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Football

‘We were on the brink’: Full 48-hour timeline of chaotic Kelly fallout

| Friday, December 3, 2021

Editor’s Note: Sports Editor Mannion McGinley contributed to this report.

This week on the coaching carousel has been more of an adventurous Ian Book scramble than a carousel ride for Irish fans, players and recruits. The Observer’s Sports staff laid out everything that’s happened so far, and what these pieces mean moving forward.

Monday evening

5:21 p.m. The Athletic breaks that LSU has shown interest in Brian Kelly as a head coach option. 

Approximately 7:45 p.m. Brian Kelly leaves wide receiver recruit Tobias Merriweather’s house, as assistant coaches do the same at different recruits’ houses across the country. The news of Kelly’s expected departure breaks shortly after. 

The Athletic’s Matt Fortuna later reported one coach was leaving a recruiting meeting when his phone got an alert of the news. Reportedly, that coach had a colorful response to how the news made him look

7:51 p.m. Reports break from Yahoo Sports national college football writer Pete Thamel:​​ Brian Kelly is expected to go to LSU.

8:28 p.m. Freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles tweets “Smh..” without any further context. 

8:29 p.m. Senior wide receiver Braden Lenzy tweets as well, writing “Chase the bag, business first I get it. Best of luck.”  

8:58 p.m. One of the first recruits to break his silence on the matter, 2022 strong safety commit Nolan Ziegler tweets “Crazy news but you know I’m still locked in. We will move forward and keep building this championship team. Let’s do this thing.”

Ziegler tagged defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman and senior defensive analyst Nick Lezynski. 

In his only Twitter action from Monday through Wednesday morning, Freeman liked this tweet from Ziegler.

10:08 p.m. Two hours pass without a word from Kelly or any official source, while Irish nation scavenges for answers. Then, Kelly reaches out to the team in a text:

“Men…Let me first apologize for the late night text and, more importantly, for not being able to share the news with you in person that I will be leaving Notre Dame. I am flying back to South Bend tonight to be able to meet with you in the morning but the news broke late today and I am sorry you found out through social media or news reports. I will have more to share when we meet tomorrow at 7 a.m. but for now, just know that my love for you is limitless and I am so proud of all that you have accomplished. Our program is elite because of your hard work and commitment and I know that will continue. I will share more in the morning when we meet. Again, my sincere apologies for not being able to be the one to share the news directly with you. Coach Kelly.”

Kelly’s text was his only contact of the night, as the wild events left the Irish program in a wild state of disarray.

Approximately 11:00 p.m. Former Irish walk-on Mick Assaf starts a Twitter Space, opening the floor for current, former and recruited Notre Dame players to share their thoughts on the stunning news. Former quarterback Ian Book, tight end Cole Kmet and wide receiver Chris Finke are among the speakers.

11:22 p.m. 2022 tight end commit Eli Raridon says during Assaf’s Twitter Space, “The majority of us are still 100% locked in if Marcus Freeman is the guy.” Raridon also notes that top 2022 wide receiver recruit C.J. Williams has been pretty quiet. Williams has not decommitted, but the Mater Dei product is still actively visiting several California schools. 

Also in this Space, Kyle Hamilton and several former Notre Dame football players endorse Freeman as their vote for head coach, citing familiarity with the coach despite his recent arrival. 

“Coach Freeman came in and it felt like we knew him for years,” Hamilton said. 

Tuesday

7:00 a.m. Kelly hosts the morning meeting, telling attendees: 

“But there comes a time where you look in your life for another opportunity. And I felt like it was time in my life for another challenge. And I saw that opportunity in a very short window and felt that it was best for me and my family to pursue a new challenge.”

The audio, later leaked to Twitter, revealed that Kelly’s talk to his players lasted 3 minutes and 42 seconds. 

7:11 a.m. After the very short speech, Kelly walks out of Notre Dame’s football facility in silence, climbs into his car and drives away. He is escorted off the Notre Dame campus by a couple of Notre Dame police cruisers with their lights off. 

9:02 a.m. LSU breaks its silence with a press release and video graphic announcing Kelly’s hiring.

Here, LSU confirmed Kelly’s deal: a 10-year, $95 million contract, plus incentives. This came nine days after Kelly said it would take a $250 million check for him to leave Notre Dame. During the same press conference on Nov. 22, he also affirmed that he could not imagine leaving Notre Dame under his own volition. 

10:00 a.m. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick holds a press conference to address Kelly’s departure. It is here that Kelly’s leave gets its first piece of context.

“There was a Freudian slip or two along the way that grabbed my attention,” Swarbrick said. “Whether that was intentional or not, you felt like it was somebody who might be open to a different opportunity.”

Swarbrick was also asked about next steps. He noted that he was not planning on naming an interim coach, and if he did, that individual wouldn’t be a candidate for the full-time job. 

I don’t see interim head coach as a promotion,” Swarbrick said. “It’s someone to make some decisions that need to be made in that capacity. My confidence level in our staff gives me some time to make that decision.”

2:10 p.m. Notre Dame loses their first commitment in the post-Brian Kelly era. Devin Moore, a three or four-star safety, depending on the recruitment site, decommits from the Irish and reopens his recruitment. Moore is still paying attention to the Irish, however, having liked one of Notre Dame Football’s tweets announcing the return of defensive line coach Mike Elston. 

4:00 p.m. Pete Sampson of The Athletic reports that Notre Dame will be meeting with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to try and retain the 29-year-old on staff. Sampson also reported that LSU offered Rees approximately $400,000 more than his contract with the Irish. 

5:48 p.m. Notre Dame’s official football Twitter account tweets a video of strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis talking with the team for a little under two minutes, announcing he will be staying in South Bend.

“Whether it’s in the College Football Playoff, whether it’s a New Year’s Six Bowl … we are going to destroy whoever we play next,” Balis said. “This is where I want to be. I want to die here.” 

Several former and current Notre Dame players lauded Balis’ talents, labeling him one of the most critical members of the Irish staff. Defensive lineman Kurt Hinish kept his thoughts simple, replying to the tweet with a two-word message: “The BEST.” 

Wednesday 

1:00 p.m. Brian Kelly holds his introductory press conference with LSU. During the 37 minutes of talking, Kelly expands on his reasons for coming to LSU.

“I came down here because I wanted to be with the best. You’re looked at in terms of championships here and I want that. I want to be under the bright lights,” he said.

Brian Kelly faces a challenge in rebuilding a program in a downswing, as LSU is 11-11 over their past two seasons. This comes after the Tigers won a national championship in January of 2020. 

8:05 p.m. Per his sources, Matt Fortuna reports “Tommy Rees is expected to inform Notre Dame his intentions to stay with the Irish as OC.”

8:13 p.m. Pete Sampson confirms that a key stepping stone to promoting Freeman was retaining Tommy Rees as offensive coordinator.

8:29 p.m. Notre Dame posts footage of Rees telling his players, in person, he will be staying in South Bend. 

“I wanted to be able to get in front of you and tell you guys that so you guys knew it,” Rees confirmed to the team in that meeting.

“This is where my heart is. … I care too much to leave this place,” Rees said. “We have work to do this year. … Let’s go win a f*cking national championship.” 

9:14 p.m. Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel tweets Marcus Freeman will be the new Notre Dame head coach, closing the tweet with “New era, new vibe in South Bend.”

10:09 p.m. First reported by Mike Singer of Blue and Gold Illustrated, sources confirm that running backs coach Lance Taylor will remain with the Irish. With freshman Logan Diggs an emerging star, in addition to a bevy of other young contributors in the running back room, this was huge news for the Irish. 

10:11 p.m. Pete Thamel tweets that the process to get an offer together for Marcus Freeman as head coach will unfold over the next 72 hours, beginning Wednesday night.

10:32 p.m. Defensive line coach Mike Elston confirms he is staying with Notre Dame via Twitter: “Notre Dame is home!! 12 years and counting!! Let’s ride fellas!!” 

Elston remaining in South Bend was particularly newsworthy, as he had been on Brian Kelly’s staff since 2004. 

Where are we now? Post-Wednesday Irish coaching breakdown

Staying at Notre Dame

Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, running backs coach Lance Taylor, tight ends coach John McNulty, defensive line coach Mike Elston, defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman (with an expected promotion to head coach), cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens, safeties coach Chris O’Leary, director of football performance Matt Balis

Leaving Notre Dame, confirmed

Head coach Brian Kelly

Uncertain status

Wide receivers coach Del Alexander is currently out recruiting, and there has been no decision on his status. Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn and special teams coach Brian Polian have not made final decisions, although their exits are considered more likely. 

Thursday evening

9:17 p.m. The “Inside the Garage” podcast, hosted by safeties Kyle Hamilton and KJ Wallace, cornerback Cam Hart and wide receiver Conor Ratigan, posted a Thursday night episode discussing the whirlwind of events in the Irish football program. Although the move hasn’t been officially announced by the school, the players spoke about the promotion of Freeman, the culture of the program and plenty more. 

Hart noted: “[Freeman] does really well at understanding the situation when we don’t have to be crazy serious — we can still be locked in but not as tense.”

Hamilton agreed with Hart’s comments, adding, “When Freeman came in, he brought this enjoyment out of us. He has a great mix of business and fun — it creates a really good culture.” 

As the podcast wound down, the current Irish players recounted the wild events of the past few days, discussing how it created an even tighter bond among the players, which they referred to as “The Brotherhood.”

Hamilton summed up his thoughts succinctly, also issuing a sentiment that mirrors current sentiments across the Irish football community.

“In conclusion, it was a wild two days. We were on the brink of things falling apart. We’re ready to go on a run again. … This lit more of a fire under us. A lot of people are still angry … Don’t let us play LSU in the next few years.”

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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