Brian Kelly was named the 31st head coach at the University of Notre Dame on December 10, 2009 replacing Charlie Weis who had been fired after five full seasons coaching the Fighting Irish. Kelly inherited a team that had struggled to finish games and play sound defense despite scoring points in bunches over the final years of the Weis Era and came to Notre Dame with the reputation of being an innovative offensive mind because of the prolific offenses he put on the field at both Cincinnati and Central Michigan. Notre Dame was Kelly’s first high profile head coaching position although unlike his predecessor, he had brought with him a resume full of head coaching experience. In less than than three years, Kelly has used that experience to take Notre Dame from an under achieving team fighting just to sneak into a bowl to a #1 ranking and berth in the 2013 BCS Championship Bowl.
In 2010, Kelly took over a Notre Dame team that had been to a bowl game just once in the previous three seasons after reaching back to back BCS games in the first two years of the Weis era. Despite a proven record of success at his previous stops, the Irish struggled out of the games in 2010. After posting a season opening victory over Purdue in his home debut, Kelly and the Irish stumbled to a 1-3 start to the season highlighted by a humbling 37-14 home loss to Stanford after two last minute losses to Michigan and Michigan State. The Irish rebounded with three straight wins before an embarrassing loss to Navy in the New Meadowlands raised questions early in his tenure about his preparedness for the position.
Controversy was no stranger to Kelly and Notre Dame during his first season when Declan Sullivan, a student volunteer, tragically lost his life while filming practice the week before the Tulsa game – a game that Notre Dame lost when Kelly called for freshman quarterback Tommy Rees to throw into the end-zone in the final minute despite the Irish being in field goal range for a go-ahead field. Despite the on and off-field controversy, Notre Dame rebounded in Brian Kelly’s first season with four straight wins to end the season including the first win over USC since 2001 and a bowl victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl.
Heading into year two of the Kelly Era, big things were expected of Notre Dame, but like 2010, the Irish stumbled out of the gates with back to back losses to South Florida and Michigan. Turnovers, penalties, and mental mistakes highlighted the 2011 the first two losses of the 2011 season and became the them for the season as the Irish underachieved their way to a 8-5 record capped off by a season ending loss in the Champs Bowl to Florida State in a game in which the Irish had a chance to run away with the game before letting the Seminoles back into game and eventually surrendering the lead.
The 2011 season was also highlighted by unrest at the quarterback position – a position most Notre Dame fans felt would be a position of strength under Kelly thanks to his success with the quarterbacks he had worked with at both Cincinnati and Central Michigan.
Brian Kelly was named the head coach for Cincinnati on December 2, 2006 after Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati for the head coaching position at Michigan State. Despite having his Central Michigan team in a bowl game, Kelly took over for Dantonio immediately and coached the Bearcats to a 27-24 victory over Western Michigan in the International Bowl. His staff at Central Michigan stayed with the team through their bowl game before most joining Kelly at Cincinnati prior to the International Bowl.
In 2007 Kelly lead Cincinnati to a 10-3 record and a bowl win in the Papa Johns Bowl over Southern Miss to give the Bearcats the second 10-win season in the program’s history. His efforts were enough to earn him Big East Coach of the Year honoros in his first full season in the conference – an award that he would go on to win each of his three years coaching at Cincinnati.
Kelly guided Cincinnati to its second consecutive 10-win season in 2008 after the program had just one such season in its entire history prior to his arrival. Cincinnati won its first outright Big East Championship in 2008 earning a berth in the Orange Bowl where the Bearcats fell to ACC Champion VIrginia Tech 20-7. They finished the season 11-3, however, and posted wins over both Pittsburgh and West Virginia – two programs they had not previously beaten in league play before the ’08 season.
After posting back to back 10-win seasons in his first two seasons, Kelly had head coaching inquiries from several big time programs, but he elected to stay at Cincinnati for another season. Kelly’s decision to stay at Cincinnati paid off in 2009 with the Bearcats navigating their schedule without a single loss for their first 12-0 season in program history and a near berth in the BCS Championship game. The Bearcats were one second away from playing Alabama for the championship in 2009 when Texas nearly ran out of time against Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship game. Following the 2009 season Cincinnati was invited to play in the Sugar Bowl against Florida, but Kelly was named head coach at Notre Dame prior to the bowl season and left to take over immediately at Notre Dame.
After serving as the head coach at Division II Grand Valley State for 13 years, Kelly made the moved to Division I by replacing Mike DeBord at Central Michigan. Kelly faced a daunting task with his first D1 post. Central Michigan hadn’t had a winning season in six years and won more than three games just once in the four years before his arrival. Kelly turned things around quickly at Central Michigan though with a 4-7 record in 2004 and then a 6-5 mark in 2005 – the first winning season for the program since 1998.
In his third season, Kelly guided the Chippewas the a MAC Championship with a 9-4 record to earn a spot in the Motor City Bowl behind the strong play of MAC Freshman of the Year Dan LeFevour at quarterback. LeFevour ended his frosh campaign with 25 touchdowns and rated 20th in the NCAA in passing efficiency. Kelly would not coach his squad in their first bowl game in 12 years, however, after accepting the head coaching position at Cincinnati less than a week after Central Michigan won the MAC Championship.
Grand Valley State
Brian Kelly took over as the head coach for Division II Grand Valley State in 1991 after serving as an assist coach and recruiting coordinator since 1987. At Grand Valley State, Kelly cut his teeth as a head coach with two Division II National Championships and six playoff appearances during his 13 seasons as the head coach for the Lakers. Over the final three seasons on the sidelines for Grand Valley State, Kelly compiled a 41-2 record highlighted by back back championships in 2002 and 2003. In fact, Kelly was just three points shy of winning three straight championships before leaving for a Division 1 head coaching position.
During his tenure at Grand Valley State, Kelly posted a 118-35-2 record that feature the two championships and just three seasons of fewer than 8 victories. Over that time, Kelly produced 77 All Americans and 4 NFL players. His 2001 team produced 77 different NCAA, conference, and school records including setting the all time scoring mark at 58.4 points per game while also being the first team in over 50 years to average more than 600 yards of offense a game. Two years later, Kelly’s team set defensive marks by leading the nation in allowing just 62 yards rushing a game enroute to his second consecutive Division II championship.
After winning the back to back titles in ’02 and ’03, Kelly drew the interest of Division I schools and left Grand Valley for the head coaching vacancy at Central Michigan.
Brian Kelly Coaching Awards/Honors
- Home Depot College Football Coach of the Year – 2012
- Associated Press (AP) College Football Coach of the Year Award – 2012
- Eddie Robinson College Football Coach of the Year – 2012
- Big East Coach of the Year – 2007, 2008, 2009
- American Football Coaches Association Division II Coach of the Year – 2002, 2003
- Grand Valley State Athletics Hall of Fame
- Assumption College Alumni Athletics Hall of Fame