Brian Kelly has left Notre Dame to become the next head football coach at LSU.
LSU confirmed the stunning move Tuesday morning, announcing that Kelly has agreed to a 10-year, $95 million deal that also includes incentives. The SEC powerhouse will officially introduce Kelly at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET.
“I could not be more excited to join a program with the commitment to excellence, rich traditions, and unrivaled pride and passion of LSU Football,” Kelly said in a statement released by the school. “I am fully committed to recruiting, developing, and graduating elite student-athletes, winning championships, and working together with our administration to make Louisiana proud. Our potential is unlimited, and I cannot wait to call Baton Rouge home.”
Kelly, in his 12th season at Notre Dame, will replace Ed Orgeron, whom LSU announced on Oct. 17 would not return as coach in 2022, less than two years removed from an undefeated season and a national championship.
Kelly, 60, became the winningest coach in Notre Dame history earlier this season, surpassing Knute Rockne. Kelly is 113-40 (including 21 victories from the 2012 and 2013 seasons that were vacated by the NCAA), guiding the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game in 2012 and to College Football Playoff appearances in 2018 and 2020.
“Brian Kelly is the epitome of a winner,” LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement. “He has built and sustained success at every program he’s led, from multiple undefeated regular seasons and National Coach of the Year honors to national titles and College Football Playoff berths. His credentials and consistency speak for themselves.
“Most importantly, Coach Kelly’s players and programs exemplify excellence in all aspects of the student-athlete experience — in competition, in the classroom, and throughout the community — and he shares our values and vision for elevating our university and our state. We’re thrilled to welcome him and his family to Baton Rouge, and we are excited to work with him as we add to the championship legacy of LSU Football.”
Kelly was on the road recruiting for Notre Dame when the news broke he was leaving the school, a source told ESPN’s Chris Low. He sent a group text to the Notre Dame players late Monday night informing them he would be leaving and apologized that they found out “through social media or news reports.” Kelly told the players he would share more with them during a 7 a.m. team meeting on Tuesday, sources said.
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Notre Dame, ranked No. 6 in the latest CFP rankings, completed an 11-1 season on Saturday, and it still is in contention to reach its third College Football Playoff in four years. The Fighting Irish suffered their only loss of the season on Oct. 2 to No. 4 Cincinnati.
No previous Notre Dame coach has ever left the Irish, winners of eight national championships as voted on by the AP, to take a job at another school.
Kelly’s departure comes as a major surprise to prominent Notre Dame sources who spoke to ESPN earlier Monday. Sources said LSU had approached Kelly earlier this fall, but he declined any interest in the job. LSU made another push over the weekend.
Kelly last week addressed the possibility of leaving Notre Dame for another job, telling reporters, “No. I mean, [Pittsburgh Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin had the best line, right? Unless that fairy godmother comes by with that $250 million check, my wife would want to take a look at it first. I’d have to run it by her.”
Notre Dame has scheduled a news conference for athletic director Jack Swarbrick on Tuesday morning at 10:00 ET.
Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell will be a top target to replace Kelly at Notre Dame, sources told Low. The timing would be anything but ideal for Fickell, though. He has his undefeated Bearcats on the cusp of the College Football Playoff, if they can win their matchup against Houston on Saturday in the AAC championship game.
Fickell has drawn serious interest from several other big-name schools in recent years, but sources close to him said earlier this year the two jobs that would be most difficult for him to turn down would be Notre Dame and Ohio State, the latter being his alma mater.
Sources told ESPN that Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman also would receive serious consideration for the head-coaching job.
Kelly is 263-96-2 as a college coach, with two Division II national titles at Grand Valley State and 10 AP top-10 finishes. He came to Notre Dame from Cincinnati, where he went 34-6 with two New Year’s Six bowl appearances.
Kelly brought stability and success to Notre Dame unlike the program had in almost two decades.
He has not been able to add a national championship, but the Irish have been winning at a clip they haven’t reached since Lou Holtz led the program in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Holtz and the Irish won the national title in 1988.
Notre Dame ran through three coaches after Holtz, never coming close to sustained success.
Kelly On The Move
Over the past 30 years, there have been 12 instances of a coach winning at least 11 games in his final season at the helm of a Power 5/AQ school.
Of those 12:
— 5 left for the NFL
— 5 either retired or resigned due to NCAA violations or scandals
— 2 took a job at a different college football program
Those two CFB instances are Brian Kelly leaving Cincinnati for Notre Dame, and Brian Kelly leaving Notre Dame for LSU.
— ESPN Stats & Information
Notre Dame hired Kelly away from Cincinnati to replace Charlie Weis after the 2009 season. It took a while for Kelly to find the right mix of coaching staff and recruiting strategy to turn the Irish into the consistent national contender. Since going 4-8 in 2016, the Irish are 54-9.
LSU finished a 6-6 regular season on Saturday, upsetting Texas A&M at home in what was Orgeron’s last game. He announced following the victory that he will not coach in LSU’s upcoming bowl game, with offensive line coach Brad Davis to act as the interim head coach for the game.
“Whoever the new coach is, I wish him all the luck in the world,” Orgeron said Saturday. “I’ll always be an LSU fan.”
Since winning the 2019 national title behind Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, LSU has gone 11-11, and Orgeron was accused of improperly handling allegations of sexual misconduct by a player twice in the past year.
LSU paid Orgeron about $9 million this season, making him among the highest-paid coaches in college football, along with Alabama’s Nick Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher.
Orgeron was due to make an average of $7 million over the length of his contract but agreed to a $16.9 million buyout paid through 2025.
Kelly’s full salary at Notre Dame, a private school, is unknown, but it is believed to be north of $5 million per year.
LSU had been connected to various coaches, including Fisher, whom Orgeron beat on Saturday and who has vehemently denied that he is leaving Texas A&M for any job this offseason. Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley also shut down speculation over the weekend that he could be up for the LSU job, before accepting the position at USC on Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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