Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly deflects NFL speculation
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Brian Kelly sat in front of a microphone, with a gold Notre Dame monogram lapel situated an inch above the orange BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl lapel pinned onto his blue blazer, right on top of his heart, and answered questions about the NFL.
Specifically, in the wake of the Philadelphia Eagles’ firing of former Oregon coach Chip Kelly on Tuesday, would he entertain the possibility of ditching Notre Dame for an NFL future?
“I’m not curious anymore about how I would do in the NFL,” Kelly said, two days before his eighth-ranked Irish (10-2) meet No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl on Friday. “It’s always about, ‘Would I want to do that? Would I want to put myself in that position?’ That’s the issue. I’m not curious.”
Kelly’s NFL curiosity would only be piqued, he said, if he were placed in a similar position to the one he now holds in South Bend — with complete control, from the top of the organization to the bottom.
And while that scenario isn’t entirely unrealistic, few NFL coaches have been afforded similar circumstances.
“How would you give up control of all the things you have at Notre Dame to do that, unless they gave you full autonomy and control of an organization?” the sixth-year Irish head coach said. “I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon for Brian Kelly.”
At Notre Dame, Kelly can already claim such autonomy — from coaching, to recruiting, to the culture of the program and the direction in which it’s headed. The result was a 10-2 regular season for Kelly in 2015, three years after he led Notre Dame to an undefeated regular season and berth in the national championship game.
His resurfacing on one of college football's bigger stages again also happens to be three seasons after Brian Kelly openly flirted with the Eagles' coaching vacancy that ultimately went to Chip Kelly, days after the Irish played Alabama for the 2012 national title.
With 226 wins and counting, more than any other active coach, Kelly is secure in the foundation he has built.
“I handle the contracts. I negotiate the contracts. I recruit the players,” he said. “So I’m the owner, the GM, I’m the football coach. Very rarely do you have those scenarios in the NFL. There’s very few of them that control all those buckets, if you will, in the NFL. I control all those buckets here at Notre Dame. So if you’re going to make that move to the NFL, you have to understand what you’re getting into.”
Maybe Chip Kelly balanced too many of said buckets in Philadelphia, and maybe he held too few. But according to Brian Kelly, one coach’s failure hardly represents a larger trend.
“You're coaching and collaborating. To me, that's the NFL,” he said. “You have to understand there has to be a great collaboration. (Former USC coach) Pete Carroll has found a great situation in Seattle, because he has great collaboration. Doesn't seem as though there was great collaboration there (in Philadelphia). If you're a ball coach, you're a ball coach. Chip Kelly is one heck of a football coach.
“All the pieces have to be moving in the right direction. So I really don't think it has anything to do with the college experience as much as it has to do with collaboration and understanding what you're getting into.”
Given that logic, maybe Brian Kelly could sustain success in the NFL, just as he has everywhere else. Maybe the collaboration would be there, and in turn, so would the wins.
But as for Wednesday, he looked plenty content to smile for the cameras, accept a gift basket of chocolates from Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers and sport that shiny Notre Dame lapel.
“When you’ve coached for 25 years and you have a sense and feel of how you want your locker room to look and the type of player you want to put in that locker room and you want your signature on it, it’s a very difficult thing to give up,” Kelly said.
“I think I made it pretty clear that it’s not a dream (of mine to coach in the NFL). It’s not a dream. I’m not chasing anything, really.”