Notebook: Brian Kelly and his interview to replace Dan McCarney as Iowa State's coach

Randy Peterson
Des Moines Register

ORLANDO, Fla. – There’s a lot more than a football game that links Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly to the Iowa State team his 15th-ranked Fighting Irish will face in Saturday’s Camping World Bowl.

Besides a connection to one of the most famous college football families in the state of Iowa, Kelly admitted he interviewed to be the Cyclones’ head coach.

That’s right. Kelly, the coach at Central Michigan at the time, was among the coaches that athletics director Jamie Pollard interviewed after Dan McCarney was fired in 2006.

“It’s hard to remember exactly, but I was one of the candidates for the position,” Kelly told reporters before practice at Orlando’s Boone High School Tuesday. “Jamie was there.  He’s done an incredible job.”

Pollard also interviewed Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, Jim Harbaugh (head coach at the University of San Diego at the time), Jay Norvell (Nebraska offensive coordinator) and Steve Kragthorpe (Tulsa head coach).

“I was involved with a few jobs at the time,” Kelly said. “I can’t remember which one was up at that time, but I saw (Iowa State) as a great opportunity. I was really impressed with Jamie and his vision of Iowa State, and it’s certainly come to fruition.”

Chizik eventually got the Iowa State job, and a few days later, Cincinnati named Kelly its head coach.

The other Iowa State connection is with Bobby Elliott, a five-season Kelly Notre Dame assistant who died of cancer in July 2017. Elliott was a former Iowa State assistant coach, Iowa assistant coach and former Hawkeye player.

“Bobby would have been pretty excited about this matchup and this game, certainly,” Kelly said Tuesday. “Great coach, great person, but a larger-than-life person, too. His players loved him.”

Elliott joined Notre Dame’s staff in 2012 as a safeties coach. He coached linebackers in 2014, and was a special assistant Kelly in 2015 and 2016. He died at the age of 64.

“Bobby had an incredible passion for young men that play this game,” Kelly said. “He gave his life to his vocation. Bobby Elliott loved developing young men in the game of football, and what lessons it taught them.”

Kelly also knew Elliott’s father, long-time Iowa athletics director Bump Elliott, who died three weeks ago. He also knew legendary Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry, who died last week.

“Seems like the whole group is going to get back together again,” Kelly said, looking skyward.

Notre Dame likes Brock Purdy

From Kelly, to safety Jalen Elliott — Brock Purdy is a player for whom the Irish have a ton of respect.

“He’s got bits and pieces of so many guys that we’ve gone against,” Kelly said. “What stands out for us, is that he’s a great competitor. You don’t’ want the ball in his hands with a couple minutes left. He finds ways to make plays.”

The true sophomore passed for 3,760 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. He’s the point-player of an offense heavy on solid receivers, a very good running back and a scheme he knows inside and out.

Iowa State has averaged 434.7 yards and 32.7 points since Purdy’s emergence against Oklahoma State last season. He’s one of just three players nationally with at least 27 touchdown passes and eight rushing touchdowns.

"Man, they throw that ball around a lot and they’re a really good team," Elliott said. "Oh man, (Purdy) creates plays. Sometimes, it’ll be a dead play, and he’ll get it out of there and keep the play alive.

“His has the ability to make all the throws. He has a lot of weapons around him; that doesn’t hurt, either.”

All hands on deck

Kelly told reporters that there are no surprises – everyone is eligible to play on Saturday.

“Everybody made the trip,” he said. “Everybody’s eligible. Everybody made it back from curfew, and nobody’s on a Greyhound bus. We’re all present and accounted for.”

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly waves to referees to come over during the Notre Dame’s 45-14 loss to Michigan in October.