind an undefeated and upset Cincinnati team that didn’t seem prepared to lose him despite rampant speculation that the job was his.
“He went for the money,” receiver Mardy Gilyard told The Associated Press after Kelly informed players of his decision, nearly three hours after the news broke. “I’m fairly disgusted with the situation, that they let it last this long.”
Just 10 days after Charlie Weis was fired, Notre Dame picked the Irish Catholic coach to revive a program coming off the worst decade in its storied history — a 70-52 record and three losing seasons. Kelly, who earned the Home Depot National Coach of the Year award on Thursday night, signed a five-year contract and will be introduced at a news conference Friday afternoon in South Bend.
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“I am very pleased that a thorough and extensive search has led us to a new head coach in Brian Kelly, who I am confident will help us accomplish our goal of competing for national championships,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a news release.
Kelly officially takes over Monday, starting the job he has always wanted.
When Kelly’s name was linked to Notre Dame’s search last week, he told his players that he was happy in Cincinnati. A few days later, he said he would listen to Notre Dame’s offer, but still sounded like he would be around to coach the No. 4 Bearcats (12-0) against Florida in their first Sugar Bowl appearance.
Instead, Cincinnati athletic director Mike Thomas decided offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn — an assistant to Kelly for the last 22 years — will run the team on an interim basis.
The parting was painful.
The team held its annual football banquet at a downtown hotel Thursday night. As players arrived for what was supposed to be a night of celebration, they were greeted by camera crews and reporters asking about Kelly’s decision to leave Cincinnati for Notre Dame.
Three hours later, players were told to gather in a meeting room so Kelly could share the news that most already knew.
One minute into the meeting, the door opened and Gilyard walked out angry and alone, save his MVP trophy. His teammates soon followed, some with teary eyes. They had a difficult time accepting that Kelly was leaving one of the nation’s top teams before its biggest bowl game.
“We already knew what he was going to say. We weren’t giving him a round of applause or anything,” tight end Ben Guidugli said. “It’s like somebody turned their back on us. We brought this whole thing this far. We’ve come this far. To have someone walk out now is disappointing.”
Kelly’s statements leading up to a title-clinching win over Pittsburgh last Saturday made it harder to accept.
“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,” quarterback Tony Pike said.
Notre Dame was one of the few jobs Kelly has always coveted. Guidugli said Kelly thanked the players for making the move possible by doing so well on the field.
The 47-year-old Kelly was 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. They finished third in the BCS rankings, barely missing out on the title game.
• Among other honorees at the annual college football awards at Disney World were Texas’ Colt McCoy (Maxwell Award, best all-around player; Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback); Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh (Chuck Bednarik Award, best defensive player; Outland Trophy, best interior lineman); Stanford’s Toby Gerhart (Doak Walker Award, best running back); Tennessee’s Eric Berry (Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back); Notre Dame’s Golden Tate (Biletnikoff Award, best receiver); UCLA’s Kai Forbath (Lou Groza Award, best kicker); Georgia’s Drew Butler (Ray Guy Award, best punter); and Boston College’s Mark Herzlich (Disney Spirit Award, most inspirational figure).
• Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin says he was not “aware” of any recruiting violations committed by himself, his assistants or support staff regarding the university’s student ambassador program. He said during a news conference Thursday he and his staff take the rules of the NCAA and SEC “extremely serious.”
Tennessee confirmed Wednesday the NCAA is looking into the activities of members of the university’s Orange Pride group.