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Thursday, December 10, 2009
Updated: December 12, 12:00 AM ET
Kelly brings wins, enthusiasm to ND

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

Six seasons ago, Brian Kelly coached Grand Valley State to a second consecutive Division II national championship.

On Thursday, the Cincinnati coach agreed to take over the most storied head-coaching job in college football, at Notre Dame.

It's like a dinner theater star in Grand Rapids accepting a best actor Oscar, or a community organizer in Chicago being elected president.

Rags, meet riches.

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly went 34-6 at Cincinnati.

Kelly remained mum, but Cincinnati athletic director Mike Thomas said that Kelly had decided to leave and that offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn would coach the No. 3 Bearcats against No. 5 Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

The next coach at Notre Dame arrives with the map of Ireland on his nameplate, a quality only one Fighting Irish coach in the past 50 years has brought to the Golden Dome. Let's hope that Kelly, 47, lasts longer than the five days that George O'Leary held the job in December 2001.

Kelly won a coaching derby in which only he met the qualifying standard. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick wanted a coach who has won championships. There aren't many of them, and fewer still are willing to move, as Bob Stoops of Oklahoma made abundantly clear.

Kelly has been the leading candidate since speculation began last month that Notre Dame would fire Charlie Weis. There would be no surprise candidates swooping in to take the job. The favorite won the job. Winning is what Kelly has done on three campuses. In 19 seasons as a head coach, he is 171-57-2.

Kelly went 34-6 (.850) in three-plus seasons at Cincinnati (he took over as coach for the 2006 International Bowl), including a second consecutive Big East championship this year.

Before that, Kelly went 19-16 in three seasons at Central Michigan, building from a 4-7 season in 2004 to the Mid-American Conference championship in 2006. He went 118-35-2 in 13 seasons at Grand Valley State, where Kelly took over as head coach in 1991 at age 28.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the Notre Dame job is a crusher. Winning seven games will wear out a coach's welcome. Winning 10 games will wear out a coach.

Frank Leahy retired after the 1953 season at age 45 for health reasons and never coached again. Ara Parseghian retired after the 1974 season at age 51 because of the stress and never coached again. Dan Devine retired after the 1980 season at age 56 and never coached again.

"When Ara resigned," Devine said upon his retirement, according to "Wake Up the Echoes," a history of Notre Dame football, "I read a story in which he told all about the Notre Dame pressures. I read it with some skepticism, but everything he said now makes sense to me."

In one important regard, Kelly will start in a better place than either of the previous two coaches, Tyrone Willingham and Weis. Kelly is walking effervescence, the Music Man without the con. He loves to talk, and he loves to sell his program.

When Kelly arrived at his first Big East football preview in Newport, R.I., in 2007 and did not find a reporter from The Cincinnati Enquirer, he lashed out, suggesting that Bearcats fans would be better served by The Boston Globe or The Sporting News.

There is no shortage of opportunities to do that in the fishbowl he is about to occupy, as Willingham, Weis and every other Notre Dame head coach has discovered. Willingham never said two words when one would suffice. Weis kept a tight lid on the information doled out to the public about the Fighting Irish.

Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly brings a 171-57-2 record to South Bend.

Kelly will talk more than they did. If his record means anything, he also will win more than they did. Kelly's Notre Dame team will score points -- and need them. The Bearcats gave up 30 points or more seven times in his three seasons as head coach. Cincinnati went 5-2 in those games.

Defense has been missing at Notre Dame, too. Swarbrick, the athletic director, decided to make a change in part because the 2009 Fighting Irish defense became a shambles. Notre Dame scored at least 30 points in seven games this season but lost three of them.

History indicates that the old-school traits of a running game and defense are what win games for the Fighting Irish. Swarbrick chose instead to bet on the man. Kelly takes over a team that, as of now, has no healthy scholarship quarterback available for spring practice, is losing an All-American wide receiver to the pros and must rebuild the offensive line.

When Kelly took over at Cincinnati in 2007, he marveled at the $1.6 million revenue sharing the university received from the Big East. Central Michigan, he said, had come home from the Motor City Bowl with a $75,000 deficit.

"It's a little like the Yankees and their ability to free-spend, compared to a small-market team like the Twins that has to develop their talent. You've got to develop your talent in the MAC and hope that can offset the big-market, high-profile guys," Kelly said.

But as he continued, he adjusted his metaphor.

"Now, at Cincinnati, we still have to develop [talent] because now we have to be able to do that against Ohio State. Once in a while, we can pick up a free agent because our payroll's a little bit larger."

With this move, Kelly can say he has joined the Yankees.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.