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Robert Saleh Still Remembers Brian Kelly Being a Real Jerk to Him at Central Michigan

In Wednesday’s Hot Clicks: another story about LSU’s new head coach treating people poorly, a wacky NHL goal and more.

Graduate assistants aren’t personal assistants

This has been Pile On Brian Kelly Week on the internet. While LSU fans are rejoicing that their team has hired a top head coach, basically everyone else is ripping Kelly for leaving Notre Dame in the lurch.

Kelly’s move to Baton Rouge came seemingly out of nowhere. Even his own assistants learned of his departure through media reports. Kelly sent a group text to his players in which he apologized that they had to find out this way and called a 7 a.m. meeting to tell them in person that he was ditching them. Kelly left the Notre Dame campus at 7:11 after reportedly speaking with the team for “less than two minutes.”

Kelly is certainly free to leave for another job (especially when that job is offering him $100 million), but the way he did was certainly inconsiderate. He had 100 guys working their tails off all year in pursuit of a national championship and now not only has he abandoned his pursuit of that goal, he’s jeopardized the players’ chances of qualifying for the College Football Playoff. (Playoff chairman Gary Barta said Tuesday that Kelly’s departure could be a factor when the committee determines where to rank the Irish on Sunday. Notre Dame was sixth in this week’s rankings.)

As Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg wrote Tuesday, Kelly has a history of doing stuff like this. When he first came to Notre Dame, he informed his players at Cincinnati that he had taken another job at the end of the year-end banquet. That was after he left his previous job at Central Michigan in the middle of contract-extension negotiations and without informing CMU that he was talking with other schools.

So yeah, there are plenty of stories about Kelly being a jerk when leaving one school for another. But he isn’t exactly a saint even when he’s sticking around, either. In light of the week’s events, an anecdote from a 2019 ESPN.com story is going viral on Twitter. It’s the lead of a profile of Matt LaFleur, who had just been hired as head coach of the Packers, written by ESPN’s Rob Demovsky:

On a winter night in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, Matt LaFleur and Robert Saleh thought they were invited to a party at the home of their boss, Central Michigan University football coach Brian Kelly.

Turns out, they weren’t on the guest list.

They were on the worker list.

"We shoveled the snow and parked all the cars," Saleh said. "Then, at the end of the night, we had to go get the cars again."

And then they went back to the tiny apartment they shared as graduate assistants and stood around their kitchen table—the one without any chairs.

"We decided that when we’re in that position, we’re never going to treat people the way we got treated," said Saleh, now the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator. "And Matty’s lived up to it."

The replies under the viral tweet (more than 5,000 retweets and 26,000 likes) are full of people talking about “paying your dues,” but there’s a difference between doing grunt work for the football team and your boss taking advantage of his power over you to make you do manual labor while he sits in front of his fireplace with a snifter of brandy.

That 2004 Central Michigan coaching staff was loaded with talent. It had Saleh and LaFleur (both future NFL head coaches), as well as Butch Jones (who replaced Kelly as the head coach at Central Michigan and Cincinnati and went on to take the top job at Tennessee). Jeff Quinn, who was the head coach at Buffalo and just followed Kelly from Notre Dame to LSU as offensive line coach, was also there, as was current Notre Dame associate head coach and defensive line coach Mike Elston. Two other coaches (Tony Dews and Tony Oden) are currently position coaches in the NFL. Kelly’s ability to identify and develop good coaches is why LSU is lucky to have him. His history of disregarding those around him is why it’ll be fascinating to see how his time in Baton Rouge ends. 

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