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Cincinnati's Kelly heading to Notre Dame

December 10, 2009

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Notre Dame has settled on Brian Kelly as the man who can restore its faded glory, just as he turned Cincinnati into a national title contender.

Just 10 days after Charlie Weis was fired, it's up to Kelly to revive the fortunes of a team that just completed the worst decade of football in the history of the storied program with a 70-52 record and three losing seasons.

Kelly, who earned the Home Depot National Coach of the Year award Thursday night, signed a five-year contract and will be introduced at news conference Friday afternoon.

"I am very pleased that a thorough and extensive search has led us to a new head coach in Brian Kelly, who I am confident will help us accomplish our goal of competing for national championships," Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick said in a news release.

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Kelly officially takes over at Notre Dame on Monday. On Thursday night, he attended the Bearcats team banquet, eventually telling players he was leaving.

"He went for the money," receiver Mardy Gilyard told The Associated Press. "I'm fairly disgusted with the situation, that they let it last this long."

Players weren't told of Kelly's decision until the banquet had ended, nearly three hours after the news first broke.

The 47-year-old Kelly is 34-6 in three seasons at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to back-to-back Big East titles and two straight Bowl Championship Series berths. The Bearcats set a school record last season for victories with an 11-3 record, then topped that with a 12-0 mark this season.

Notre Dame has been searching for a coach for about a week and a half since firing Weis, who failed to lift the Irish out of mediocrity, much like his two predecessors.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn will coach the No. 4 Bearcats in their first Sugar Bowl game against Florida.

Gilyard said in an interview before the banquet that he was upset Kelly had accepted the Notre Dame job after telling him and other players before their last game that he was staying.

"I don't like it," said Gilyard, the Big East's top receiver and kick returner. "I feel there was a little lying in the thing. I feel like he'd known this the whole time. Everybody knows Notre Dame's got the money. I kind of had a gut feeling he was going to stay just because he told me he was going to be here."

Quarterback Tony Pike said Kelly told them last week, before their title-clinching win over Pittsburgh, that he was happy in Cincinnati.

"The Tuesday when we were practicing for Pittsburgh, he said he loves it here and he loves this team and loves coaching here and his family loves it here," Pike said.

Kelly has long admired Notre Dame, which seemed to be the perfect fit for an Irish Catholic coach raised in the Boston area. His name first popped up as a possible candidate last season before Notre Dame said Weis would be back for a fifth year.

When Kelly arrived in Cincinnati three years ago, then-university president Nancy Zimpher told Kelly she expected him to turn the football program into a Top 25 mainstay, win a Big East title right away and make sure his players graduate. He'll face even higher expectations at Notre Dame.

It won't be easy; the Irish have a 16-21 record over the past three seasons. And he'll have to do it without two of Notre Dame's best players.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and his favorite receiver, Golden Tate, announced Monday they will bypass their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft.

"I don't know much about him," Tate said at a college football awards show in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. "He seems to be a guy of high character. I'm excited for him. I think he's good for the Irish."

Kelly grew up in Chelsea, Mass., and went to Assumption College, a Catholic school in Worcester where he played linebacker while getting his degree in political science. The son of an alderman, he intended to go into politics after college and he even worked on Gary Hart's 1984 presidential campaign in the Boston area.

But football won out.

He learned how to be a head coach at Division II Grand Valley State in Michigan, where he won back-to-back national titles and 32 consecutive games over one stretch. Working with a limited roster taught him how to be creative, finding a niche for each player.

He moved on to the Mid-American Conference and turned Central Michigan into a winning program in only three years. He also gained confidence in his coaching philosophies and his preference for a wide-open offense.

Kelly was criticized in September 2004 for remarks he made to the Detroit Free Press about perjury charges filed against two former Central Michigan players after other CMU players were charged with second-degree murder in the fatal beating of a man. The death happened shortly after Kelly was named Central's coach.

"A number of them were African-Americans that had been in that culture of violence, and they're taught to look away," Kelly said. "You don't want anything to do with it. Get out of there. You don't say anything to anybody."

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