Notre Dame Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick had a sense that former Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly might be restless.
His intuition was correct.
Kelly was announced as the coach at LSU on Tuesday. His contract is reportedly for $95 million over 10 years.
Before he took the LSU job, there was speculation that Kelly had conversations with USC about its open job. The Trojans hired Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley last week.
“It was sometime last night,” Swarbrick said about when he found out Kelly was gone. “I can’t give you the exact time. I was not surprised. There had been enough in the weeks leading up that gave me a pretty strong sense that there might be other things attracting Brian. And of course, social media was very active yesterday. Between those two things, I was not surprised.”
Kelly met with the Fighting Irish players Tuesday morning at 7 AM EST to inform them he was making the move after 12 seasons at Notre Dame. The news broke in the middle of the day on Monday on social media.
Kelly leaves an 11-1 team that has a chance to earn a bid to the College Football Playoff. The Fighting Irish will know next week if they are one of the four teams selected. Kelly leaves as the winningest coach in Notre Dame history. His record was 113-40. The Fighting Irish won 10 games seven times and he was the Home Depot College Football Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2018 at Notre Dame and in 2009 at Cincinnati.
According to Swarbrick, Kelly did not discuss the conversations he was having with LSU about taking the job. There was no opportunity for Swarbrick to make a counter or convince Kelly to stay.
“I have to let Brian answer the question of why he left Notre Dame,” Swarbrick said. “I can’t answer that. There is a sense you get when you work with someone closely for 12 years that there is a certain restlessness. I could sense that in some conversations. There was a Freudian slip or two along the way that grabbed my attention. And whether that was intentional or not, it just felt like someone who might be open to a different opportunity.”
Swarbrick emphasized that leaving for Kelly wasn't about resources.
“It wasn’t a conversation about gosh, I need X or Y to remain at Notre Dame,” Swarbrick said. “I would not have resisted those conversations. Let me stress, we are always talking about improvements in the program. We have capital improvements that span the next three years. It’s not about not doing things to get better. It’s just we talked about what those things would be and what they would look like and there wasn't any distance between us.”
Swarbrick said that Kelly told the team in the morning meeting that it was about a new challenge.
“He said it was about another opportunity and a new experience for his family,” Swarbrick explained. “It was similar to the comments that Lincoln (Riley) made the day before when he left. I think there is an element to that. There was no sense I think that it was motivated by a belief that we couldn’t take the next step here. Brian has consistently reinforced to the team that we are positioned to take that next step and I passionately believe that.”
Swarbrick said that he doesn’t intend to hire an interim coach at this time. The job will be shared.
“We haven’t made a decision on an interim yet and frankly, I think we may approach it a little bit differently,” he said. “This staff is so well structured and the responsibilities so understood, I feel less of a need to have a designated interim. If we feel the need to put somebody in that position, they would not be a candidate for the job.”
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