Kelly Can, And Likely Will, Leave Bearcats

Cincinnati football fans, get ready to get nervous.


If there’s one thing football success at a school not known for football success causes, it’s sleepless nights – for the season ticket holders.

Brian Kelly, 31-6 since taking over at a basketball school, might very well be the hottest coaching commodity in the country. Last season, he reportedly turned down overtures from Tennessee and Washington. Michigan was reportedly interested a year earlier.

With his wildly successful spread offense that produces star quarterbacks in three weeks, and his ability to replace 10 starters on a defense and still not lose a game, college football hasn’t seen a coaching breakout like this since Urban Meyer last walked the Utah sidelines.

And of course, he’s now coaching the defending champions and current No. 1 team in the nation while making so much money, his grandkids’ grandkids won’t ever have to work.

Bigger schools will surely come calling for Kelly as victories continue to pile. He doesn’t deny he listens, but he’s always pledged his loyalty to UC, and school administrators keep adding to his contract. Still, even they know at some point the pen will run out of ink, and somebody else is going to have a bigger pen.

Earlier this year, Kelly was given a one-year extension on a contract that now runs through 2013 at $1.475 million per year.

That number ranks him just fourth among Big East coaches in salary behind Rutgers’ Greg Schiano, USF’s Jim Leavitt, and UConn’s Randy Edsall (or three guys who have combined to win one half of a Big East championship).

That’s not going to cut it in the long run.

Kelly, whether it was calculated or not, just this week sent a message that athletics directors around the country had to be paying attention to, even though it had nothing to do with them.

He said when starting quarterback Tony Pike returns to 100 percent, he was sitting down backup Zach Collaros, who perhaps might have played better football in this three-week span than any other quarterback in college football.

Nobody wants a coach that can’t make a decision, particularly a tough one. Kelly thought about it for a day.

As far as the loyalty, hahahaha.

Brian Kelly is a graduate of Assumption College, a private, Roman Catholic, liberal arts college located Worcester, Mass., his home state.

He’s coached at Central Michigan and Grand Valley State, also in Michigan, where he was in charge for 13 seasons and won two Division II national championships (2002 and 2003). He’s won everywhere he’s been, as his 168-57-2 career record indicates.

Without lumping Kelly into the same category as every other egomaniac head coach in the country -and you can bet your favorite team most likely has one – what was the reason he left Central Michigan again?

In three seasons, he took a team that had won more than three games just once in the previous four seasons and turned it into a 9-4 Mid-American Conference champion bowl team.

Then again, he didn’t coach that bowl game because he accepted the Bearcats job three days after the regular season ended, loyalty be damned.

Know this about big-time college football coaches, they chase three things: 1. Money. 2. Big Stadiums, which are a sign of big donor dollars. 3. Administrators who love football, which is a sign they can get more money and pay Web sites and such.

Nippert Stadium, UC’s current band box, has an expansion planned, but that’s mostly laughable. Capacity there is 35,000. Another 10,000 gives it 45,000, which is about half as big as Kelly’s next stop will be.

Notre Dame Stadium, as a hypothetical, seats 80,795 fans – the ones that can’t get in are forced to sit home and watch on national television every week.

Having read through the transcript of the deposition of former WVU coach Rich Rodriguez’s agent Mike Brown last summer, I received an insight into what goes on in situations like this.

And man is it ugly.

In that case, the coach was the highest paid state employee in West Virginia, was a deeply rooted graduate of West Virginia University, and spent all but four years of his head coaching career right here in the Mountain State.

And he left. Hmm. Let’s check the criteria:

1. Did Rodriguez get a bigger contract? Yes.

2. Was Michigan’s stadium bigger? They don’t call it the Big House for nothing.

3. Do the administrators love football? Well, the school president and AD were meeting Rodriguez in back alleys in Toledo, so I’d say yes. Then again, Michigan AD Bill Martin, who also poached WVU men’s basketball coach John Beilein, has reportedly found trouble and announced his retirement, effective next Sept., rather suddenly, last month – something about how he mishandled a situation with an employee.

Imagine that.

Anyway, if Rodriguez could walk away from all of that, why couldn’t Kelly leave his adopted city of Cincinnati for more money, a bigger stadium, and a more manipulative administration?

He can. And he most likely will.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: