Since Nick Saban arrived at Alabama, LSU has been the school that provided the greatest threat to Alabama’s dominance in the SEC West. Yes, the Tide had an eight game winning streak in the series beginning January 9, 2012, but many of those games were hard fought, physical contests. Once it was announced that Ed Orgeron would be stepping down after the season, there was a keen interest among Alabama fans about who AD Scott Woodward would land.
Brian Kelly’s name came out of left field, and it was a shock.
I think it’s going to be a spectacular disaster for several reasons, but let’s start with this: what has he ever won? He has managed to have some nice seasons, even going undefeated in 2012 before running into Alabama, but his Fighting Irish teams have struggled with outright terrible opponents multiple times in every season. He has been to the BCS Championship Game once and the College Football Playoff twice on the back of a weak schedule, and the aggregate score of those three losses was 103-31. I’m not sure what it is about him that makes LSU think he’ll be successful in the SEC, but we’ll see how it goes soon enough. Some other reasons:
He’s an odd cultural fit
LSU has had a ton of success with a particular kind of coach. If nothing else, the Bayou Bengals are fun. Brian Kelly is about as fun as the bran muffin that he undoubtedly has for breakfast each morning. Remember earlier in the year when he tried to tell a joke?
Notre Dame certainly recruits nationally, but they are recruiting a specific kind of student athlete and selling the prestige of Notre Dame from an academic standpoint as much as anything. At Notre Dame, he has something unique to sell. At LSU, he’s basically selling the same thing that a five-star can get in Tuscaloosa, or College Station, or Athens, or Gainesville.
Kelly’s buttoned down, no nonsense personality probably plays well in the living rooms of kids from moderately affluent families, whose kids are choosing between Notre Dame and Stanford. Does he have the chops to belly up to the dinner table with a southern Mama, have a second piece of cornbread (or bowl of gumbo) and make himself seem like one of the family?
That remains to be seen, but it seems like a stretch.
The negative recruiting is going to be fierce
I’m not sure that Kelly knows what he’s getting into, competing with the cutthroat recruiting in the south. The Big Ten famously had a “gentleman’s agreement” among coaches not to recruit players who had verbally committed until Urban Meyer got there. That idea would be laughable to the coaches in the SEC. You want to recruit here, you’d better be ready to get in the mud.
You think rival coaches aren’t going to bring up Lizzie Seeburg and Declan Sullivan? Never mind the fact that Kelly just became the only coach in memory to quit on his team while it’s still in the hunt for a national title. It is very likely that wins by Georgia over Alabama and Baylor over Oklahoma State are all Notre Dame needs to make the playoff this year. Reporters would normally be grilling the CFP committee chair about Alabama staying at #3 after such a close game with unranked Auburn, but last night they had no interest. Instead, everyone wanted to talk about Notre Dame and whether Kelly leaving would have an impact on their ranking. One can only imagine the media coverage if the dominoes fall into place for them to go, whether the committee winds up punishing them for Kelly’s departure or not.
Not only that, he took his lawyer with him on a recruiting trip to the west coast because negotiations with LSU were ongoing. Once finalized, he notified his team in South Bend via text, then flew back to spend about 11 minutes with them. Someone recorded the three minute speech he gave his players before quitting on them.
Hey, he wished them good luck and said they deserve to be in the playoff. What a guy. eh?
Make no mistake, Ed Orgeron had to go for multiple reasons, but he coached his ass off as a lame duck and thanked the media with a hearty “Go Tigers” before departing. Contrast that with Kelly quitting before the playoffs were set.
Yeah, that’s going to come up, and often.
The contract is ridiculous
Besides making Kelly the highest paid coach in the country, a full 90% of his $95 million over ten years is guaranteed.
If LSU fires Kelly without cause, the school will owe him 90% of his remaining salary. However, it will owe him his entire remaining salary and the prorated longevity bonus if LSU fires him without cause after Kelly has won a national championship. LSU won’t have to pay Kelly if it fires him for cause.
Kelly just turned 60 in October, so LSU is locked into this deal until his age 70 season. Yes, that is the same age as Nick Saban, but coaches who maintain the same level of success at his age are rare. Frank Beamer lost at least five games in every season after turning age 65, before retiring at age 70. Mack Brown was only 63 when his Texas program fell off a cliff. He has enjoyed something of a renaissance at North Carolina in his late sixties, if that’s what you wish to call four to six loss seasons in the ACC. Remember Les Miles, the guy that LSU fans felt that the modern game had left behind? He was 63 when he was run out of town.
LSU is asking Kelly to come in at this stage of his career and compete immediately in the toughest division in college football, otherwise there wouldn’t have been such a hell fire hurry to get him to Baton Rouge before the playoffs were set. And if he fails to do that, they are stuck with him anyway, for several years.
The answer seemed so simple.
Perhaps LSU offered the job to Baylor’s Dave Aranda and he turned it down. This we will never know. If he wasn’t offered the job ahead of Kelly, however, I think Scott Woodward was reaching more for a brand name, that really doesn’t carry that much panache to begin with, over substance. Aranda was one of the few things that former LSU coach Les Miles got right late in his tenure. Aranda’s defenses were difficult to play against, he showed himself to be a strong recruiter for the Tigers, and he exudes professionalism. In his second year at Baylor, he has them in the Big 12 title game. At age 45, he may well have been in Baton Rouge for a couple of decades. To be frank, I’d have been much more concerned about competing with Aranda than Kelly.
So, what are your thoughts? Does this seem like a disaster of a hire to you as well, or am I way off base? From where I sit, the SEC West got a little easier this week, and for that we can be thankful.