Everyone knew what former Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly was going to decide to do. You don't just interview for maybe the most prestigious coaching position in college football if you're going to decline it, do you?
Of course not.
Last night, it became official. Brian Kelly was abandon—, er, leaving the Cincinnati program, accepting a five-year deal to take over and hopefully turn around the underachieving Notre Dame Fighting Irish, just a couple weeks after Charlie Weis was chased out of South Bend.
Kelly informed his players of his intent to aband—, oops, leave Cincinnati Thursday night at the end-of-year awards banquet, while informing them he wasn't going to be coaching them in the All-State Sugar Bowl.
Instead of leading the Bearcats into 2010, he will immediately begin to work for Notre Dame in preparation for next season (Ya know, recruiting, analyzing, whatever a college coach does in these offseason months).
First off, congratulations to Kelly for being selected as the next Notre Dame coach. It's certainly a prestigious position to be proud of obtaining. And nothing but the best of luck to you, because if you underachieve like Weis did, you can bet your bottom dollar your name will be all over ESPN too, in a bad way.
Now, shame on you.
Kelly coached the Bearcats to a 12-0 record (the best in school history), while leading them to the Sugar Bowl, facing off against Heisman—hopeful Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators on New Year's Day.
Easily the biggest and most successful season in the school's history. Easily the biggest season in any of these kids' lives.
None of this seems to mean much to Kelly, who didn't think enough of his players to be honest with them of his intent to take the Notre Dame job, at least not until it was official. He told them in a meeting during the banquet last night, in which several players didn't want to hear anything after he told them the main point. Many players walked out of the room once he broke the news.
Now the team who has had a dream of a season will go into their biggest Bowl game ever with an interim coach and a sour taste in their mouths, no matter if they win or lose. They were betrayed at the worst possible time. It's comparable to an Army sergeant preparing his platoon for battle, only to abandon them just as the first shots are about to be fired.
It just doesn't seem right. I'm not a follower of college football (until it's time to enter bowl pools), but this is more of an ethics issue, is it not? You don't need to know how to line up a defense to know the difference between right and wrong.
If you think I'm the only one who thinks it's wrong, just ask the Cincinnati players. "It's like someone turned their back on us," tight end Ben Guidugli told ESPN.com. "We brought this whole thing this far. We've come this far. To have someone walk out on us now is disappointing."
I have no problem with Kelly taking the Notre Dame job in general. If you get the right opportunity, take it. What I, and everyone else has a problem with, is the timing of it. It just couldn't have been worse. This needed to wait until after the season.
Try to imagine how the players are feeling. Kelly probably came into Cincinnati preaching cohesiveness and trust, which every good coach does. And then he backs out on his own words and joins another program. God help the coach who replaces Kelly, you'll have a lot of broken hearts to mend and even more trust to regain.
The players won't forget Kelly and how he walked out; it's very possible the future coach won't ever earn the full trust of his players or Cincinnati fans.
The NCAA will certainly need to look into situations like this and prevent them from happening further. Forget recruiting needs. Coaches shouldn't be allowed to leave mid-season, bottom line. These players are still kids, and college sports aren't supposed to be this much of a business.
But hey, Brian Kelly got his "dream" job and got his money. That's all that matters, at least to him. You can bet he won't shed a tear over the dozens that his former football team already have.