The Brian Kelly Files

In the end, Notre Dame got their man. After a seemingly interminable period of consternation for Irish fans, a new coach will finally be making his way to South Bend. At the moment, Brian Kelly is the hot up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. After making his coaching bones at FCS school, Grand Valley State; Kelly moved to Central Michigan and, most recently, Cincinnati. At each stop, Brian Kelly has found success. He is clearly an excellent college head coach and, more importantly, a winner. That last quality, ultimately, is what the Irish faithful hope will bring our beleaguered program back to its rightful spot in the upper echelons of college football.

So, what has Kelly accomplished that makes him such an appealing choice? The numbers look something like this:

Seasons as head coach: 19
Record: 171-57-2 (.748)
Average record: 9-3
Average score: 32-21

Putting these in perspective, consider the following:

  • Kelly’s winning percentage as a coach is slightly better than Notre Dame’s as a football program (.748 to .715).
  • Were he to continue on his current pace, Kelly would become one of Notre Dame’s most successful head coaches*, with a winning percentage that ranks behind only Knute Rockne (.881), Jesse Harper (.863), Frank Leahy (.855), Ara Parseghian (.836), Lou Holtz (.765) and Dan Devine (.764).  Not bad company. (* not counting coaches who were interim or coached only one season).
  • An average score of 32-21 would place a team in the top 25 nationally in scoring offense (roughly between 20 and 25) and in the top 30 in scoring defense (between 25 and 30).  This season Notre Dame finished 38th in scoring offense (30.1) and 64th in scoring defense (25.9).

For fans who believe that Kelly’s pedigree is not up to the task of leading an elite program, take a look at the backgrounds of some of college football’s current top-flight coaches:

  • Brian Kelly: Grand Valley State (1991-2003): 118-35-2, two Division II National Championships (2002, 2003) one DII runner-up (2001) and six Division II playoff appearances (1991, 1994, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003).  Central Michigan (2004-2006): 19-16, one bowl appearance (2006).  Cincinnati (2007-2009): 34-6, two Big East championships (2008, 2009), three bowls (2007, 2008, 2009).
  • Bob Stoops: No prior head coaching experience prior to becoming Oklahoma’s head coach.  Had served as defensive coordinator at Kansas State and Florida prior to coming to Norman.
  • Jim Tressel: Youngstown State (1986-2000): 135-57-2, four Division IAA National Championships (1991, 1993, 1994, 1997), two Division IAA runners-up (1992, 1999), 10 division IAA playoff appearances (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000).
  • Urban Meyer: Bowling Green (2001-2002): 17-6. Utah (2003-2004): 22-2, two MWC championships (2003, 2004), two bowls (win in Liberty Bowl – 2003 season, win in Fiesta Bowl – 2004 season).
  • Mack Brown: Appalachian State (1983): 6-5. Tulane (1985-1987): 11-23, one bowl appearance (Independence – 1987 season). UNC (1988-1997): 69-46, five bowls (Peach – 1992 season, Gator – 1993 season, Sun – 1994 season, Carquest – 1995 season, Gator – 1996 season).

So, how does Kelly compare?  He’s certainly more qualified than was Stoops, who had no prior head coaching experience; and, in all likelihood, Tressel who, for all his success prior to Ohio State, had never coached at the Division IA level.  That leaves Meyer and Brown.  Out of the two, the better comparison is Meyer.  Brown had relatively little success prior to UNC and, frankly, his .600 winning percentage at Chapel Hill is not awe-inspiring.  Meyer, conversely, was successful at a MAC program (Bowling Green) and took another mid-level program (Utah) to national prominence.  Does this sound familiar?  Of course, Kelly also has thirteen very successful seasons of head coaching experience at the Division II level which Meyer does not – Advantage: Kelly.  Of course, since their hiring, all of these coaches have managed to win national championships at their new programs.  Ultimately, any measure of Kelly’s success will be measured along the same lines.  Still, given their relative backgrounds, it’s foolish to think that, somehow, Notre Dame didn’t get a solid hire here.  All things considered, this was an outstanding pick for the Irish.  With any luck, in a few seasons we may have even more reasons to draw comparisons between Kelly and these other coaches.