Brian Kelly not concerned with pressure at LSU football, he embraces it | Marcase

John Marcase
Special to The Town Talk

A week to digest Brian Kelly’s hiring by LSU to be its new football coach should be plenty of time.

But, it’s not.

For sure, Kelly is without a doubt the most accomplished man to guide the Tigers football program from the outset.

December 1, 2021: New LSU Head Football Coach Brian Kelly holds his first press conference and meets with the media for the first time at Tiger Stadium's Lawton Room in Baton Rouge, LA. Jonathan Mailhes/CSM(Credit Image: © Jonathan Mailhes/CSM via ZUMA Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

He is the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, which is saying something. He also coached Cincinnati to an undefeated regular season. And, there are a pair of Division II championships on the resume.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether Kelly’s hiring was a panic move by LSU athletics director Scott Woodward

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Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher is a good friend of Woodward, and the LSU AD was able to lure Fisher to Texas A&M in 2017, two years after LSU was unable to land Fisher. You better believe Woodward tried to hire Fisher again, but the contract extension A&M gave Fisher prior to the 2021 season made him practically off limits. 

And, aside from handing Alabama its lone loss of the season, what has Fisher accomplished in his four seasons at Texas A&M?

There was too much smoke surrounding the Lincoln Riley-to-LSU rumors to dismiss them outright. Now, was Oklahoma’s Riley ever interested in taking the LSU job? Probably not, and his feigning interest in the Tigers might’ve gotten him an extra million or so annually when he decided to become Southern Cal’s latest coach, stunning the Sooners. 

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So, with overtures to Fisher and Riley rebuffed, the pressure was on Woodward to land a noteworthy replacement for Ed Orgeron. About a month ago, Kelly’s camp made it known he would be willing to entertain offers from other programs. 

While Kelly went 113-40 with the Irish, there is one glaring thing missing – winning a national championship. Even when he guided Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff, they were not competitive. 

Did Kelly handle his departure from Notre Dame with class? No. 

Texting your players that you are leaving them when they still have a chance at making the College Football Playoff is not cool. Even worse? Asking them to show up the next day for a 7 a.m. meeting to tell them in person.

Notre Dame is a tough gig, having to balance high academic standard with the high demands to win as an independent. 

Kelly likely looked at the fact Orgeron and Les Miles, two coaches not known for their strategic acumen, won national titles at LSU, and salivated at the prospect.

As one LSU fan confided, it is nice not to have any more cartoon characters coaching the Tigers. 

Maybe the most noteworthy factor of Kelly’s hiring is the amount of pressure he now is facing. He not only left the most storied college football program, a top-10 one at that, on the precipice of another College Football Playoff appearance, but there is also the pressure that comes with making $10 million annually.

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Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly communicates with his players during the game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend on Saturday.

Kelly appears to be OK with it. It is something he has handled before. Since surviving a 4-8 season with the Irish in 2016, Kelly is 54-9, winning at least 10 games each season. 

Whereas Riley ran away, Kelly has embraced the pressure that comes with coaching LSU in the SEC West, where Nick Saban showed all on Saturday that Alabama is still king.

Time will tell if LSU fans embrace Kelly in the same fashion.

John Marcase is a former assistant managing editor and sports editor of The Town Talk. He writes a weekly column.