Coach Brian Kelly Keeps on Winning

December 18, 2023

Coach Brian Kelly Keeps on Winning

By Joey Johnston

LSU's Brian Kelly - a plain-speaking Massachusetts native who cut his head-coaching teeth at Notre Dame - doesn't exactly match up to the Cajun culture.

But he fits.

The fabulously successful football program at LSU - with three national championships under three different head coaches during a 17-season span - responds to winners.

And make no mistake: Brian Kelly is a winner. His Tigers (9-3) face the Wisconsin Badgers (7-5) in the Jan. 1ReliaQuest Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

Twice named Associated Press National Coach of the Year (2012 and 2018) during his 11-season Notre Dame tenure, Kelly has 303 career victories in 32 years to rank as the winningest Football Bowl Subdivision head coach, ahead of Alabama's Nick Saban (297) and North Carolina's Mack Brown (276).

Only two of his teams (2004Central Michigan and 2016 Notre Dame) finished below .500.

He's off and running at LSU with records of 10-4 and 9-3.

It's still not enough.

"Look, 9-3 we're here to win championships,'' Kelly said. "Our defense (ranked 104th nationally) did not play to the level where our standard is set. I'm not happy about it. Our fans shouldn't be happy about it. We have to do things to make sure that doesn't happen again. It has to be better. And it will be better.''

That is why LSU hired Brian Kelly.

"There's a quote that says maybe history doesn't repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme,'' LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said. "The last time we picked a head football coach out of the Midwest (Nick Saban from Michigan State), he did pretty good.

"We don't have a phobia against people coming in (from another region), just as long as they embrace us. And they're going to get embraced in a big way.''

Especially if they win in the SEC.

"I like coaches who have a very high I.Q., and Brian fits that,'' Woodward said. "He has been successful at every stop. His high intellect tells you he can adjust to any situation. He's building this program the right way and it will have a solid foundation.

"Maybe he's not from the South, but I do believe he understands what makes LSU tick. He's very organized and he did his research. I think we're in good hands moving forward. The first time people come to LSU, they say things like, 'Wow, this is so different.' But Brian Kelly, I believe, could build a winner anywhere.''

There may not be a more pressure-packed job in America than Notre Dame. Kelly managed that extremely well, playing for the BCS Championship in his third season and twice qualifying for the College Football Playoff.

But even Kelly admits that LSU football is unique.

"It's an electric atmosphere at LSU and I was part of some pretty big environments at Notre Dame, some huge game-day operations,'' Kelly said. "But at LSU, it's not just the game. It's the pregame. It's being out there with the kickers. It's the whole atmosphere.

"It's the walk to the stadium with people 10 rows deep on campus. It's the Thursday and Friday lead-up, then gameday itself. It's like nothing that I was part of before. But it's still dealing with 18-to-21-year-olds, working with their habits and mindset and structure and process. It's getting the right culture and maintaining the proper standards.''

And once those factors are in place, you win big.

That has been a constant for Brian Kelly, who's now working to make it happen at LSU.