Wednesday, October 14, 2009

the replacements: Brian Kelly

A couple quick links before I get started on coach #3....

- A tie against Liberty? The soccer team is suckin'. They have forgotten how to score goals. They're outshooting most everyone they play but clearly that's not getting them anywhere.

- A little fluff on Chris Cook and Jameel Sewell.

- Doug Doughty writes on the emotional about-face the team has done. The emotional difference between the Hoos and Indiana was so obvious that the 360 commentators were harping on it all game. This is a fired-up team right now - let's hope they're just as jacked up to face Maryland. Hell, it's Maryland - if you're not fired up to kick their ass something fierce, you're probably Duke.

- Heather's power rankings are interesting this week. Especially at the bottom. That's got to be a first.

- And in the shameless self-linkage department, the depth chart is updated, based on the latest out of the official website. Changes:
  1. Tyler Brosius is gone.
  2. Major wide receiver shuffle: Matt Snyder has gone from starter to off the two deep, and Javaris Brown is no longer on the two-deep either; Jared Green replaces him, and Vic Hall is now listed as a starting receiver. Hall is officially the third-string QB, but I'm not gonna bother listing him there any more unless something happens to one of the top two.
  3. Last week, Brandon Woods took over for Corey Mosley as a starting safety; Mosley still gets plenty of time on the field, however.
  4. Terrence Fells-Danzer in for Aaron Taliaferro as backup linebacker.
On with the show. The deal is thusly: despite the awesome new direction the scoreboard has taken these past weeks, Al Groh's job is still very much in jeopardy. "One of those Virginia streaks" as Aaron Clark puts it, might just be enough to keep him around, but it really just might require a nine-game win streak and we are seven games shy. Thus the continuing series on coaches that might be, or should be, considered potential replacements. Today we have....

Brian Kelly

Main qualification: Has led three programs to the pinnacle of their successes.

1987-1988: Grand Valley State (DB)
1989-1990: Grand Valley State (DC, recruiting)
1991-2003: Grand Valley State (HC)
2004-2006: Central Michigan (HC)
2007-present: Cincinnati (HC)

Let me diverge a bit here and tell you a little something about Grand Valley State. It is a Division II school in the exurban farmlands of Michigan just west of Grand Rapids, and it is bigger than UVA. It might be the biggest school you never heard of. Their football team (the Lakers) is quite young by college football standards, even for a D-II school, but it has always been a winning one. Winning, but not always successful, if you follow me, at least not til the 1990's. Brian Kelly cut his coaching teeth there, being named head coach before his 30th birthday. His first season as defensive coordinator, 1989, was GVSU's first undefeated season. Throughout the '90s, they won all sorts of conference championships under Kelly, but could never break through in the D-II playoffs - not until 2001, when something clicked, the Lakers rolled up 13 straight wins and didn't lose until they reached the national title game. Since then they've been an ESPN postseason fixture and more successful than any USC, Oklahoma, or Florida you care to throw at me: four of the next five seasons would result in Grand Valley walking off with the title.

Kelly was coach for just two of them. Those titles caught the attention of the folks not too far up the road at Central Michigan, who hired Kelly to fix the mess left by previous disastrous regimes. With the degree of difficulty up, Kelly didn't produce immediate results, but he did do that one thing that will forgive all sorts of mistakes: He broke a losing streak to hated rival Western Michigan, which had embarrassed Central the past two times out. Two years later, CMU was MAC champs and bowling for the first time since 1994.

Kelly didn't coach that bowl game either. Instead, he was at Cincinnati, which was so enamored of Kelly they had him coach the Bearcats in their '06 bowl game, which allowed him to earn the distinction of being the only NCAA coach ever to beat the same team twice in one season. In two full seasons with Kelly, the Bearcats have not yet failed to reach double-digit wins, a mark they reached only one other time in their 120+ year history (in 1951.) They made the Orange Bowl last year, another first, and they don't look likely to be denied another 10-win season.

The point here is that every stop in Kelly's career has been the same chapter of the same book, over and over. Every team he's coached has never been more successful than under Kelly. Every team he's left, he left it better than he found it, and they've managed to maintain that success. Though Kelly never actually coached in a Motor City Bowl, his Chippewas got there on the strength of his regular season, and they've been a regular participant since. Hey, they're a MAC team - that's as good as it gets. And Grand Valley State? They lost this past week to Hillsdale - their first conference loss in something like 44 games. CMU is enroute to yet another MAC CG. Brian Kelly builds teams, somehow. For whatever reason, in three coaching stops he's had the Midas touch of gold, and he's left his past teams with the foundation they need to stay on top.

Downside? Rumor has it he's a bit of an asshole. Actually, some of the rumor has it he's a major-league asshole. Nothing in an actual news article, mind you. Message-board thread type stuff. An example is linked. Some telling quotes:

Also A GVSU alum, I worked in the athletic building when Coach Kelly took over for Coach Beck. (incidentally, Coach Beck left to be the DC at Notre Dame) At first impressions, Coach Kelly was an arrogant, young, egomaniac. He offended a lot of people with his attitude. That being said, he didn't have overwhelming talent when he began, but he won. His teams responded. Moreover, I worked the football games on the sideline. He was hot-headed and foul-mouthed. Of all the coaches I was around, including the opposition, he was the worst!

I'm a student at Central right now. I was here when he left. It wasn't pretty. I've worked for the football team, and have heard a lot of the players just flat hated him. I don't know if its every really been a documented fact, but I know from talking and hearing from people who were in close contact with him he wasn't the nicest guy.
If the general public was privy to everything that goes on at practice, "cuss like a football coach" would replace "....sailor" in the vernacular, but Kelly is gaining a reputation even among those circles. Kelly was also criticized for the way he handled a murder case involving one of his players while at CMU. No need to dive into that sordid affair. To cut to the chase, I think most of those criticisms were uneducated garbage; nevertheless, were he to be hired at Virginia, it's one of those things that'd be guaranteed to come up at some point.

So given the sterling track record, why is Kelly #2 on my list after Tuberville? Well, for one, Tuberville strutted his stuff in the SEC. Second, Kelly is likely to be upward-looking, even if he's wearing our blue and orange. For some reason he is always mentioned in connection with the Notre Dame job; it's thought he has his eye on that. I have no more official proof of that than I do of his rumored arrogance and assholery; nevertheless, "wanting to coach at Notre Dame" is probably almost as prevalent among football coaches as profanity anyways.

If hired at Virginia, Kelly would probably bring immediate improvement without any precipitous drop any time soon. Profanity and arrogance are easily overlooked in a winning coach: Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were two of the most profane, arrogant, violent, sonuvabitch slave drivers ever to stalk the sidelines of a college stadium, and who, I ask you, are the most beloved coaches in their respective programs' histories? Bo's players spent four years hating his guts and the rest of their lives hero-worshipping him. If successful, Kelly will engender those same feelings in the UVA fanbase; unfortunately, he also wouldn't be likely to stick around much longer than, say, four years. It's of small concern: CMU and GVSU are still doing just fine, and we're a big enough name that four years of Cincy-like success would attract a pretty damn good coach next time around. If unsuccessful, those same qualities would make Kelly one of the most unpopular coaches in all of UVA history, and I don't just mean in football. Given his previous successes, it's a risk I'd love to take.

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