Brian Kelly at USC: A wacky suggestion?

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — How far-fetched would it be for Brian Kelly to be coaching on the visiting sidelines when Southern Cal comes to Notre Dame Stadium in two years?

Never say never in the wacky world of college football.

Coaching football at Notre Dame for six years is like 16 years anywhere else.

There are only two living human beings — Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz — who can relate to the toll the job can take on a person over such a period.

And even then, neither of those legendary icons had the outside distractions of social media, Showtime, and the 24/7 news cycle with which to deal.

Would Kelly even consider taking the Southern Cal head coaching job, which opened up when Steve Sarkisian was fired?

Well … the other day, he had a chance to address the situation.

“What we do here is we avoid the noise,” Kelly said of him being put near the top of the potential candidate list. “And that would be considered a lot of noise.”

Ear plugs probably are issued with the whistle, visor and snazzy shirts ND coaches wear.

But, after years of watching college football, crazy is as crazy does.

Heck, who would have guessed that Bret Bielema would ever leave Wisconsin for Arkansas? For that matter, way back when, how ‘bout the stunner with Holtz leaving Arkansas for Minnesota? And in Kelly’s case, nobody saw the flirtation with the Philadelphia Eagles coming a couple years ago.

As recent as last year, there was a lot of speculation about him being a candidate for the Florida job. A 1-5 stretch drive took the bloom off that rose.

But, wouldn’t Florida or Southern Cal be considered lateral moves? Or worse?

It gets a little complicated when you’re dealing with the rarified air of college football’s elite these days. The internal pressures in any program are hard to quantify, without being privy to the intimate happenings behind closed doors.

The first premise to consider, no matter how much it hurts or offends Irish fans: The Notre Dame head football coaching position may no longer be a destination job.

The pay is comparable to the best jobs in the country, but the hoops aren’t. The Notre Dame head football coach’s job description is the dictionary definition of a front man.

He’s propped up to play golf and schmooze boosters all over the country. Kelly’s discomfort with his role of lone spokesman during last season’s academic situation that involved five players was obvious — week after week.

The academic side of campus at Notre Dame may produce a bigger footprint than almost any other big-time FBS school.

Recruiting at a place like Southern Cal is hardly the cross-country challenge that Notre Dame fights on a daily basis. When the Trojans want a phenom, all coaches need to do is walk out their back door and establish a relationship. Beat out UCLA, keep the poachers at bay, and the talent magically appears.

Notre Dame is the primary poacher. It always has been, and continues to be, an uphill battle to extricate a guy from California. How many times has distance and/or weather discouraged a SoCal five-star to stay home?

If Kelly was going to bolt from Notre Dame, after this season would be a logical time. With Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin, Sheldon Day, (probably) Jaylon Smith and (maybe) Will Fuller filling up the NFL Draft, there will be some significant rebuilding to be done.

Many of the components that make this Irish team special will be gone.

There’s talent for the future, the cupboard’s certainly not bare, but player development will be essential to get that talent to a championship level. Roll up the sleeves and go to work.

Southern Cal, likewise, has talent in place. The Trojans are in desperate need of stability — and a clean break from the Pete Carroll coaching tree from which disappointments Lane Kiffin and Sarkisian sprung.

Kelly checks both of those boxes.

Sixteen years at Grand Valley and six more at the pressure cooker they call Notre Dame prove that Kelly can survive for the long haul. His long Division II tenure gives Kelly a unique pedigree, far from the suggestion of a coach raised with a silver spoon.

Kelly would probably be a good fit at Southern Cal.

Who knows?

Stranger things have happened.

There's a lot to keep Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly in South Bend for years to come, but not everything with his job is all sunshine. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)