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How to Damage Your Reputation: The Brian Kelly Model

SOUTH BEND, IN - DECEMBER 11: Brian Kelly talks on his phone shortly after being named new football head coach at Notre Dame University on December 11, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana.  Kelly most recently led the University of Cincinnati to two consecutive Bowl Championship Series appearances including a perfect 12-0 record this past season. (Photo by Frank Polich/Getty Images)
Frank Polich/Getty Images
Taelonnda SewellContributor IDecember 15, 2009


It’s done. Former Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats Brian Kelly now has it his way in South Bend. He accepted the head coaching job at Notre Dame University. But at what cost to his former players, Notre Dame and Kelly’s reputation?

After the announcement, the discussion in Cincinnati and around the nation was the way Kelly left. Kelly toyed with his players and the media by either refusing to talk about the worse kept secret (that he was being considered for the Notre Dame job) or saying he wasn’t leaving Cincinnati. Then he waited until his players were in the mist of celebrating their perfect season to tell them he’d accepted the Notre Dame job. And to add insult to injury, he thanked them for getting him to his dream job and left flanked by security. His players deserved better. They didn’t need their banquet celebration ruined or the knowledge that their coach cared more about his dreams than them.

Call it whatever you want. Yes they believed his words or bought into what he said about playing hard and that he wasn’t leaving for Notre Dame. However, there should be a new found respect for a group of men who plan to show up and play their heart out in the Sugar Bowl. There should be less respect for Kelly who left his team before their big game to go to Notre Dame.

Just a word of advice to the Bearcat football players: play your heart out despite his departure, not to spite him. You can’t do any worse than if he was still in Cincinnati. After all, you lost last year when he coached you in the Orange Bowl.

Also, immediately after the announcement, most of the talk wasn’t about Notre Dame’s coup, but the perseverance of the Bearcat players to succeed in spite of their coach’s abandonment to pursue his dream. It’s interesting that no one talked about Notre Dame’s return to glory, but the mess Kelly left behind. Did Notre Dame make the right decision?

Who knows what success or failure Kelly will have at Notre Dame. However, in the short term his reputation is damaged. His reputation is now about how he treated players who gave their all on the field. Call it old school or naive, but great coaches place their players before their aspirations. They are role models for their players on how real men are supposed to be.

Recently, Kelly embarked on damage control.  On a talk show he blamed his departure on Nebraska not losing to Texas. He said, according to ESPN News, "Who knows what would have happened if Nebraska wins that game… I might not be here at Notre Dame because we don't know if they would have waited for me, because I was going to play in the national championship game."  Of course, he forgot to blame his departure on the holiday season, the rain or the decade coming to an end.  

Maybe Kelly should accompany a warning that explains to his future players that he might be auditioning them for his next dream job.

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