Four Thoughts On The Brian Kelly Hire At LSU

By now our readers are well aware that LSU athletic director Scott Woodward has landed his man to take over the football coaching duties, pilfering Notre Dame head man Brian Kelly with a 10-year, $95 million contract that could get considerably richer with incentives.

Kelly will be arriving in Baton Rouge this afternoon and he’ll be officially announced at a noon press conference Wednesday. It’s likely he’ll also be officially introduced to the LSU fan base Wednesday night at the LSU-Ohio U. basketball game in the PMAC, with a packed-to-the-rafters crowd likely to rattle the roof upon his appearance.

It’s a pretty triumphant day, and there will be lots to talk about where the hire is concerned for the rest of this week, but we’ve got four things to offer given Kelly’s arrival.

1. Nobody knew anything, and everything you heard was crap.

The way Scott Woodward works when he’s hiring coaches is that all of the information about the hire is tightly controlled. He doesn’t leak things which don’t help him. He didn’t when he was at Washington, he didn’t when he was at Texas A&M and he doesn’t at LSU.

That didn’t stop the usual suspects, whether they’re “insiders” on message boards or the lazy bums in the local legacy media, from running with any old stupid rumors. We’ll include ourselves in this to an extent, because for a time we were convinced something was going on with Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley before he denied he was going to LSU and then signed a contract at USC.

But you can now easily see how the sports media is just as eaten up with Fake News as the regular media is.

We’ll pick on the Advocate’s Scott Rabalais here, not because he’s the only one who performed horribly in covering the coaching search but because his column on Sunday might have been the worst thing we saw. Rabalais fully bought in to the idea that LSU had made an offer to Riley and whiffed on him and was then “scrambling” with an “unsettled” coaching search, every word of which was complete BS.

Honestly, it’s the kind of swing-and-miss reporting which at a good newspaper probably results in a pink slip. Here’s what Rabalais said

Athletic director Scott Woodward still has much work to do. For the first time, it looks as though LSU may have fallen behind in its search despite firing Orgeron six weeks ago. Especially with Florida having completed its firing-to-hiring quest in just over a week and USC pulling a shocking coup with Riley that no one from Baton Rouge to Norman, nor anywhere else, saw coming.

Rabalais posted that at 6:42 p.m. on Sunday. Less than 24 hours later Woodward had Kelly in the bag. And Florida hired a coach from Sun Belt Conference member UL-Lafayette, while Woodward got the guy who won more games at Notre Dame than Knute Rockne. Is it possible to come up with a worse take than this?

It gets worse.

A day of phone calls regarding the LSU search left me with one word: unsettled. If there has been a plan in place, it hasn’t gone the way Woodward and his tight circle of confidants would have liked.

As one source said, the names are dwindling, and everything is “way up in the air.”

Do I think LSU folks thought they had a real shot at Riley? Definitely. But something kept LSU from getting across the goal line with him. At this point, you have to think that while LSU is willing to pay the salaries, pay the coaches, has the facilities and the recruiting base, there are headwinds coming from somewhere.

LSU’s Title IX issues, and its NCAA issues, must have blunted its chances with someone. With Riley in particular, the challenge of coaching in the SEC at LSU (or Oklahoma) may have ultimately driven him to USC, where the Pac-12 doesn’t exactly resemble a black-and-blue conference like the one the Sooners will soon be joining.

Still, someone will take this job. And it will have to be soon. The early signing period for recruiting starts Dec. 15. Sunday, LSU lost another top commitment from four-star Lake Charles running back TreVonte Citizen.

From what I’ve heard, an announcement is still expected this week. But who that will be I would not care to speculate beyond discussing Fisher — not because he is at all the likely choice, but because in coaching searches, you can never dismiss anything, and that he and Woodward have such a close relationship.

Given where LSU is, it would not be shocking at all for Woodward to make one more run at the former LSU offensive coordinator, to offer him an eye-popping contract and say, as someone told me, “Please come back and help me.”

Again, less than 24 hours after this idiocy went up on the internet the news broke that Brian Kelly was LSU’s new coach.

It was obvious at that point that all of the Lincoln Riley stuff was a smokescreen. You don’t fail with Riley and then “scramble” to hire Kelly. Kelly is a considerably bigger name and more accomplished coach than Riley is.

2. We’ll prove it, with simple research.

It took a very quick bit of internet sleuthing to find out yesterday that Trace Armstrong, Riley’s agent, is also Brian Kelly’s agent.

That fact tells you all you need to know.

Kelly’s name was never linked to the LSU job in the national media. It was always the USC job he’d been bandied about for. Meanwhile Riley was supposedly LSU’s top target.

Do you really think that’s some sort of coincidence? That people like Trace Armstrong and Scott Woodward, who have been at this for a very long time and are recognized masters of the art, don’t manipulate things the way they want them to go?

Sports journalists are among the laziest people on earth. They run with whatever they’re told, because at the end of the day you’re talking about a ball game. If you’re wrong, so what?

And you don’t hire Brian Kelly on a whim. That’s a vetting process and a negotiation which takes weeks. Kelly to LSU has been a done deal for a good while, just as Riley to USC has been. Which is why all last week when the Lincoln Riley hype at LSU was spiraling out of control nobody in the athletic department did anything to tamp it down. They were using it as a smokescreen to hide the fact Kelly was really the coach until he’d finished his regular season.

Just like Riley and Armstrong were buying time to get through Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State. Then Riley issued his peremptory “I’m not going to be the next head coach at LSU,” which wasn’t a lie. He never was. He was going to USC instead.

All of these people got played. Riley to LSU was a lie agreed upon, by Woodward and by Armstrong. And the lazier people in the sports media bought it, hook, line and sinker.

Again, it isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a ball game. But it ought to give everybody some pause before allowing things these guys say to influence your opinion. Their narratives aren’t based on truth.

3. The “cultural fit” stupidity.

An example of a narrative that isn’t based on truth, and this is something the legacy media people show their laziness with again and again, is this idea that you have to be a “fit” at LSU.

As if Baton Rouge, Louisiana is Ougadougou or Dushanbe.

It’s moronic.

The two most successful coaches in LSU history are Nick Saban, a West Virginian who comes off as a corporate automaton from Cleveland or Wall Street, and Skip Bertman, a Jew from Miami. Nothing about either of them “fits” with South Louisiana. Dale Brown, a Music Man character from North Dakota, Les Miles, a goofy eccentric who never stopped mimicking Bo Schembechler, and Paul Mainieri, a Miami native who spent much of his coaching career at Air Force and Notre Dame, had perfectly good careers at LSU and were roundly accepted by the people here.

Will Wade is from Nashville and spent most of his formative years as a coach on the east coast.

None of these people have been hampered by the culture in South Louisiana.

You want to know who struggles with the culture here? Bad coaches. Coaches who don’t succeed at LSU and then end up not succeeding anywhere else, either. Like for example Gerry DiNardo, who whined about the South Louisiana culture when he left LSU and proceeded to lose every year at Indiana until they fired him. Or Trent Johnson, who griped about this place when he left for TCU and then ultimately got tossed out over there when he didn’t win.

If a cultural fit was a necessity at LSU, then why did Johnny Jones fail? How come Ed Orgeron collapsed over the last two years and got himself run off after that magical 2019 season?

The next time somebody brings up “fit” when it comes to LSU coaches, slap them in the face. It’s an excuse for losers and a lazy narrative for ignoramuses.

4. Besides, culture can be changed – and it needs to.

Saban and Bertman are perfect examples, and Wade is another good one, of how successful leaders shape the culture of their organizations by motivating the people around them to behave better.

In other words, winning.

People threw that “cultural fit” stuff around when Saban came to town. Within a week he had smashed countless rice bowls and slaughtered half the sacred cows in Baton Rouge, and rather than have the locals in an uproar they instead embraced the changes. Why? Because it was nice to have somebody in charge who knew what the hell he was doing.

People respond to principled, intelligent and visionary leadership.

Brian Kelly’s reputation is pretty similar to Saban’s. He’s process-driven, he’s a disciplinarian, he’s no-nonsense and he’s focused and driven – and he demands that of everybody around him. That’s why he’s won big everywhere he’s been – a pair of Division II national championships and a near-miss of a third at Grand Valley State, a conference championship in three years at Central Michigan, a pair of Big East titles in three years at Cincinnati and three BCS/playoff appearances at Notre Dame, including two in the last five years.

Brian Kelly is by far – and it isn’t close, not by a long shot – the most accomplished head football coach LSU has ever hired.

Much more so than Saban was. Saban had two nine-win seasons, one at Toledo and one at Michigan State, when LSU grabbed him 22 years ago. Kelly has had three undefeated seasons, four other one-loss seasons, three two-loss seasons. He’s had 13 ten-win seasons, including each one of the last five. Kelly’s been a head coach for 31 years, and only twice did he have a losing record – that horrible 4-8 year in 2016 when his quarterback play collapsed on him, and the first year when he was at Central Michigan and went 4-7.

You land a coach like this and you watch him mold your program to what he wants it to be. And for the most part the people around him will be ecstatic to have his direction. Those who aren’t are probably the people who caused your problems in the first place.

LSU’s team culture is terrible. It wasn’t all that good even in 2019 when the Tigers had that magical national championship season. LSU has more players suspended for stupid things like failing drug tests than any program anybody’s ever seen. Those things are evidence of a bad culture. So you need a hard-ass like Brian Kelly to raise the standard, and that probably means squeezing out some people who can’t uphold that standard.

In three years this program won’t look like it does now, and that’s a good thing.

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