Brian Kelly won't get a fairy godmother at LSU, but he might win a national title
When Brian Kelly was linked to the head-coaching vacancy at Southern Cal, he told reporters it would take a fairy godmother, a $250 million check and his wife’s approval for him to leave Notre Dame.
The streets of Hollywood are supposed to be paved with gold, but Kelly found what he desired down the bayou.
LSU athletics director Scott Woodward poached Kelly from Notre Dame as Ed Orgeron’s replacement. But how Woodward did it remains to be seen. LSU doesn’t have $250 million to pay a football coach, despite Woodward’s penchant for big spending.
As Texas A&M’s AD, Woodward guaranteed best buddy Jimbo Fisher $75 million over 10 years. The Aggies have since upped the ante to $95 million. Woodward’s latest power play will likely rival USC for gluttony.
USC enticed Lincoln Riley to leave Oklahoma with a 10-year, $110 million contract. Incentives include a $6 million home in Los Angeles, unlimited use of a private jet and the school agreed to buy both of Riley’s homes in Norman.
Notre Dame has already made Kelly wealthy, so what’s the allure?
LSU provides Kelly an opportunity Notre Dame couldn't — the chance to win a national championship. Kelly maxed out every resource in South Bend. He won more games than Lou Holtz and Knute Rockne, played in the title game in 2012 and made the College Football Playoff twice.
The past three football coaches at LSU have all won a national championship.
Kelly, or any football coach, can only do so much working around Notre Dame’s stringent academic standards. The Irish can’t match up with the elite of this sport because they aren’t playing the same games as Alabama or Clemson in recruiting.
Despite the limitations, Notre Dame's 2022 recruiting class ranks fourth nationally behind Georgia, Alabama and Texas A&M — teams Kelly is expected to beat.
Going forward, Kelly and Riley will be linked at their new jobs. LSU fans fell in love with the idea of Riley coaching the Tigers. Rumors swirled that a deal was pending. Riley shut all that down by saying he would not be the LSU coach on Saturday. He took the USC job the following day.
Kelly doesn’t have Riley’s flash, but the results are similar. Over the past five seasons, Oklahoma went 55-10 and made three appearances in the College Football Playoff.
At Notre Dame, Kelly was 54-9 with two CFP berths in the same span.
USC may have outfoxed Woodward for Riley, but he recovered with a familiar strategy — throw money at the problem. Time will tell if the Kelly hire has the substance — like Woodward pulling Chris Petersen to Washington from Boise State — or if he reset the bar for salaries to average eight wins a year like Fisher has at Texas A&M.
While Kelly has never coached below the Mason-Dixon line, geography isn’t a prerequisite for success. Plenty of southern-born coaches have failed in the SEC. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer had never coached a snap of college football in the south. They changed the way football is played in this league forever.
Notre Dame was forced to vacate 21 wins under Kelly for academic misconduct. Some will view that as a positive. Kelly just wants to win, they’ll say.
Welcome to life in the SEC.
A strange land for the Massachusetts-born football coach cradled in the Midwest. No more Fighting Irish.
Now it’s Fightin’ Tigers.
Adam Hunsucker covers LSU for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @adam_hunsucker. Enjoy Adam’s work? Consider a digital subscription for unlimited access.