Why LSU head coach Brian Kelly is underrated
Kelly began his head coaching career at the FBS level in 2004 at the University of Central Michigan where he spent three seasons. Kelly then left for the head coaching position at the University of Cincinnati where he spent three years from 2007 to 2009. Few remember his path to greatness actually started at these two schools. Going even further back to the Division II level, Kelly was the head coach for thirteen years at Grand Valley State University. Most only recollect his time at Notre Dame where he coached for twelve seasons from 2010 to 2021.
While Kelly was impressive at Notre Dame, it is important to note that he won at three other places before he arrived. Kelly’s combined record at Central Michigan and Cincinnati was 53-22. This included an undefeated campaign in 2009 with the Bearcats which helped propel him to the Notre Dame job. This record included an impressive three-year re-build at Central Michigan where he took the Chippewas from 4-7 in his first season to 9-4 by his third. This shows that Kelly has succeeded at multiple places, and not just Notre Dame.
During his time at Notre Dame, Kelly went 113-37, including a BCS National Championship game appearance against the University of Alabama in the 2012 season, and again squaring off against Alabama in the CFP Semifinals in the 2020 season. Kelly and the Irish were crushed by Alabama each time.
At Notre Dame however, Kelly had success in a few different ways that should be pointed beyond just his win-loss records year-over-year:
- As mentioned above, Kelly was beaten badly by Alabama twice in the college football playoff. More than ten power five non-conference opponents have lost to Alabama in regular or post-season play and failed to return to prominence off of it. Kelly did so re-building the program to elite playoff status again after the 2012 defeat. This has not been the same for schools such as Florida State, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Texas, Michigan State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, USC and Washington. These schools each saw a significant fall off in their programs for an extended amount of time after facing Alabama once. Kelly lost too but bounced back. Michigan under head coach Jim Harbaugh is arguable the only other team in that same category losing to Alabama in a regular season game in 2012 and bouncing back to prominence within the next few years.
- According to PrepScholar, Notre Dame’s average GPA for incoming Freshman is 4.06, and they don’t bend the rules for athletes. Despite this, Kelly still won ten-plus games per season on a consistent basis. Other schools like Stanford, Rice, Duke, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Boston College are all schools that fall in similar boats. None of these have been successful in the long-term like the Irish were under Kelly. The fact that Kelly can continue to put a winning product on the field despite these stipulations that no other schools have is quite a feat.
- Location, location, location. South Bend, Indiana is not a hot bed of recruitment talent, nor a destination that is easy to recruit four and five-star talent to, even if they meet the GPA requirements.
With all of these factors against him, Kelly still won. Now for the first time in his career, he gets to:
- Coach, recruit and lead a team in a region of the country that is easier and more attractive to four and five-star talent.
- Coach in the SEC, which is a lure in itself versus smaller conferences previous like the MAC and Notre Dame as an independent.
- As most all coaches do besides the select few academic institutions mentioned above, he gets to build a program with less academic restrictions. The only school in the SEC that rivals Notre Dame in this category is Vanderbilt.
With all of these factors, it is no wonder that Brian Kelly won ten games in his first season at LSU. And if his winning track record at smaller schools, or schools with stiffer restrictions, is anything to go by, the rest of the SEC, and country should be even more on alert than they are. So do not be surprised if Kelly wins multiple national titles during his time as head coach of the Tigers.