Irish Tale of the Tape: Jim Harbaugh and Brian Kelly Fight for the Heart of ND

Marc HalstedCorrespondent INovember 19, 2009

CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 24:  Brian Kelly the Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats is pictured during the Big East Conference game against the Louisville Cardinals at Nippert Stadium on October 24, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Forget Pacquiao v. Mayweather. Stop talking about Colts-Pats. Don’t even worry about the Ohio State v. Michigan game this weekend. 

It's time for (Brian) Kelly v. (Jim) Harbaugh and the tale of the tape that will determine who will be the next head football coach at Notre Dame.

The cold reality is that Urban Meyer will stay at Florida, Jon Gruden loves ESPN, Bob Stoops won't leave the academic "standards" of Oklahoma, and Ara, Lou, and Knute aren't walking through that door.

It's down to Kelly v. Harbaugh.

Get ready for the Showdown in South Bend.


Harbaugh, 45, has Kelly, 48, by three years. 

Recruits like youthful energy. Advantage Harbaugh.


Harbaugh still stands an impressive 6'3" and appears to have his post-playing days weight a snack cake above 225. Kelly, appearing a bit undersized, actually steps in at a husky (and estimated) 5'10", 240. Sorry Coach, there’s no hiding that spare tire on weigh-in day.
Although Harbaugh looks like he could still sling it around the ol’ ballyard if needed, the feisty Kelly will look to use his leverage and low center of gravity to take down Goliath.

I’ll take the hard-headed middle linebacker with 314 career tackles over the well-coiffed Michigan quarterback. Advantage Kelly, in a stunner.



Kelly did all he could at Assumption College as an All-Conference captain. He tallied the aforementioned 314 career takedowns and put up 19 tackles in his final game for the Greyhounds in 1981. Admirable, but Saint Anselm’s, Stonehill, and a team called the Pace Setters (I’m not kidding) don’t compare to the Big Ten.

Harbaugh finished his Michigan career as a three-year starter, Big Ten Player of the Year in 1986, and the third highest vote-getter in the ‘86 Heisman race. “Captain Comeback” put together a solid NFL career with over 26,000 yards passing and 129 touchdowns for six teams.

All due respect to the little Greyhound linebacker that could—advantage Harbaugh.


Kelly turned the Central Michigan Chippewas into a MAC power, going from 4-7 in 2004 to 9-4 and the Motor City Bowl in 2006.

From there Kelly worked his way south to Cincinnati, where he’s pushed the Bearcats to three straight 10-win seasons, a Big East title, three bowl games, a top-25 ranking in 2007, and a top-10 ranking in 2009.

Kelly comes in at 169-57-2. Jimbo has put together a 74-30 mark. With potential apologies to my seventh grade math teacher, my abacus puts it at a .741 to .711 win percentage comparison.

Advantage Kelly.


Harbaugh went for two last Saturday when the Cardinal already led by 27 in the fourth quarter. He didn’t blink when Beach Boy’s post-game handshake started to get uncomfortable.

Apparently Jim went for two because he couldn’t go for three, i.e. Woody Hayes.

Kelly has never played USC and can’t claim anything as cool as that.

Ashton Kutcher says that this is a no-doubter; advantage Harbaugh.


Panther Racing won the IRL championship in 2001 and 2002 in the ever-appropriate No. 4 car, which is co-owned by Harbaugh.

Kelly elevated the Assumption College softball team to lofty New England small college fast-pitch status during his reign as head coach.

Jimmy’s a gear-head. Brian can teach the slash bunt.

There are a lot more ’74 Camaros in South Bend than girls' softball leagues. Advantage Harbaugh.


Coach Kelly has made Cincinnati relevant throughout Ohio. He shakes hands, kisses babies, attacks chicken cordon blue with reckless abandon, and will speak everywhere from Lions Club luncheons to bar mitzvahs.

Coach Harbaugh has sold Palo Alto, the state of California, the Pac-10, and the country on Stanford football. He’s never met a microphone he didn’t like. He’ll say anything to anybody.

Kelly is as real as the Chelsea, Massachusetts folks he grew up with.

Harbaugh is California born, bred, and manufactured.

Kelly had to do it at Cincinnati. Harbaugh got to do it at one of the great athletic and academic powers in the country.

They like them real and Rudy-like at ND. Advantage Kelly.


Harbaugh has the size, speed, athleticism, and pedigree to shock the Irish back to national prominence. But will his shtick hold up with the good people of northern Indiana? Can South Bend tolerate a former Wolverine, especially with RichRod on the proverbial ropes in Ann Arbor?

Kelly is older, more experienced, and one of the best pitchmen in all of college football.  If you can make it work in the ‘Nati, you can make it work anywhere. 

This one will go all 12 rounds, but I like the tough kid who grew up in Chelsea, went to high school in Danvers, and played his college ball in Worcester. I like the guy who can pull up a stool at the bar, stand and deliver in front of hundreds at the banquet hall, and talk a five-star receiver into his school from the living room sofa. 

I like substance and grit, and I don’t like Michigan.

Plus, his name is Kelly.

Break out the green jerseys, Coach, and welcome to Notre Dame.


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