Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly surfaced publicly for the first time since that not-so-memorable night in Miami earlier this month and he is adamant about two things:
He believes the Fighting Irish can be very good in the future.
He believes he will be playing a significant role in that success.
Kelly spoke about his interaction with the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he interviewed earlier this month for the head coaching job with the NFL club, and he believes what he learned through the process is that he isn't interested in coaching at that level.
“The discussion was more about intrigue on my part,” Kelly said. “I had obviously always been in the college game. Really did not have a good grasp of the NFL setup. So for me, my head said let's be more informed as it relates to the NFL.”
After the Irish lost 42-14 to Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship game in Miami, Kelly was in Nashville, Tenn., the next day accepting the American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year Award, and met with Philadelphia owner Jeff Lurie and his leadership team. Kelly said he did so to get a feel for how the logistics of overseeing a team actually are organized as much as anything.
“I just didn't know anything about it, really,” Kelly said. “Again, as I said, college is all that I've been involved in. I really didn't understand the NFL process, the game, who is involved in the day to day operations of selecting the team, all of those things.”
Kelly admits error
After the interview, Kelly and his wife left the country on a short vacation, and that is the one mistake that the coach acknowledged making. As the Kellys relaxed, Irish fans spent several days wondering about the future of their favorite program.
“If there was anything that I would have done differently,” Kelly explained, “it would have been to close that timeline relative to my interview and coming out with a statement.
"I was on vacation with my wife, we were away, we weren't watching TV, but I should have been more sensitive to the fact that there was a time period going on and released a statement much sooner.”
Kelly said he has gotten enough of a feel for the NFL after this experience that he doesn't believe it is for him, and that is the message he has delivered to recruits leading up to the Feb. 6 national signing day.
“My heart is in college football and with Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “So I think the recruits, I tell them up front that I'm committed to Notre Dame, flattered that the NFL would want me to be one of their coaches, but it's just not what I want to do. I want to be a college football coach.”
Was Kelly distracted?
The Eagles reached out to Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick shortly after firing 14-year coach Andy Reid on Dec. 31. Kelly said he really wasn't involved in any discussions with the NFL franchise at that juncture.
“There was contact, I believe, and I don't have the specifics, I believe it was the very same day (Dec. 31) or next day after there was a change in the coaching staff there,” Kelly said. “Protocol in the NFL is to reach out to the athletic director. They reached out to Jack. Jack called me. We agreed that we would not have any contact with the Eagles, if, in fact, we did. And that wasn't certain until after the game.”
From that point, Kelly's agent took over and set up an interview with the Eagles for the day after the BCS national championship game. However, leading up to the game (Jan. 7), Kelly said he didn't give the Eagles any thought.
“I wasn't even certain I was going to interview,” Kelly said. “It wasn't even on my radar. So there was never any consideration. It wasn't an option. I think I even said that it wasn't an option for me because I wasn't even thinking about it and hadn't decided that that was the direction I was going to go.”
2013 should be a very good year
One of the several reasons that Kelly expressed confidence in his decision to return to Notre Dame was the prospects for 2013.
The Fighting Irish have a large portion of their contributing players – on both sides of the ball – returning from a 12-1 squad, as well as one of the nation's most heralded recruiting classes ready to sign next week.
“We're going to win again next year,” Kelly said. “There are probably going to be teams that have an interest in coaching in the NFL, and I want to be able to tell them definitively that I want to coach in college. I love Notre Dame. I love the college game, but I think the intrigue was more just finding out about it, so it's now easy for me to say no.”