ATLANTA – New LSU football coach Brian Kelly has rarely spoken about his former school, Notre Dame.
But he reluctantly did so on Monday as the first coach to speak at the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days here at the College Football Hall of Fame.
“It’s probably not been high on my list of things to think about,” Kelly said when asked if he thought Notre Dame may join a conference for the first time in history by soon jumping to the Big Ten or SEC.
“I’ve been trying to correct a slice for the last couple of weeks, and I haven’t had much success with that,” he said. “So I’m going to go back to my day job (smiling).”
Kelly left his day job at Notre Dame after 12 years following the 2021 season, including a national championship game appearance in the 2012 season and College Football Playoff semifinal appearances in 2018 and 2020.
“But I would say certainly Notre Dame still is a coveted university in terms of what conference would want them,” he said.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is in the process of considering a move to the Big Ten by as soon as 2024, if not the SEC. Or the Irish may remain an independent.
“Jack Swarbrick knows what he’s doing,” said Kelly, who was hired by Swarbrick from the head coaching job at the University of Cincinnati after the 2009 season.. “He’s got his ear to the ground. They’re going to land into a good position no matter what they do, whether they stay independent or whether they go into one of the other conferences. Notre Dame can carry itself pretty good.”
Notre Dame’s football program makes an extraordinary amount of money – the details of which is not largely known as the South Bend, Indiana, university is a private school. But it has had its own network for its home football games since 1991. You may have heard of it – NBC, which has been paying Notre Dame handsomely for the TV deal. CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported Monday that if the Irish remains independent, NBC may pay it $75 million annually in its contract.
But Notre Dame has not won a national title since 1988. And Kelly’s teams were blown out of all three of his playoff games – 42-14 by Alabama in the BCS title game after the 2012 season and 30-3 to Clemson and 31-14 to Alabama in the College Football Playoffs in the 2018 and ’20 seasons.
Kelly was asked if he left Notre Dame for LSU because of those blowout losses to Alabama in the postseason.
“That wasn’t part of my decision making,” Kelly said.
But he did say when hired by LSU that he wanted to win a national championship and be with the best. And there are those who believe he did not believe he could do that at Notre Dame, considering its stringent academic requirements and more difficulty reaching the CFP as an independent than, say, from the SEC.
“So for me, it was taking on that great opportunity in front of me to be part of restoring championship-quality football to LSU,” he said.
Kelly defended his Notre Dame teams that lost to Alabama in playoffs.
“Those were really good teams,” he said. “They both won the national championship (in the 2012 and ’20 seasons). I thought we played Alabama better than anybody in that last playoff. Their talent was unbelievable on the offensive side of the ball that year. So that wasn’t like, ‘I’m taking the LSU job, Alabama is so much better than us.’ That was not part of the process for me.”
LSU did beat Alabama, 46-41, on the road in 2019 on its way to the national championship, and the score was closer than the game. And Kelly is expected to be able to sign more talent at LSU than he did at Notre Dame because of proximity to talent and less difficult academic requirements.
“It was timing,” Kelly said. “It was this place at LSU. It was the administration and the opportunity to bring this program back. It really had nothing to do with the Alabama game.”
Kelly gets his next shot against Alabama on Nov. 5 in Baton Rouge.