By leaving ND for LSU when the Fighting Irish still have a chance to win a national championship, Kelly not only disrespected and demoralized his players but brought peril upon his sport. If Kelly shows such little regard for the College Football Playoff that he would jump ship for a $95 million 10-year deal, then how important can the playoff be? Why take it seriously? Winning becomes secondary to collecting. Amateurism? Hahahaha.
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Kelly explained his decision to leave South Bend as more about "alignment" than money. Whatever you say, Benedict. He insisted he wanted to coach "under the bright lights." Does it get any brighter than Notre Dame?
Kelly isn’t alone in his back-door dealings, of course. Coaches leave schools for richer pastures all the time, often awkwardly and with poor timing. Lincoln Riley just vacated Oklahoma for the richer recruiting grounds of Southern California. If he kept his exit secret from his players or, worse, lied to them, he is a cad unworthy of trust. Also, a coward.
Rather than remain with OU and embrace the challenge of moving from the Big 12 into the stronger Southeastern Conference, Riley is running scared to the weakling that is the Pac-12. Undoubtedly, he will win with the Trojans, but the stain of treachery will remain. Aaron Burr defeated Alexander Hamilton, too, but still is remembered as an opportunist of ill repute.
Yet for all that, Riley looks angelic compared to Kelly, who dropped his pants and mooned the group of 18- to 21-year-olds whose dream of winning a national championship at Notre Dame was no fantasy. The Fighting Irish are sixth in the playoff rankings and have a chance of getting in. A Georgia win over Alabama and/or losses by either Michigan, Cincinnati or Oklahoma State in their conference championship games, and ND makes the four-team field.
Or should I say would have made it? Without Kelly, will the selection committee consider the Irish damaged goods and lean on that reasoning to leave them out, as they do when considering injuries to key players? All because a coach couldn’t live on a few million dollars less. Kelly’s salary at Notre Dame is unknown since the school is private, but rest assured he wasn’t living check to check.
This money grab is the root of all kinds of evil, not the least of which is the sorry precedent that a coach can take another job while his team is in the national title hunt. For those who argue Kelly has a right to pursue his financial interests however he wants, I only ask you stick with that free market thinking the next time a player sits out a bowl game to protect his future. You’re not allowed to accuse the athlete of bailing on his team. Deal? Deal.
What makes Kelly’s move all the more maddening is that right up to the last minute he said it was foolish to think he might leave Notre Dame, suggesting it would take “a fairy godmother” coming by with a $250 million check to pry him out of South Bend. Even then he would have to ask his wife.
Turns out LSU wielded the magic wand, and for about $100 million less apparently gained Mrs. Kelly’s approval. Oh, did we mention the Athletic reported an ND assistant learned of his boss's departure from news on his phone while leaving a recruit's home? Nice work, jerk. Did we also mention that Kelly pulled a similar stunt at Cincinnati when he left for Notre Dame before the Bearcats' bowl game? Clown.
If there is any upside, it is those who never liked Kelly to begin with — both hands raised — have been justified in their disgust. No doubt Kelly can coach, having guided the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game in 2012 and to CFP appearances in 2018 and 2020. The 60-year-old became the winningest coach in Notre Dame history this season, surpassing Knute Rockne. Now it must seem blasphemous for ND fans to see those two names in the same sentence.
But for all his success, something about the way Kelly cracked his players without ever cracking a smile rubbed me wrong. As if he neither cared for them or about them. Perhaps an unfair judgment, but given what just went down, perhaps not.
Regardless, Kelly should be persona non grata in his own profession, which by its very name — coaching — is about serving more than receiving. Kelly preaches “we” but just made it about “me.”
Again, Notre Dame is not the only victim. College football throws millions of dollars at coaches who devalue the product by moving from one brand to another with little thought of how it impacts the game. And, in Kelly’s case, putting his own brand ahead of his sport’s ultimate prize.
It’s not that colleges are innocent bystanders; they fire coaches faster than ever. But Kelly’s exit strategy makes clear that college football needs to put the kibosh on similar behavior by forcing painful financial penalties on coaches who not only break contracts but also their players’ hearts.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Brian Kelly kicks Notre Dame to the curb by exiting for LSU money grab