Introducing the 'Brian Kelly clause,' the solution to college football's ugly problem | Toppmeyer
So we need a new term to describe what Kelly did. Bolting a playoff contender as the season nears its climax hereby will be labeled “pulling a Kelly.”
Schools should aim to prevent coaches from “pulling a Kelly” in the future by writing a “Brian Kelly clause” into coaching contracts that would make replicating the timing of Kelly’s exit cost prohibitive.
Kelly accepted LSU’s coaching job on Nov. 29, two days after Notre Dame’s regular-season finale, even though the Irish remained in contention for the College Football Playoff.
Playoff bids were announced on Dec. 5. The Irish narrowly missed selection, entering the postseason ranked No. 5.
CFP Chair Gary Barta acknowledged that the selection committee could use Kelly’s departure as a mark against the Irish during the selection process.
Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Cincinnati earned playoff bids in an uncontroversial selection. However, if Alabama had not won the SEC championship and instead finished with two losses, the selection committee would have needed to consider whether Notre Dame deserved playoff entry regardless of their coach’s ill-timed exit.
Before Kelly pulled a Kelly, you might have thought that no coach would flee a team in contention for the national championship. But such thinking ignores that college football is a business, and the chance to earn more money is a powerful influencer.
And money is the answer to preventing more coaches from being tempted to pull a Kelly.
Coaching contracts generally include a seven-figure buyout that a coach must pay for leaving a job before his contract expires. Kelly’s buyout, for instance, would be $4 million if he departs LSU before Dec. 31, 2022. His exit fee drops to $3 million in 2023 and $2 million in ’24.
Often, the hiring school will agree to pay the coach’s exit fee. Covering those buyouts are a drop in the bucket for athletics departments that spend more than $100 million annually.
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I suggest Power Five programs supplement their buyout provisions with “Brian Kelly clause” that reads something like this:
If coach departs for a new coaching job during any season between Sept. 1 through playoff selection Sunday (usually the first Sunday in December), he will owe the university a buyout of $50 million. The university may agree to waive this fee if it determines the team is not in playoff contention. Additionally, if the coach’s team is selected to the playoff, he would owe the university a $50 million buyout if he departs before the season is finished.
A Kelly clause would make leaving a playoff contender in November financially reckless. Coaches still would enjoy the freedom to change jobs under the standard, nominal exit fee as long as the job change occurred outside the blackout dates.
Why would a coach agree to a contract that includes a Kelly clause?
Because the coach wants the job.
That's why some coaches sign contracts allowing the school to fire them for cause, without severance, if they engage in moral turpitude, a nebulous catch-all term that could mean any number of things. Some coaching contracts feature 20 or more fire-for-cause provisions.
A coach who wants the opportunity and salary a school is offering will stomach clauses that protect the university.
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Group of Five schools would encounter difficulty implementing a “Kelly clause.” Coaches on that level usually set their sights on the Power Five’s green pastures, and they’d be unlikely to accept any provision that placed parameters on when they could accept a better job.
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But surely some Power Five programs, particularly those that pay coaches top dollar, wield enough clout to install a “Kelly clause” into contracts.
Essentially, this clause would be saying: If you want to coach here, you cannot leave during the season if you are in national championship contention.
Any Power Five coach who would refuse to sign a contract that includes a clause requiring him to try to win a national championship isn’t worth hiring.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.