Noie: A wild week got a little weird with Brian Kelly introduction presser at LSU

Tom Noie
ND Insider

When last seen in a press conference setting, Brian Kelly talked tough about his team as one of the four best in the nation, and how he and his guys were ready to prove it. He even joked about chugging a fifth of Jameson Irish Whiskey after another double-digit win regular season ended. 

Kelly was serious at times, not so serious at others. He was as loose over the past four weeks as he’d been the previous four years. Did he know then that the end here was near? Hard to say. 

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When the Saturday night session was done, Kelly rose from his chair in a cramped room and walked out the door, which eventually closed. Not only on the rest of the room, but his 12-year career as the head football coach at Notre Dame. 

Nobody knew it then, and nobody seemingly wanted to know it two days later when news began to leak that Kelly was a serious candidate to flee for LSU. It all seemed surreal. The winningest coach in Notre Dame history, on the verge of possibly taking that program to a third College Football Playoff in four years, deciding that he needed a new challenge, needed the next challenge. Right then. Right now. 

On Wednesday afternoon, far from his former campus in South Bend and further still from the West Coast recruiting swing that he still was supposed to be on for the Irish, it all finally hit. 

December 1, 2021: New LSU Head Football Coach Brian Kelly holds his first press conference and meets with the media for the first time at Tiger Stadium's Lawton Room in Baton Rouge, LA. Jonathan Mailhes/CSM(Credit Image: © Jonathan Mailhes/CSM via ZUMA Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

Kelly was introduced as the head coach at LSU. 

It all made it real. 

Not before it got weird. 

For some reason, whether it was a conscious effort or otherwise, everyone associated with LSU — the school president, the athletic director, even the new football coach whose entire life is still back in Indiana — seemingly took great steps to not say Notre Dame. Do it, and somebody’s getting fired. Or so it seemed. 

The president referred to Notre Dame as “that fine institution.” Even Kelly, when he mentioned that Garth Brooks was coming to play Tiger Stadium, said that he “got to see him at that other place I was at.” 

Really? 

Can’t decide what was more annoying — that or Kelly’s continued use of his “first and foremost” catchphrase. Somewhere, my former boss cringed. Again. 

Four days after sitting and talking and being in that conference room out in Palo Alto, Calif., Kelly was standing at a podium in Tiger Stadium, wearing the LSU colors and smiling the smile of someone just handed a 10-year contract that might venture north of $100 million. 

You kept waiting for a “Geaux Tigers!” 

Kelly never gave us one. 

What you did get were Kelly’s references to leadership and cohesiveness and alignment. It’s almost as if he was saying the reason he’s there and not here is because of buzzwords one, two and three. Leadership and cohesiveness and alignment. Over and over. Shots fired over and over.

Think the powers that be at “that fine institution” got the message? 

Whatever the case, Kelly soon will have to win in a league — hello, Southeastern Conference — that may as well have been on Mars during his 32-year coaching career. The Irish Catholic from the Northeast is a Midwestern coaching lifer. Nowhere he’s ever worked and no amount of winning big games or losing close ones will prepare the 60-year-old for what he’ll face in the SEC. 

It’s college football on Red Bull and steroids. Every. Single. Day. 

Brian Kelly said Wednesday he was considered a players' coach at Notre Dame, which might've been news to his former Irish players.

Easing into SEC not an option 

If Kelly thought Notre Dame fans had skewed views of reality (and they do), he’s not seen anything yet. Football down there is religion — way more than it ever has been for those Subway Alumni he had to tolerate for the past dozen years. 

Kelly won more than any coach at Notre Dame ever has and a chunk of the fan base still wasn’t all that sad to see him go. Some of his sins — which had little to do with first downs and field goals — simply wouldn’t and couldn’t and shouldn’t be forgiven. 

Woodward made mention Wednesday that Kelly is the coach at LSU to “transform the culture.” 

Red flag, anyone? 

The timelines of the president and the athletic director and that fan base better align with the head coach. 

At Notre Dame, it took Kelly seven years — seven long, hard, trying, taxing years — to get everything to a place where he felt good about the program. About the culture. About the machine-like way Notre Dame churned out double-digit win seasons, something that no other coach before him had done with the Irish. 

Now he plans to do the same at LSU. Good luck. Fans of SEC schools don’t have the patience to wait seven years, and are likely even less patient with new guys from the north. 

New LSU football coach Brian Kelly gestures to fans after his arrival at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. Kelly, formerly of Notre Dame, is said to have agreed to a 10-year contract with LSU worth $95 million plus incentives.  (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Down there in the SEC, they fire coaches for not winning at least 10 games a year every year. Even when they do, well, there’s no guarantee they might be back. A year ago, Dan Mullen took Florida to the SEC championship game. By November of this year, not even through his fourth full season, he was out of a job. Less than two years after winning a freakin’ national championship, LSU gassed Ed Orgeron to open a landing spot for Kelly. 

If Kelly thought the demands and the pressures of the Notre Dame job were tough, wait until he gets a look at life in the SEC. But it’s a life that Kelly chose, and even chased. Kelly’s going to be pushed to win in ways he never was in South Bend. 

Why LSU? 

Why now? 

Why not? 

Kelly is like any other big-time college coach that commands a big-time payday — in any sport. No matter what they’ve done, no matter how long they’ve done it, no matter how comfortable they seemingly feel — and nobody inside or around Notre Dame saw this move coming — every one of them believes deep in the recesses of their coaching minds that they have one big move (and one more big bag of money) somewhere in their careers. Some never get a chance to chase it. Some, like Kelly did Monday, jump at it. 

Twelve years at Notre Dame is like 20 under the white-hot spotlight. The job wears on you, and wears you down. We barely recognize the guy who walked in the door back in 2010. 

Change isn’t always good, but sometimes it is. This time, it is. Kelly needed this challenge. He wanted this challenge. Now he gets to go and try and do something he didn’t believe he could do at Notre Dame. 

Keep that fifth nearby. 

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI