Brian Kelly breaks promise to himself in leaving Notre Dame, chasing new dream at LSU

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune (TNS)
FILE - Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly looks on during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Navy in South Bend, Ind., Nov. 6, 2021. LSU is hiring away from Notre Dame, a stunning move of one of the most accomplished coaches in college football jumping from the sport's most storied program to a Southeastern Conference powerhouse. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

In the summer of 2017, when Brian Kelly's future at Notre Dame hinged entirely on a stubborn dream and a new way to coax it toward reality, he fought.

Fought to move the timeline along for a much-needed new indoor facility.

Fought for the complementary facility upgrades to theoretically follow shortly thereafter.

As Kelly's run as Notre Dame head football coach ends, this should have been the cornerstone of his legacy. Getting Notre Dame to find a way to marry its traditions with the modern reality of doing business.

All in the name and deed of creating a realistic path to a national title in football, whether for him or the next guy that followed.

Maybe it still will.

And maybe the jagged left turn in his career path to become deposed Ed Orgeron's successor at LSU will instead cannibalize that sentiment.

Yahoo's Pete Thamel was the first to report Kelly's hiring at LSU after 12 years and a school-record 113 wins at Notre Dame, 54 of which have come in the past five seasons after a philosophical makeover brought on by a 4-8 bottom line in 2016 that required a midseason vote of confidence just to keep that recruiting class from completely dissolving.

The formal announcement at LSU happened Tuesday, the same day Kelly was due in four-star wide receiver C.J. Williams' California home to try to convince him to remain in what could have been Kelly's best recruiting class.

Flying in the face of past comments: Perhaps in his first LSU news conference, the 60-year-old Kelly can explain a move that flies in the face of everything he stood for, or at least voiced, during his time at Notre Dame.

Kelly so believed that he could eventually win a title in South Bend, if Notre Dame was willing to change, that he wasn't afraid to anger people. Important people. Wealthy and influential people, who had the egos and checkbooks to push back, and Kelly didn't yet have the equity of the current 54-9 run of the past five seasons.

That ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick has been a consistent co-conspirator in Kelly's vision and his corresponding 113-40 record made Monday night's Twitter storm turning into something substantive even more of an absurd possibility.

LSU's interest in making the 12th-year Irish coach its splash hire was real. And apparently more authentic than Kelly's belief that he was only a couple of missing pieces away from making a legit run at a national title where he was.

One was rescuing the fermenting blueprints for a promised Guglielmino Athletics Complex expansion and putting them into motion. The other was to cash in on the recruiting trail of ND's two trips to the College Football Playoff the past three seasons, with a third trip this postseason still breathing.

Notre Dame (11-1), No. 6 in the CFP rankings going into Tuesday night's reveal, finds out its postseason fate on Sunday.

The Irish players and fan base have a longer wait ahead with more angst and more at stake. Not to mention the recruits, whose three-day signing window opens Dec. 15.

Breaking a promise to himself: For the record Kelly's current contract at ND ran through 2024. And for the record, Kelly just last Monday responded as follows as to whether he'd ever consider leaving Notre Dame of his own volition other than retirement.

"No," he said. "( Pittsburgh Steelers head 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."

Contracts and promises can be broken. That's nothing new. But in walking away now, Kelly broke a promise to himself, to hold onto the dream of winning a national title while working in South Bend.

Stubbornly. And fighting for it every chance he got.