Notre Dame fans are used to rumors about head coach Brian Kelly being pursued by other programs, or NFL teams. Irish fans went through this beginning in 2012, when Kelly interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Two years ago there were rumblings about Florida State pursuing Kelly, only to be quickly rebuffed. According to sources at the time, Kelly was talking to teams following the 2016 season as well. Kelly and his agent, Trace Armstrong, have been masterful in their ability to use success to get more money from Notre Dame.
Give Kelly credit, I don't believe any of those past negotiations were just about him, they often involved more money for assistants and other guarantees to improve the program as well, which is what a good head coach should do.
The latest rumors, which have been confirmed by FootballScoop and Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, mention that Kelly is the latest target for LSU, who were reportedly ready to offer former Oklahoma and now USC head coach Lincoln Riley up to $12 million to take the job. One would assume that Kelly is being offered similar money.
This one is different. Kelly is in year 12 at Notre Dame, the early signing period begins in 16 days and his team is making a push for a College Football Playoff berth.
Kelly cannot let this play our, and Notre Dame shouldn't let him use this situation to get more money out of the University. It sends a bad signal if Kelly at all makes it seem like he's interested in this job. Try convincing players to come to Notre Dame instead of going to LSU when you had to be convinced yourself, or so it will be perceived if he doesn't squash this rumor immediately.
If Kelly uses it properly it can become a great recruiting tool for he and his staff. If it lingers and is a ploy to get more money from Notre Dame, or if he's legitimately interested (I have no knowledge that he is interested), then it will cause more harm than it does good.
For Notre Dame, they are in an interesting situation should Kelly try to use this LSU pursuit as leverage for more. For one, the options for replacements right now is much, much stronger than it has been at other times when Kelly was able to leverage Notre Dame. You have Bob Stoops out there with his national championship ring and 10 Big 12 titles, you have Luke Fickell putting together a strong 12-0 season at Cincinnati, you have Dave Aranda doing great things at Baylor, you have Jeff Brohm bouncing back at Purdue and of course, right down the hall from Brian Kelly is defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
I have already made my feelings known on the Marcus Freeman option, which you can read HERE.
There isn't a bad option in that group, and simply promoting Freeman is likely something that much of the Notre Dame fan base, and roster, would be happy about should Kelly decide to leave. In this instance I don't think Kelly has nearly as much leverage as he thinks he does. He was rewarded less than a year ago for building Notre Dame into a playoff team. He was extended through 2024 and given another pay bump. Notre Dame did what was asked when Kelly needed more money to entice Freeman to come to South Bend.
Kelly's next attempt at getting more from Notre Dame should come when he takes the program beyond what he's already been given multiple pay raises for, and that would be winning a championship.
So now we sit back and wait, and hopefully we aren't waiting very long. If Kelly doesn't have any intention of leaving Notre Dame he needs to say so immediately, and far more emphatically than he did when asked about the open USC job. Kelly said he didn't have interest in leaving but joked that he could leave for the right price .... it was funny the first time, now he needs to be serious and emphatically state he is at Notre Dame and has no intention of ever leaving until he retires.
If not, perhaps it's time for Notre Dame to find a coach who views Notre Dame the way it should be viewed, and that is as the premier job in the country, one only a fool would consider leaving to go to LSU for.
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