FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Brian Kelly is preparing to coach in what many believe will be the most-watched college football game in history on Monday. That is the first of several reasons why the third-year Notre Dame coach won’t be leaving to take a similar position in the NFL anytime soon, despite the swirling rumors.
Kelly’s top-ranked Fighting Irish (12-0) will face defending champion and second-ranked Alabama (12-1) in Miami (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.), and the expected television audience could reach as many as 30 million viewers.
There aren’t 30 million people that know that the Jacksonville Jaguars even exist.
“I've been through this a lot in my career,” Kelly said. “It's flattering if there is interest, which I don't know that there is, but again, that is such a secondary topic for me right now, it's all about this game.”
It’s understandable why some college coaches would seek to coach at the highest level of their profession. First of all, you make more money. Secondly, you don’t have to kiss up to 16-year-olds, which can be demeaning to any adult.
So I get why Doug Marrone wants to leave Syracuse for the Buffalo Bills (the weather is a wash). But for Kelly, the NFL is actually a step down and he isn’t going to make that move at this point. Perhaps in the future he may, but he’d have to be stumbling intoxicated from a Dublin pub to leave the Irish when the program is rolling like it is right now.
“When I took the job at Notre Dame, I think I said it was a dream job,” Kelly said. “But I never went around day to day anything about being the Notre Dame head coach, because the job that I had in hand was what I was thinking about. And I think that's the same thing with the NFL.”
Kelly oversees a nationally-renowned football team. At the collegiate level, there isn’t a comparable program when it comes to public awareness (quick, name two starters on Oregon’s team).
Where could he reign over a similar franchise in the NFL? Maybe in the case of the Dallas Cowboys, but do you really think Kelly wants a wanna-be general manager (owner Jerry Jones) dictating his roster to him?
The Irish Nation isn’t just a catchy-phrase and that national audience now regards Kelly as its sovereign lord of the gridiron.
His football kingdom stretches to Europe. The Fighting Irish sold nearly 50,000 tickets for a game in Ireland earlier this fall, and that was before anyone knew that they were any good.
When the NFL sells tickets to a game in Europe, the marketing is centered on the sport. In the case of Notre Dame football, it is the program that draws them in.
For a guy like Marrone, sure the money matters. However, Kelly is sure to receive a bump in pay this spring from his speculated $3M annual salary and this is a guy that remembers what he made at Grand Valley State (because it wasn’t that long ago). So really, this is all financial gravy at this point. Kelly’s already made far more than he ever dreamt he would, so he’s not leaving South Bend just for a pay raise.
“From my perspective I've got the best job in the country, NFL, college, high school, whatever,” Kelly said.
Kelly also enjoys the freedom of constructing his roster. Two years ago, he had an promising young starter at quarterback in Tommy Rees, but to challenge Rees, he recruited Everett Golson.
Then he recruited Gunner Kiel.
Then he recruited (2013 verbal commit) Malik Zaire.
If he takes the Chicago Bears’ coaching job and even thinks about bringing in competition for quarterback Jay Cutler (see Josh McDaniels), he’ll have a major insurrection on hand.
“I just look at the place that I'm at and thankful for the opportunity that I have,” Kelly said.
He’s not leaving for the NFL anytime soon.