Cincinnati Defection or Notre Dame Selection: The Root of the Debate

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIJanuary 4, 2010

CINCINNATI - NOVEMBER 27:  Brian Kelly the Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats is pictured during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Nippert Stadium on November 27, 2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Just when it appeared most Cincinnati Bearcats sympathizers were getting over Brian Kelly departing for Notre Dame, the helpless and hapless play of the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl, revived feelings of abandonment.

More than once Brian Billick told the national audience that Kelly walked out on his Cincinnati team before their season was over. More than once the Bearcats looked totally confused as their hopes of an undefeated season were dashed by the powerful Florida Gators.

Viewing this destruction must have enraged Bleacher Report's Mike Casella.  In an article entitled "Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame Double Standard," he reminded the Bleacher Report community that Kelly's premature departure was not a dead issue.

Casella makes the case that Kelly left immediately after Cincinnati's last regular season game, and Charlie Strong, Louisville's choice to replace head football coach Steve Kragthorpe, stayed to coach his team's bowl game.

Casella asks "how come the same system that coerced Kelly to leave his team in a lurch, didn't apply to Louisville and Strong."

The debate was officially on!

It was easy to play the "google game" and garner up as many quotes from hot shots all over the country, who reinforced one's views on the matter—did Kelly quit, or did he make a fair and reasonable choice, predicated on the way the system works?

It was easy to back up "Kelly the quitter" with quotes from the Los Angeles Times Bill Dwyre. Dwyre claimed "Kelly's departure from Cincinnati to Notre Dame, leaving an undefeated team to play in a major bow, left us with a bad taste in the mouth."

He goes on to compare Kelly's leaving Cincinnati to the Colts leaving Baltimore, under the cover of darkness.

Dwyre asks, "was there not one priest in authority, with one moment to pause in his daily theological readings, to demand that Notre Dame do the right thing by insisting that Kelly stay with his team to coach the bowl game?"

There was Dan Liggett of the Wilmington News Journal who wrote, "Brian Kelly quit on his team last week. Kelly bolted for Notre Dame and won't even coach the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl against Florida, the biggest game in Cincinnati history."

And Keith Jarrett of the Ashville Citizens Times, in his article, "Kelly's Departure for the Irish is Dirty Business," asked "where's the loyalty, the commitment to team, to finishing what we started, to just plain old doing the right thing?"

It was easy to back up "Kelly the victim of the system" too.

In a fabulously interesting piece by Bob Hertzel of the Times West Virginian titled "Disloyalty and Sports go Hand in Hand," Hertzel supports Kelly totally.

In Hertzel's article, West Virginia's basketball coach Bob Huggins claims "there's not a lot of loyalty in the world of sports."

Huggins explains that same university that praised you when you went 11-0, is the same one that will fire you when you go 8-3.

Huggins went on to say, "Brian Kelly had no obligation to Cincinnati.  They knew when they hired him, he was simply a hired gun, a football coach to follow the last one and precede the next one."

Huggins really lays it out straight. But Huggins was fired from a long-time coaching stint at Cincinnati. Kelly has left coaching jobs at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati on his own will.

The argument is clear: Was Kelly wrong for "walking out" on everyone associated with Cincinnati, especially the players? Or did Kelly, with fairness and an admirable business sense, work around a flawed system, by accepting the Notre Dame coaching job?

It's a very emotional argument for the fans of Cincinnati. They feel that big bad Notre Name stole their coach. They feel they enticed him with loads of cash and made it clear they wanted him to start before the bowl season began.

Domers believe that's the way the game is played. They say it's good business and point out that other coaches have acted accordingly. They use Florida's Urban Meyer as an example of a coach who left an undefeated team for his job with the Gators in 2004.

The Domers use Butch Jones as an example. Butch Jones just left Central Michigan before they play in their bowl game. Jones is coming to Cincinnati to replace Kelly.  They say it's common—the system is the culprit.

Now that the debate has been defined, it's time to look at its "root," and to delve into exactly why the two sides have such diametrically opposed opinions.

I think it can be ex pained in one sentence: It never happened to Notre Dame—no coach ever left Notre Dame for a "better job."

It's that simple. The Domers just don't know how it feels. Cincinnati knows how it feels.  This is the second time it's happened to them in the last four years.

Mark Dantonio, the present Michigan State football coach, left Cincinnati in the same manner Kelly did—he didn't coach the bowl in 2006.  He left for a "better job."

Domers haven't had to go through the rejection of losing a coach they treasured.  They don't have to go through the anxiety of their coach leaving, every time a coaching vacancy presents itself at another school.

They haven't had to experience it, and it's highly unlikely that, as long as NCAA football is still around, they ever will.

I say it's because of the money. They pay their coach as much, or more than any other college football coach in the country.

Domers say the reason isn't the money. They say it's "Notre Dame." They claim its just the best job in football in the country.

In Kelly's case they say it's because he's an Irish Catholic and Kelly has called it his "dream job."

Brian Kelly grew up in Boston and the story is that he followed Notre Dame as a kid. He probably followed the New England Patriots also.

Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach, is going to retire some day. They'll need to replace him.

If Brain Kelly can turn Notre Dame program around, he might be the perfect choice to replace Belichick. 

Although the particulars of Belichik's contract aren't public, in 2006 he was making over $4 million. At that time he was given a contract extension and he is believed to be making anywhere from $6 million to $8 million annually.

The Patriots, or any successful NFL franchise could offer Brain Kelly twice as much as Notre Dame is paying him.

Maybe someday Brian Kelly will realize he has another "dream job," and maybe the Domers will know what the Bearcats fans are feeling.