<
>

Friday Big East mailbag: Brian Kelly edition

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly.

Or at least that's what a lot of you think about Brian Kelly on this Friday. I'm in South Bend and will attend Kelly's introductory press conference at Notre Dame. In the meantime, let's get to some emails on this burning topic:

Mark from Morgantown writes: Why won't Kelly coach in the Sugar Bowl? It's not like he has to coach ND in a bowl. Rich Rod pulled the same stupid thing at WVU, but he stood on the sidelines while Lloyd Carr coached the bowl. I just don't get why the coaches can't stay through the bowl even if they quit for a different program.

Brian Bennett: I've heard a lot of that in the last 24 hours and I understand the frustration. But it's difficult for a coach who has left one program to stick around and coach his team through a bowl. There are a few reasons why.

Think about it this way: a college football head coach is basically the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation. That corporation cannot go without a leader for a month while he wraps up other business. Kelly has to recruit, meet with his new players, learn the lay of the land, hire a staff and organize all the many details that need to be arranged. Who else would do it? Interim coach Rob Ianello already took the Akron job.

It would be unfair to Cincinnati to have a coach who could not devote his full time and focus to the Bearcats' game preparations, not to mention the awkward feelings between the players and the lame duck coach. Better to have an assistant like Jeff Quinn -- who in a way is auditioning for the job -- in charge and giving the game all of his time and energy.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kelly is only the fourth coach in the BCS era to accept a job at another school while coaching a BCS-bound team. Only Rodriguez didn't stay and coach the bowl -- and of course West Virginia blew out Oklahoma under Bill Stewart. In 2002, Mike Price accepted the Alabama job but stayed with Washington State for the Rose Bowl. The Cougars lost by 20 to Oklahoma.

The other example is Urban Meyer in 2004. After accepting the Florida job, he coached Utah to a Fiesta Bowl win over Pittsburgh. A lot of coaches probably could have led the Utes past that Pitt team, though.

Ryan from Charleston, W.Va., writes: Do you foresee the NCAA passing a rule that prohibits one school from contacting another school's coach until that school finishes its football season? I know there are recruiting concerns for making a program wait until January to name a coach, but why should the interests of the new school trump the interests of the old school? The consequences of firing your coach should rest on the school that did it and not anywhere else. You fire your coach, then you wait a month to recruit.

Brian Bennett: Sounds good in theory, but as long as we've got a free market, I don't think you'll see such a rule. The only way this would probably ever happen is if national signing day were moved way back or way up in the calendar. Schools are too consumed with recruiting and making sure they get a good class signed -- and understandably so -- to wait that long to get their coach in place. Having a month or more between the end of the regular season and bowl games doesn't help either.

Ron from Harrison, Ohio, writes: Your opinion: If Colt McCoy waits one more second to throw that ball out of bounds, and UC is playing for the National Championship, does Brian Kelly still bolt to Notre Dame and pass on a change to coach for a national title?

Brian Bennett: That's an excellent hypothetical, and one I hope to pose to Kelly either today or at some point in the future. It's hard to see how he could have turned his back on a national title shot. Then again, if he truly saw Notre Dame as his dream job and had doubts about Cincinnati's ability to generate the necessary resources, he might have gone anyway, just later.

Corey from Baton Rouge writes: Can we compare the departure of Brian Kelly to the departure of Rich Rodriguez? Do you think that these schools inability to keep their coaches shows that the Big East is really just a glorified mid-major? Why is the Big East the only conference this is happening to? Why do Big East schools not have the money to pay their coaches?

Brian Bennett: It's discouraging that the two coaches who combined to win the last three Big East titles both left for other jobs. However, look at the jobs they took: Michigan and Notre Dame. Those are ultimate destination type of jobs, of which there are only a handful in the nation. Unfortunately, the Big East doesn't have any of those right now. But credit the league for hiring coaches who are in demand. Do you think if Notre Dame and Michigan had come calling for, say, the coaches at Ole Miss or Arizona State that those coaches wouldn't have listened?

The Big East still has a ways to go in matching the money, resources and traditions of some of the game's superpowers. But the same could be said for all but a handful of schools nationwide.

Mike from Cincinnati writes: On the ESPN Insider page, it says under rumors that Kerry Coombs has the job locked up. This is not the buzz, or whatever word they use. A very small but vocal minority who worshiped at Coombs' alter when he was a high school coach want him to coach UC. Most others, like myself, think he would be a disaster and know that Mike Thomas is smarter than to promote a guy who was coaching high school kids four years ago.

Brian Bennett: I like Coombs a lot and think he could make a good head coach someday. But you're right. Before the 2007 season, he had never coached above the high school level, and he's never been a coordinator. Unless Thomas is really willing to take a gamble, I don't think he'll be the next coach. Jeff Quinn is the more obvious candidate from the current staff, and that's why he's coaching the Sugar Bowl. Cincinnati would be wise to try and keep Coombs around, though, because he's a terrific recruiter and has been a very solid position coach.

Thomas's history, by the way, has been to hire established head coaches. Butch Jones and Skip Holtz seem like the most logical fits if he chooses to go that route once again.

Sam from Cincinnati writes: Brian, what are your feelings on the way that Brian Kelly addressed the entire Notre Dame situation from the start?

Brian Bennett: At the very beginning, I liked the way Kelly handled it. He didn't come out publicly and say he wasn't interested or that he was definitely staying, which would have later made him look like a hypocrite. He let people know he was interested in the job without saying it.

Look, he was in a very tough situation in the week before the Pittsburgh game. It was the biggest game in school history, and he owed it to his team to keep them focused so they could finish 12-0. Think of how much criticism he would have received if he had talked about being interested in another job that week and his team lost.

But I don't like how Kelly told his team that week he was staying while it appears he was interviewing with Notre Dame at the very same time. We don't know exactly what Kelly said to the players since we've only gotten second-hand accounts, but clearly the players believed he said he was staying. And then the way Kelly chided the media for asking about the Notre Dame situation after the Pitt game -- even accusing reporters of spreading "misinformation," when pretty much everything written or said looks now to have been true -- was in very poor form and surprisingly tin-eared for a guy who's usually so good in the public eye.

Breaking the news after the team banquet also didn't look too great, but Kelly's options were few. The players were leaving for Christmas break the next day, and he had to tell them before they left. We also don't know what kind of requests Notre Dame made to him to keep the job situation under wraps.

In the end, it certainly looks as if Kelly made some missteps along the way. But show me a coaching move like this that hasn't gotten messy and ended with hurt feelings on at least one side.