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Brian Kelly ‘the right man’ for ND

Michael Bryan | Friday, December 11, 2009

After weeks of rumors and speculation, Brian Kelly was officially introduced as Notre Dame’s 29th head coach Friday.

Kelly has signed a five-year deal to coach the Irish after leading Cincinnati to consecutive BCS appearances. The 47-year old Kelly went 34-6 in three years with the Bearcats, and was named Big East Coach of the Year all three seasons. Kelly also won the national Home Depot Coach of the Year award Thursday night.

“Nobody does it like Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “There’s a chapel in every dorm, and there’s a leader around every corner, and we will cultivate that leadership here at Notre Dame, and we will continue to move towards excellence both in the classroom and on the football field.”

A veteran with 19 years of head coaching experience, Kelly will not coach Cincinnati’s Sugar Bowl game against Florida. He informed the Bearcats team of his decision Thursday afternoon before the team’s banquet.

“I’m forever grateful to the players at the University of Cincinnati for what they gave me. They gave me this opportunity here at Notre Dame. Their work on the field gave me a great opportunity for my family, and for that I’m forever grateful,” Kelly said. “But transition is difficult. Emotion gets involved, and I only wish all of them the very, very best.”

Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick said he had a timeline with the goal of hiring a new coach by this weekend, and was excited to finalize the agreement with Kelly Thursday.

“We followed our criteria, we stuck to it, and at every step along the way, it kept taking me back to the same place. It kept taking me back to the conclusion that Brian Kelly was the right person to lead this program,” Swarbrick said. “He was the first person I talked to. He was the only person I offered this opportunity to. And it was a compelling case throughout.”

The news of Kelly’s hiring broke Thursday afternoon and was officially announced through a university release that night.

“Growing up as an Irish Catholic in Boston, Massachusetts, I’d come home from church after driving my parents crazy and listen to the reruns or the replays of Notre Dame football, and indelibly etched in my mind, in my vision was the great Lindsey Nelson talking about as we move further into the third quarter, the action, and Notre Dame playing that day,” Kelly said. “That was all that was on the TV in the Kelly house.”

Kelly said the Notre Dame job has been a dream of his for years.

“The story is like this: You come home as a parent and you’re going to tell your kids that they’re moving and they love the friends and they love the community, and as we started to tell them, tears began to well up in their eyes, and Gracie came up to me, grabbed me, hugged me and said, ‘Dad, I’m so happy for you. I know this has been your dream. And I’m sad for me just for a little bit. Is that okay?’ And I kissed her, and I said, ‘You know what, that’s what is so magical about this is that my kids know that this was a dream for me,'” Kelly said.

Kelly also met with the Notre Dame team before his press conference Friday, and had a strong initial impression.

“They want to win,” Kelly said. “They’re like any other football program that I’ve been around; they want to win football games, and they want to be led. They want to be developed. I could tell that immediately.

“You do not come to the University of Notre Dame because you want to be average. You want to be the best of the best. And that’s why I’m here. It inspires me to be around young men like I had in front of me today.”

Swarbrick said that throughout the process he sought the advice of several members of the team, who helped the director of athletics with the search.

“I read a lot of things about people saying that this was a less attractive job than it used to be, or the interest was not what it used to be. You weren’t in my shoes,” Swarbrick said. “The interest in being the leader of this program was extraordinary, and I was so buoyed by the level of that interest and the way many of the best coaches in the country were really interested in being part of our program.”

One trait that stood out to Swarbrick was Kelly’s appreciation for the traditions of Notre Dame, and he honored the new coach with a unique gift.

“There’s a tradition that we didn’t discuss that you may or may not be familiar with. The last element of that team Mass frequently as celebrated by Fr. Doyle, who’s with us today, is to identify a saint that we’re honoring that day, and every player as they leave the mass and head across the walk or get on the bus for an away game, gets a medal to take with them. Many of our players figure out a way to affix that to their uniforms or otherwise have it with them. And yes, we do keep of the saints’ won loss records. We’re careful about that,” Swarbrick said.

“And so as I welcome you to the Notre Dame family, I want to recognize that tradition by not giving you a jersey with the No. 1 on it or a gold helmet, but rather by giving you a medal of the lady that this University is named after, and with it, welcome you as the new leader of our football program at the University of Notre Dame.”