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Brian Kelly: Notre Dame's Next Head Coach

JOE KAY   12/10/09 10:35 PM ET   AP

Brian Kelly Notre Dame

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 told 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."

Only 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 news conference Friday afternoon in South Bend.

"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 athletics 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 athletics 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 on 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.

When Kelly arrived in Cincinnati three years ago, then-university president Nancy Zimpher told Kelly she expected him to turn the football program into a Top 25 mainstay, win a Big East title right away and make sure his players graduate. He'll face even higher expectations at Notre Dame.

He goes to South Bend with slightly less job security than previous coaches.

The last three Notre Dame coaches got six-year deals – Weis, Tyrone Willingham and George O'Leary. Weis signed a new 10-year deal midway through his first season, and O'Leary resigned five days after being hired following the 2001 season when it was revealed he didn't have the master's degree in education that he claimed. The last coach to get a five-year deal was Bob Davie when he took the job after the 1996 season.

No matter. Kelly has long admired Notre Dame, though turning the program around won't be easy. The Irish have a 16-21 record over the past three seasons. And he'll have to do it without two of Notre Dame's best players.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and his favorite receiver, Golden Tate, announced Monday they will bypass their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft.

Tate, speaking in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., after winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver, said he doesn't know a lot about Kelly.

"He seems to be a guy of high character. I'm excited for him. I think he's good for the Irish," Tate said.

Offensive lineman Christian Lombard, a high school senior from Palatine, Ill., who has committed to play for the Irish next season, said he was excited about the hire.

"I'm really optimistic. He's got a great track record so hopefully he's going to get things turned around," Lombard said. "From the time coach Weis got fired, he was the guy I wanted."

Kelly grew up in Chelsea, Mass., and went to Assumption College, a Catholic school in Worcester where he played linebacker while getting his degree in political science. The son of an alderman, he intended to go into politics after college and he even worked on Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign in the Boston area.

But football won out.

He learned how to be a head coach at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan, where he won back-to-back national titles and 32 consecutive games over one stretch. He moved on to the Mid-American Conference and turned Central Michigan into a winning program in only three years.

Kelly was criticized in September 2004 for remarks he made to the Detroit Free Press about perjury charges filed against two former Central Michigan players after other CMU players were charged with second-degree murder in the fatal beating of a man.

"A number of them were African-Americans that had been in that culture of violence, and they're taught to look away," Kelly said. "You don't want anything to do with it. Get out of there. You don't say anything to anybody."

In 2006, when Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati for Michigan State, UC decided Kelly and his no-huddle, spread offense would bring a spark not just to the program but to the town, where college football ranked behind high school games in fan interest.

The Bearcats won 10 games his first season, set a school record with 11 wins and a Big East title the second and this season he had the high-scoring Bearcats (12-0) contending for a national title.

Gilyard said some players were angry Kelly is leaving just as the program had become nationally prominent.

"Just blindsided by the fact that it's a business," Gilyard said. "People lose sight of that. At the end of the day, NCAA football is a business. People have got to make business decisions."

___

Associated Press Sports Writer Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., and Antonio Gonzalez in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. contributed to this report.

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Filed by Whitney Snyder  |