What happens now? A breakdown of the fallout from Kelly’s departure
When the news of Brian Kelly’s departure from Notre Dame broke Monday evening, Irish players (current, former and future), as well as fans across the country, were shaken up.
It’s finally official: Kelly will take up the head coaching position at LSU. But what does that mean for the Irish?
Immediate fallout: Who else is leaving?
The immediate concern at Notre Dame is who is going with Kelly to the bayou. Rumors are that a few Notre Dame coaches will join him, including offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman. Freeman is also widely considered an early favorite for the new head coaching vacancy.
There was no activity from Rees on social media, and there is a distinct possibility that the 29-year-old stays with the head coach who brought him his first offensive coordinator job.
The only noise from Freeman was offering a retweet of 2022 linebacker commit Nolan Ziegler’s post, which included a photo of Freeman with the caption “Crazy news but you know I’m still locked in.”
Special teams coordinator Brian Polian was one of the only assistant coaches to post about the ongoing situation. He included the hashtag #NDFamily, but his tweet expressed concern for current players.
“As coaches, we enter this profession knowing that transition is inevitable. This is not the case for the players,” Polian wrote. “My main concern is for the guys that have worked so hard to get our team to this point. They are the best part of this job.”
Meanwhile, there’s also some immediate short-term fallout. Notre Dame’s season is very much not over. The Irish have a significant chance of playing in the College Football Playoff this year, pending a couple of results from conference championship weekend. It appears, however, the Irish will have an interim head coach for whatever major bowl game they play in. Will the College Football Playoff committee discredit the Irish for their lack of a head coach when making their final rankings? The concern is certainly a real one.
‘Notre Dame is still Notre Dame’: Social media reacts to news
Current players express confusion, wish Kelly luck
It’s a stunning move in every regard.
Brian Kelly, just eight days ago in a press conference said this with regards to leaving Notre Dame: “No. I mean, look … Unless the fairy godmother comes by with that $250 million check, my wife would want to take a look at that first. I’d have to run it by her.”
Now, barely one week and one Notre Dame win later, Kelly is out of South Bend. It’s a move that appears as shocking to the players and Notre Dame football community as it was to the general public. Some of the Irish’s top offensive players were the first to talk on social media.
Freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles kept his thoughts short with a tweet that said “smh ..,” while junior running back Kyren Williams posted “that’s crazy.” Senior receiver Braden Lenzy expanded a bit, tweeting “Chase the bag, business first I get it. Best of luck.”
Some current players confirmed their continued commitment to winning a national championship. Sophomore vyper Isaiah Foskey kept it brief, noting “Notre Dame is still Notre Dame!” in his tweet. Williams, junior linebacker Marist Liufau and senior defensive lineman Jayson Ademilola were among the players retweeting similar messages.
In one of the more interesting developments of the night, the “Inside the Garage” podcast, featuring Irish safety Kyle Hamilton and cornerback Cam Hart among others, voiced their support for hiring Freeman as the head coach. Hamilton noted that when Freeman came on as defensive coordinator, it felt like “we had known him for years.”
Recruits weigh in
2021 Notre Dame graduate Mick Assaf hosted a Twitter Space on Monday evening, taking input from fellow Irish alum as well as incoming recruits. In the conversation, the class of 2022 commits were largely represented by four-star tight end commit Eli Raridon.
Raridon noted that many recruits were ‘scared’ to say anything publicly, but he did say: “Most of us are 100% locked in if Marcus Freeman is hired [as head coach] … a lot of us didn’t commit just because of the coaching.” He then added, “I have faith in this program.”
Raridon wasn’t the only recruit to express faith in Notre Dame. Four-star offensive tackle Joey Tanona tweeted “ND no matter what,” with the signature #IrishRising22 hashtag emphasizing his continued commitment. Ziegler also reaffirmed his commitment on Twitter.
Five-star linebacker Jaylen Sneed tweeted “In Freeman we trust” on Tuesday morning, seeming to imply he wouldn’t be going anywhere if Freeman wasn’t.
However, it wasn’t all positive news on the recruiting front. There was noticeable silence from some top recruits. The Irish’s top offensive recruit in the class of 2022, wide receiver C.J. Williams stayed quiet, with rumors swirling about him staying in southern California to play for Irish rival, the USC Trojans. Williams’ only activity on the night was liking Foskey’s tweet, as well as one with a graphic of Williams in a USC jersey. Four-star defensive lineman Tyson Ford simply tweeted an emoji of a sad face.
The recruiting implications from this crazy Monday evening will take a while to shake out. A lot of it will depend on the immediate damage control done by Notre Dame.
Notre Dame football alumni give their takes
A host of former players chatted with Raridon through Assaf’s stream, including discussing Kelly’s call for a 7 a.m. meeting. Former tight end Cole Kmet called that decision a “punch in the gut,” but former quarterback Ian Book noted, “We would’ve all been at that meeting bright and early.”
Former cornerback Julian Love noted that, while he couldn’t speak for everyone, Brian Kelly was barely involved in his recruitment. The first time that Love spoke with Kelly was when the head coach offered him a scholarship. That seems to be good news for Notre Dame if the recruiting has largely been done through specialist coaches.
Assaf ignited plenty of rumors when he tweeted that his sources told him Freeman would be the next head coach. However, despite hosting his Twitter Space for hours, the former walk-on kept hedging his words, not fully confirming what he had tweeted.
Former kicker Kyle Brindza sent an encouraging tweet targeting recruits and current players: “I hope players and recruits realize this is still Notre Dame. Academics and football will still be at the highest standard.”
Former safety Troy Pride offered a similar message, and a handful of current Notre Dame players retweeted the posts.
Is Marcus Freeman up next?
Almost as soon as the news broke, rumors began as to who Kelly’s replacement would be. At least from the early social media reaction, it’s pretty clear who the incoming Irish want. Linebacker Joshua Burnham, the third-ranked Notre Dame recruit in the class of 2022, tweeted a picture of him and Freeman, captioned “WE WANT FREEMAN,” tagging the defensive coordinator. Burnham liked similar posts from 2023 five-star linebacker Drayk Bowen and 2023 four-star safety Adon Shuler.
Considering Raridon’s comments as well as the support voiced by Hamilton, there’s a favorite among the players.
Leaving how he entered: Kelly says goodbye
In the last 30 years, there have been 12 instances of a coach winning 11+ games in his final season with a Power 5 school (or automatic qualifying school, a term that dates to the BCS era) per ESPN Stats and Information. Of those dozen coaches, five left for the NFL, and five retired or resigned because of NCAA violations/scandals. On Monday, Kelly became the second coach to leave for another college football program.
The first was also Brian Kelly. A little over a decade ago when he left Cincinnati to come to Notre Dame. That year, Kelly left the Bearcats before their bowl game as well.
The departure was less than graceful — Kelly showed up to the 7 a.m. meeting, but videos from the scene had him driving away by 7:13 a.m., and Notre Dame players, although not many of them, were seen leaving the facility soon after the fact.
Brian Kelly heads down south for the first time in his career — he had previously only held head coaching jobs at Grand Valley State, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. He went 92-39 as head coach over 12 years. Kelly’s received the most criticism for his performances in big games, as he went 0-4 in two CFP appearances, a New Year’s Six bowl game and the BCS National Championship. However, the Irish also secured their fifth straight 10-win season in 2021. With strong momentum as a program, Notre Dame will be looking to quickly find a head coach that can sustain the recent success.