LSU football sent a message with Brian Kelly hire: National championship or bust
Each post from the LSU football Twitter account oozed with subtext. The message was clear. LSU athletic director Scott Woodward landed the big-name coach he coveted in Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.
Let the celebration begin.
A video capturing Kelly’s first team meeting received over 1,000 retweets and 4,000 likes. Kelly said he came to LSU to coach the best players in the country, be afforded the best resources in the country and play in the best conference in the country.
Kelly sold the same narrative on Wednesday when he was introduced. He wants to win a national championship. And he has a better chance of doing it at LSU than Notre Dame.
That was why Kelly came to Baton Rouge.
“Listen, you’re looked at in terms of championships here,” Kelly said. “I want that. I want to be under the bright lights. I want to be on the Broadway stage. That’s what my passion is.”
ND COMMITS TO LSU?:Here are 7 Notre Dame commits new coach Brian Kelly and LSU could target
Like he did with Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, Woodward has reset the market on coaching salaries. LSU is paying Kelly upwards of $100 million over a 10-year contract. He can earn $10.5 million with incentives in his first season.
Before Woodward hired Fisher from Florida State in 2017, college coaches didn’t go from one big-time job to another. It hadn’t happened since Johnny Majors left Pittsburgh for Tennessee, his alma mater, after winning the 1976 national championship.
Moves like this are becoming common. Lincoln Riley bolted Oklahoma for USC on Nov. 28, one day before Kelly agreed to be LSU’s coach. Notre Dame hadn’t lost a football coach to another school since 1907.
“We landed the most accomplished and successful football coach this program has ever hired,” Woodward said.
It’s hard to argue with Kelly’s résumé. His record at Notre Dame was 93-39 in 12 seasons, making him the all-time winningest coach at college football’s most storied program. The Fighting Irish played for a national championship in 2012 and made the College Football Playoff twice.
Kelly isn’t a Big 12 coach with a pedestrian record like Les Miles was. Nor is he the mostly career assistant that Ed Orgeron was. Both of them won national championships, which Kelly has yet to do.
Fisher, who won a national title at Florida State, jumped at a guaranteed 10-year, $75 million offer from Woodward to coach Texas A&M. The return on Woodward’s investment? Fisher is averaging eight wins per season.
An extension upped Fisher’s total compensation to $95 million, meaning the Aggies are paying him $3 million per win.
Kelly only had one losing season at Notre Dame, a 4-8 finish in 2016 that led to wholesale staff changes. The Irish began a streak of five consecutive 10-win seasons the following year, and therein lies the difference in how these two programs operate.
LSU doesn’t reprieve coaches after losing seasons. It fires them.
“When you talk to Scott Woodward, he has a clear way of communicating,” Kelly said. “It was 45 minutes and I had an understanding of where LSU was from a commitment and how this was going to look. So I’d say that was pretty quick.
“There was no back burner. Maybe I was the back burner for him. I don’t know. It wasn’t my search. But conversation led to a family conversation. That led to a decision to come to LSU.”
Woodward offered some details about the search after Kelly was introduced. He vetted candidates with data-oriented approach similar to the pitch books investment bankers use. When all else failed, Woodward returned to a familiar strategy.
Throw money at the problem and hope for the best.
Kelly and Woodward speak the same language. They both have a background in politics. Kelly worked on Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign. Woodward once navigated the smoky backrooms of Baton Rouge politics as a public relations strategist.
This marriage will now define the rest of their careers.
If either needs a reminder of what’s at stake, the word is inscribed on the bar every LSU player touches exiting the locker room to Tiger Stadium.
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.