Lucky Pick

Notre Dame gets its (Irish)man: Cincinnati's savior, Brian Kelly
December 21, 2009

Raised in a Boston Irish Catholic family that idolized the Kennedys, Brian Kelly once thought his future was in politics. "I wanted to be a public servant, but what drove me out was bitter partisanship," says Kelly, who was a political science major at Assumption College and worked on Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign. Last week Kelly, who instead made his name as a football coach in leading Cincinnati (12--0) to the No. 3 ranking in the BCS this fall, stepped into a position that might be as scrutinized as any in American politics. After weeks of speculation that had coaches from Oklahoma's Bob Stoops to Stanford's Jim Harbaugh headed to South Bend, Notre Dame settled on the 48-year-old Kelly as its new coach. "He was the right man at the right time," athletic director Jack Swarbrick said of Kelly.

On the surface Kelly looks like the perfect fit. Unlike his predecessor, Charlie Weis, Kelly has an impressive collegiate record, having turned long-suffering programs at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati into champions. Unlike Weis, Kelly is media-savvy and possesses the charisma of Lou Holtz, which Kelly will need to handle demanding boosters and a tough fan base.

One of the areas Weis seemingly did not fail in was recruiting: Kelly inherits a team with a big-armed quarterback (junior Dayne Crist, who will take over for the departing Jimmy Clausen) that has the talent to win 10 games next year. Kelly is regarded as a bright offensive mind—his Bearcats ranked No. 6 in the nation in total offense—but the problem with the Irish under Weis wasn't moving the ball. Kelly's first big decision will be the hiring of a defensive coordinator to turn around a unit that ranked 87th nationally in 2009. Kelly, who won't be coaching Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl, already hears the clock ticking. "We don't get a five-year plan," he said. "This is a five-minute plan."

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE

Two British women attempting to row across the Atlantic Ocean plan to complete the entire voyage in the buff.

PHOTOJOE RAYMOND/AP (KELLY)FIRST CHOICE Kelly was the only candidate to land an interview.

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