Think BK is the right man for the job now? Thank Jamie Pollard.

Gene Chizik, Brian Kelly, and Paul Rhoads… fates intertwined?
The excitement around the Notre Dame football program is higher than it's been in a very long time. An undefeated mark at 8-0, a statement win on the road against a strong Oklahoma squad, and a #3 ranking in the Bowl Championship Series rankings will tend to do that for a fan-base. By now it should be clear– even to the doubters (sideways glance at certain websites)– that Brian Kelly's plan for this team is coming together.  Thrown in the strong recruiting class coming in and the future looks bright indeed.
Given all the hand wringing over the past couple of seasons about the controversy of the moment, QB play, head-scratching losses, uniforms, stadium music, this season is a relief, but not a surprise to those who could see the plan BK and his brain-trust had in place all along (I'm not talking about me, I'm talking about folks smarter than myself).  But like a lot of things, the Brian Kelly renaissance might never have happened but for the fateful decisions of a few folks far removed from the shadow of the Dome.  And in gratitude for the services of Coach Kelly, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Iowa State University athletic director, Jamie Pollard. I'll explain after the jump!
By the end of the 2006 season, Jamie Pollard had forced the resignation of Dan McCarney the most successful coach in ISU history.  On November 27, after a very intriguing coaching search, Pollard had hired University of Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to be the Cyclone's 30th head football coach. Chizik was one of the hottest coaching prospects going at the time and his hiring was hailed in the national media as a tremendous coup for the program. Pollard crowed that he "got his man" and there were high hopes that Chizik could take the program to the next level after coach McCarney had moved it from being a perennial Big 12 bottom-feeder to a modest level of respectability including five bowl games for McCarney led teams.

Now for you readers the search was intriguing because in addition to Chizik, ISU interviewed a solid roster of coaching candidates including future Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and then Central Michigan head coach, Brian Kelly.  Conflicting reports came out at the time, some indicating that ISU had all but offered Kelly the job and Kelly didn't take it because he was stringing them along, angling for the Michigan State opening that had not as yet been filled by Mark D'Antonio.  (As it happened, MSU announced D'Antionio's hiring on November 27, the same day ISU hired Chizik).  Other reports say that Kelly did have genuine interest in the ISU job, but Pollard cooled on Kelly thinking the hot-name Chizik would be the best guy.  I think it's very hard to reconstruct the actual chain of events given the extreme amount of bluffing and cloak and dagger involved in these hiring processes, but at the very least it seems like Kelly moving to Iowa State after three years at Central Michigan was a distinct possibility. It would have been stepping stone program for Kelly, to be sure, but a stepping stone into the Big 12 and out of the MAC.

Of course we all know the story from here.  The Chizik hire did not work out for Iowa State.  Chizik led the team to 3-9 and 2-10 seasons in his two year tenure, ending on a ten game losing streak.  Yet somehow in the most spectacular example of failing upward in recent college sports history, Auburn hired Chizik away in 2008.  A year later, Chizik signed QB phenom Cam Newton (under what remains controversial circumstances), and a perfect season and national championship followed. Outside the state of Oregon, nobody was more bitter about that championship than Iowans who cheered lustily for the Ducks.

Brian Kelly, as we all know, went on to have three outstanding seasons at the University of Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to a 34-6 record and two BCS bowl births.  These three years represent easily the best three-year stretch in program history. This left (some) Irish fans salivating at the prospect of a Brian Kelly coaching at ND (at least the ones with sparking neurons).  "If Kelly can have this much success at a program like Cincinnati" the reasoning went, "what could he do with the Notre Dame brand and resources?" I think most fans are pretty happy now.

But what if Kelly had taken the job at ISU?  Counterfactual speculation is probably a fool's game, but I think it's fair to conclude that Brian Kelly would have guided the Cyclones to a better record than Chizik did during his two year stint in Ames. Head-coaching experience plus the familiarity of working within the constraints of a mid-level program would have served Kelly far more in this role than a rookie head-coach coming from top-flight programs like Auburn and Texas. But it's also safe to say it's unlikely in the extreme that Brian Kelly could have duplicated the level of success at Iowa State he enjoyed Cincinnati and barring that wouldn't have been on Jack Swarbrick's radar after the 2009 season. And that would mean someone else at the helm of the Notre Dame program now. Pat Fitzgerald? Randy Edsall? Who is to say?

But enough of that. In history as we know it, even though Iowa State passed on Kelly (or Kelly passed on them depending on what you read) things seemed to have worked out reasonably well for them, too. Paul Rhoads has turned out to be a great coach and the Cyclones are no longer a doormat, but a legitimate threat every Saturday to even the top teams in the Big 12. And for Iowa State fans, karma seems to have caught up with Mr. Chizik, as Auburn (1-7) is enduring a season of historically bad proportions. Saturday's 63-21 beat down at the hands of Texas A&M has only fanned the flames for Chizik's ouster just two season removed from a National Championship. Couldn't have happened to a better guy.