For a guy who has pretty much been out of the public eye since Thursday, new LSU coach Brian Kelly has managed to occupy a lot of the news cycle.
Let’s start with his decision to leave Notre Dame for LSU. Kelly was hammered from the proverbial pillar to post from pro football writers like Peter King on the one end to basketball personality Dick Vitale on the other. Especially when College Football Playoff selection committee chair Gary Barta said it would weigh the lack of a head coach against the Fighting Irish when sizing Notre Dame up for a playoff spot. How dare Kelly leave his team in the lurch with its CFP fate in the balance?
In reality, breakups are often messy. And as it turned out, no harm done to Notre Dame. The school made Kelly’s former defensive coordinator, Marcus Freeman, its new head coach. Barta said the CFP committee would not penalize Notre Dame. And the 11-1 Fighting Irish got stuck at No. 5 in the rankings because no one in the top four — Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Cincinnati — fell out.
I think a lot of the ire Kelly drew for leaving the Irish has to do with Notre Dame’s perceived place in the game compared to LSU. I think it has to do with media types who maybe don’t like Kelly for whatever reason and found his departure a welcomed quiver in their bow.
Next, the assistant coaching situation, with zero Notre Dame assistants apparently coming with Kelly, compounded by his decision not to retain long-time LSU strength coach Tommy Moffitt.
No, it isn’t the best look for Kelly that none of his old staff have joined him. Of course, the same thing happened to Nick Saban when he left Michigan State for LSU in 1999. LSU’s chartered plane came back empty.
Yes, Saban started at LSU with egg on his face. He recovered nicely.
As for Moffitt, the praise he received on social media from many former players was well deserved. He molded many young men in 21 years at LSU under three head coaches (Saban, Les Miles and Ed Orgeron). That he isn’t staying is how the coaching business sometimes works. Kelly deserves the right to retain and/or replace anyone he chooses within the LSU football staff. No one, not former players nor athletic director Scott Woodward nor boosters, should make those decisions for him.
There are some good and talented people still doing work in that building. That starts with interim head coach Brad Davis, who accounted himself well Sunday in his first news conference to discuss the Tigers’ Jan. 4 Texas Bowl with Kansas State. While the choices are Kelly’s to make, the pressure on him to choose wisely, to choose people who will help him win championships, is more than first expected when it looked like his staff would be some mix of Notre Dame and Orgeron assistants.
One former Orgeron assistant shockingly now on the market is former passing game coordinator Joe Brady, abruptly cut loose by the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Brady was the boy wonder of LSU’s offensive brain trust during the Tigers’ run to the 2019 national championship before becoming Carolina’s offensive coordinator. The problem with being a boy wonder is sometimes you grow up and people no longer find you so wonderful. In retrospect, Joe Burrow and Steve Ensminger probably deserved some of the praise Brady got.
Should Kelly consider luring Brady back to Baton Rouge? Probably not. Brady came to LSU from the Saints and by all accounts prefers the pro game, where only the occasional free agent needs recruiting. Brady will land somewhere in NFL, though his path to becoming the NFL’s next Sean McVay or Matt LaFleur doesn’t look quite so certain anymore.
Finally, yes, we must address the viral video of Kelly from Wednesday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center at halftime of the men’s basketball game against Ohio. The video caught fire because of the broad assertions that the Massachusetts-born Kelly was trying to put on a Southern accent to pander to the fans.
Look, I know I’m going to be branded for taking up for the guy because he’s LSU’s new coach, but I’m going to say it anyway: I was at the game, and I didn’t think the way Kelly spoke to the crowd was at all strange. Upon further review, did he draw out a few words like “family?” Sure. But to read all the snarky comments out there, you swear he came out dressed like Colonel Sanders and spoke like Foghorn Leghorn.
It’s like that “I Have a Scream” campaign speech in 2004 by Howard Dean when he was running for president, when his awkward “Yeaaah!” doomed his run. When you heard it in the context of all the crowd noise, it wasn’t that unusual. But the audio of his microphone tamped down the background noise and didn’t give a proper sense of a raucous ballroom full of people.
It was the same thing for Kelly. There were 10,000 fans going bonkers in the PMAC over Kelly’s every word. When you try to talk over people, sometimes you might draw … out … a … few … syllables.
Oh, well. Ultimately, who cares? Why be fair when a takedown is more fun, right? It was unfair, but it will be something Kelly will have to overcome.