Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's flirtation with the NFL has raised more than a few Irish eyebrows. There have even been a few recruiting casualties from his interviews with the Philadelphia Eagles. The issue was officially settled Saturday when Notre Dame official John Heisler announced via Twitter that Kelly was staying at the school.
Now that the dust has settled, what does Brian Kelly's NFL flirtation mean for his future?
Kelly is clearly interested in the NFL.
I, like many other Irish fans, did not seriously believe Kelly would abandon the program he had spent three years restoring to glory for a shot at coaching the 4-12 Eagles. Unfortunately, that is just wishful thinking. Brian Kelly has had no qualms about walking away from success in the past if it meant moving on to bigger and better things. Let's review his coaching history:
After 13 very successful years as the head coach at Grand Valley State—only once finishing lower than third in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference—Kelly left for Central Michigan University.
In his second year with the Chippewas they had their first winning season in seven years. His success at CMU would be short-lived, as he departed after three seasons for the Cincinnati Bearcats, leaving three days after CMU won the 2006 MAC Championship and not coaching CMU in their bowl game that year.
Kelly's time with Cincinnati mirrored his tenure at CMU: successful and brief. In 2009, the unranked Bearcats pulled off 12 straight victories and finished the regular season undefeated—sound familiar, Irish fans? Cincinnati went on to face the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl, a game they lost. Kelly, however, was not coaching the game as he had already departed for Notre Dame, a move that left many Bearcats fans embittered towards the new Irish head coach.
Indeed, Kelly has a history of departing successful programs after three years, so perhaps this NFL flirtation should not have come as such a surprise. Even the most diehard Notre Dame fans are left with little choice but to question Kelly's loyalty to the Irish.
So how loyal is Brian Kelly, really?
The short-term answer is easy: He will return next year and most likely the year after. Where it goes from there is less certain. One thing that is clear is his interest in the NFL. ESPN quoted Kelly as saying:
"Like every kid who has ever put on a pair of football cleats, I have had thoughts about being a part of the NFL. However, after much reflection and conversation with those closest to me, I have decided to remain at Notre Dame."
It appears that if the right opportunity presented itself, Kelly would leave Notre Dame for the NFL. As illustrated above by his coaching history, he does not suffer from a Paterno-esque sense of dedication to a particular school.
There may also be another, less illustrious, factor at play here as well: salary. The BCS National Championship game saw the No. 1 and 2 ranked teams in the country meet, but as far as pay grade, the two head coaches were nowhere near as evenly matched. According to coacheshotseat.com, Alabama head coach Nick Saban pulls in a whopping $5.5 million per year, the highest of any college football coach. Brian Kelly, on the other hand, ranks 23rd nationally, making $2.6 million —the same amount as Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen.
Notre Dame may want to bump up Kelly's paycheck. As Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com so eloquently put it, "It's not enough to play like a champion, the school has to pay like a champion."
So what does all this mean for the Fighting Irish?
Kelly's reputation is not the only thing to take a hit from the Eagles debacle; 4-star recruits (via Rivals.com) Ross Pierschbacher and Alex Anzalone —a personal favorite of mine— decommited from the Fighting Irish in the wake of Kelly's interviews, both citing it as the cause of their departure.
The commit hemorrhaging seems to have abated with the news that Kelly will continue with the Irish, the 2013 class remaining largely intact. But will there be more long-term effects from Kelly's NFL dalliance?
One can only speculate that future recruits may be wary of committing to Kelly, knowing that he could depart before they even see Touchdown Jesus.
Overall, Kelly has hurt his reputation with the Irish fanbase, and he has likely eroded the confidence of both his current and future commits.
What do you think are the long-term impacts, if any, of Brian Kelly's interest in the NFL, and what does it mean for Notre Dame's future? Tell us in the comments below.
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