I had a hard time warming up to new LSU coach Brian Kelly (wow, that sounds weird) during his Notre Dame career. I eventually learned to respect him.
He turned me off during his very first season in 2010 when he opted for a risky touchdown attempt instead of a safer game-tying field goal at the end of a loss to visiting Tulsa. Then he said, “Get used to it.”
Get used to what? We had to assume he meant his aggressive play calling, and not a defeat to an inferior team.
Kelly constantly berated his quarterbacks on the sidelines … looked like his head might explode in a rage on a few occasions … and inexplicably drove a wedge into his 2011 roster by calling out the players recruited by his predecessor, Charlie Weis.
At that point, future Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o said that maybe it was time for the upperclassmen to start playing for themselves.
Weis wasn’t very lovable, either, but his players at least liked him. It didn’t seem the same for Kelly.
Ara Parseghian always looked intense on the sidelines. Lou Holtz looked determined. Dan Devine looked aloof. Gerry Faust sometimes looked frazzled. Kelly seemed to take turns between looking arrogant and furious.
He came across as a bully.
When his 2016 team went 4-8 — granted, his only losing season with the Irish — I figured he was in hot water. That was OK with me.
But something happened around that time. I can’t put an exact date, game or even season on it, but Kelly changed. He became a milder version of his earlier coaching self. He quit ranting and raving. His face no longer turned purple on plays that went against the Irish.
I’m thinking someone had a talk with him — whether it was the athletic director, the university president, his wife, a trusted friend or God Himself. Someone got through to him. That someone may have said he looked “out of control” and maybe soon “out of a job” if he didn’t change.
HIs last five seasons have been 10-3, 12-1, 11-2, 10-2 and 11-1. There is a little bit of a “cause and effect” question here. Did the winning help improve his sideline demeanor or did holding onto his composure help lead to more winning? I would guess that it was a little bit of both.
In recent years, he has stood on the sidelines with his arms folded and his face usually impassive, serving as a poor barometer for who was winning out on the field. To put it simply, he looked in control — of himself and his team.
As the pressures of the Notre Dame job made many of his predecessors — Ara especially — appear to age three years for every season they coached, Kelly doesn’t look much different than when he took the helm 12 years ago.
He certainly doesn’t look beaten down like most of the others did at the end of their tenures under the Golden Dome. During the last few years, he even seemed to turn a little whimsical at times during interviews and press conferences — trying to mix some entertainment in with the “business as usual.” He looked comfortable with who he is.
That had to be partly what LSU officials saw when they hired him away from Notre Dame earlier this week. A head coach now for 31 seasons and a “youthful” 60 years old, Kelly still seems to possess the energy and enthusiasm that can greatly complement his expertise.
I like that. I almost like him (but not enough to miss him). I’ll let other writers deal with the way he left.
Maybe he’ll have a better chance of winning a national championship in Baton Rouge. Maybe he won’t. God help him if he doesn’t come close.
I only wish two things for him on his way out of town: That he gets his Tigers into the CFP title game … and that he gets his ass kicked by the Fighting Irish in that match-up.
Bill Moor covered Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune from 1973 to 1997.