Don't Blame Brian Kelly; Blame Cincinnati

John P. WiseContributor IIIDecember 10, 2009

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 05: Tony Pike #15 is congratulated by head coach Brian Kelly of the Cincinnati Bearcats following their win against the University of Pittsburgh Panthers on December 5, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Special to One Great Season

NEW YORK—When rumor turns to reality, as it did with Brian Kelly leaving Cincinnati for Notre Dame Thursday, love often turns to hate.

This particular saga, which, quite frankly, started the day Kelly stepped foot on UC's campus, began as a love affair.

The University of Cincinnati, its students, and fans who had supported the program throughout the years all wanted a winner in Clifton. After all, many of these folks were witnessing a once-proud basketball program struggle to recover from the fallout of the Bob Huggins era.

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Enter Brian Kelly. The wins on the gridiron quickly piled up, and the love affair was on.

A 22-6 record in two seasons, including a BCS berth in the 2009 Orange Bowl, will make football fans fall in love with you. Follow that up with an undefeated 12-0 regular season and another BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl, and Notre Dame comes knocking on your door.

Kelly not only answered the door, but he let them in, let them take all of his belongings, pack them up, and move them to South Bend, Indiana.

Now, some, not all, but some UC fans are hurt. Some are betrayed, even hateful toward the man they once supported. For these people, the love affair with Kelly is clearly over.

Why? Because Brian Kelly lied to them. Kelly promised them he'd stay at UC. He told the media, the fans, and even his own players so.

One Cincinnati blog recently displayed comments directed at Kelly such as "Two Faced" and "...liar, traitor and he shall be marked with the sign of the beast for eternity!"

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Well, there are always two sides to a love affair gone wrong, and if you're one of the bitter ones, shame on you. Shame on you for being blind toward what the real reasons are that UC is looking for a head football coach...again.

BK, as the kids called him, was always upfront about two key things: 1) What he thought it would take for UC to compete for a national championship each year, and 2) His admiration for Notre Dame. He repeatedly stated his case for point No. 1, and those close to Kelly were well aware of point No. 2.

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Let's get this out of the way before we continue: Blame the NCAA for the supposed dishonesty you get from the Brian Kellys of the world during sagas like this. It's the NCAA that allows schools with coaching vacancies to hover like vultures over coaches who currently have jobs and seasons that are still playing out.

Because of this, if Kelly denies a rumor if only to protect his players, he's a liar and a traitor. Or, if BK gives an honest answer if only to protect his players, he's a liar and a traitor.

It's a lose-lose situation for a coach like Kelly, but before you so quickly judge him, ask yourself something: What would YOU, the angry, betrayed fan, do if you were in his shoes? What would YOU do if you had the opportunity to upgrade your life for your family, all while trying to protect the players that helped you get to your current superstar status?

Kelly's message to UC was always clear: He and his staff would need sufficient monetary support to stick around. His team would need to practice on a field other than the one they played games on. The 107-year-old, 35,000-seat stadium, which he called the "Wrigley Field" of college football, would need to be upgraded and expanded.

To its credit, UC listened. In tough economic times, the administration supported Kelly and his staff as best as it could. Money was raised for the practice fields, which are currently under construction. Possible scenarios to expand and upgrade Nippert Stadium are being considered.

But it's too late. Unfortunately, the University of Cincinnati played a waiting game and got burned.

Simply put, UC wanted to have its cake and eat it too.

UC wanted a coach who'd be the school's rock for years and years to come but didn't provide enough foundation for him to build upon.

Mark Dantonio arrived at UC in December 2003. Nearly three years later, he recognized the program's shortcomings, accomplished his mission of using UC as a stepping stone in his coaching career, and was off to Michigan State, which drew 25,000 fans...to his first spring game.

A week after Dantonio was named MSU's coach, Kelly arrived at UC. Three years later, he's gone too.

The bottom line is, if UC truly wanted a coach to commit to the Bearcats on a long-term basis, UC should have committed to upgrading its program a long time ago. How about after Rick Minter, who coincidentally came to UC from Notre Dame, ended his 10-year, 53-63-1 tenure with the Bearcats in 2003?

UC's facilities have certainly improved in recent years with the completion of its Varsity Village, but one has to wonder, at what point was UC going to sweeten the pot for the long-term stability of the football program? At what point were they going to make the program a destination job, not just a stepping stone, for a football coach?

Kelly certainly used the Cincinnati football program as a stepping stone in his coaching career. But he did much more than that. He showed anyone who has ever supported this program that the school with no practice fields, the school with the 107-year-old stadium that is the smallest in the Big East conference, is a school that can compete for national championships.

Kelly may be gone, but the momentum he built is not—at least not yet. There is a small window of opportunity for the University of Cincinnati to capitalize on what Brian Kelly built in such a short amount of time.

Kelly's departure leaves two questions: Who will be the next Bearcats coach—and will UC allow time to run out on him too?

Gerowitz is a New York-based television producer, a Cincinnati graduate, and an occasional OGS contributor.


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