Jeff Pearlman

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Dishonorable

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Were I the president of a university, planning to hire a head coach for my program, I’d use the following question as my ultimate, are-you-worthy-of-guiding-our-young-men litmus test: Were your team about to play in a major bowl game (a HUGE bowl game … easily the biggest in school history), would you abandon your players that week to take a better job?

If the answer is NO, you’re my man.

If the answer is YES, well, you’re scum.

Brian Kelly is scum. That’s the word I want to use, because I can’t believe what I’ve just read. In two weeks, Kelly’s undefeated University of Cincinnati Bearcats will be playing Florida in the Sugar Bowl. For my money, it’s a significantly more intriguing matchup than Alabama-Texas, in that it pits an up-and-coming program from the so-so Big East against one of the all-time collegiate dynasties.

Yet Kelly, in his fourth season at Cinci, won’t be there. Today he accepted the head coaching position at Notre Dame, replacing the down-and-out Charlie Weis, who replaced the down-and-out Ty Willingham, who replaced the down-and-out Bob Davies. It’s hard to blame Kelly for saying yes to such a job offer—Notre Dame boasts tradition and passion and facilities and and resources and money Cinci would never be able to match. And yet, the whole thing reeks of sliminess.

According to Tony Pike, the Bearcats quarterback, just last week Kelly was telling his players how happy he was. “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. And while that’s not exactly a I’m-not-going-anywhere, written-in-blood promise, the words were surely said to soothe his players; to silence concerns.

Now, this.

Earlier this evening, at Cinci’s year-end banquet, Kelly told his players he was leaving. At the end of the festivities. Three hours after the news had been broken. “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.”

“I don’t like it. I feel there was a little lying in the thing. I feel like he’d known this 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.”

And that’s the rub; what I’ve been trying to say forever. Big-time college coaches are not to be trusted. Ever, ever, ever. They are slimy dirtballs—not every single one, but most. They’re the equivalent of used-case salesmen, only they don’t deal with automobiles.

They deal with young people.

  • Bill

    In all sports, and especially college football, there is constant disingenuousness, like coaches convincing recruits to come to their school even after the recruit has given a soft verbal agreement somewhere else. Save your disgust for something less common or you’ll live in disgust.

  • Shonders

    While I don’t completely disagree with what you’re saying, as someone who played division one football in college, I think you need to realize that you’re choosing a school.

    Not a coach.

    If I loved my philosophy professor, and after spring semester, he took a job at another school, is he an asshole for leaving behind his students?

    If you leave your current job for a better opportunity elsewhere, are you an asshole for leaving behind your co-workers?

    Brian Kelly did what any coach in his situation would do, and we shouldn’t judge him for it.

    Those players that are bashing him are now NFL prospects because of him. They would not have been if Kelly had never come to Cincinnati.

  • Dude….yes. Exactly.

  • Jeff, really?

    This has happened before, and it will happen again. You can’t fault a guy for taking a much more attractive job, especially when his salary is no doubt being doubled.

    There’s honor and there’s also stupidity.

  • Tom

    He had his dream job offered and he took it. You’d do the same, and so would every single one of the “young people” he coached at Cincinnati (many of whom will have a shot at that dream job because of their time with Kelly). Your disgust is naive. Get over it.

  • Andy

    Kelly taking a better job is what it is. My biggest problem is the timing. This is what your team worked for all season long, a BCS bowl following a Big East championship season. Why would he not want to be there to finish it off? If he wanted to wait until after the bowl, the ND job probably wouldn’t be available. So he’s in a (personally) unwinnable situation, having to make a choice that’s going to leave part of him unhappy regardless of his decision.

    The NCAA should institute a hiring freeze each year until after the bowl games are completed. Then coaches can focus on their current teams, finish the season and stick w/ their players to the end. Then let the upheaval begin.

  • I don’t fault the guy for taking the ND job–this is what smaller time programs like Cincinnati mean to coaches, those schools are stepping stones.

    But where I agree with Pearlman is that at least have the decency to wait until your bowl game is completed to quit on your team.

    To me, that’s not seeing a job through and it speaks volumes about a person that they’ll drop anything when presented with something a bit better. And this isn’t even getting into the subject of coaches breaking long-term commitments/contracts to universities.

    Finish the job of the season and move on, I have no problem with that.

  • JR

    Byron – The problem isn’t the coaches, it’s the system. Coaches obviously are going to be most wanted during successful seasons, which by definition means a bowl appearance. With no early signing period in college football, the time crunch becomes of the essence once a coach is fired, because no one is actually signed. If there was a national playoff, it would be different. No one would leave and no one would expect them to. Right now the bowls are set up as rewards and exhibition games.

    I don’t think Brian Kelly is dishonorable or anything else. He finished his job this year, in the context of how the system is set up right now.

  • JR

    Essentially, the man has a wife and three children. He isn’t going to base a major life-changing decision on an exhibition game.

  • I see what you’re saying JR and it is really the system that’s broken.

    But if Bowl games really are just exhibitions (and now that I think of it, you’re probably right, they are) then why is their so much importance attached to them by schools, the NCAA, the sponsors, the fans?

    Wouldn’t it just be better all around for other universities to wait until the bowl season is over to do their hiring? The whole thing really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me on any level.

    The coach works his ass off for years to get his team to a major bowl, they get there and he just walks away? Really?

    And the kids that he spent hours and days and years with, doesn’t he owe any thing to them?

    I’m the last guy to resort to some sort of Pollyanna type of view of sports (money is money in all walks of life) but this seems a bit different.

  • Elon

    Jeff,

    I am a fan. My favorite book of yours is “Boys Will Be Boys” even thought it made me injure myself at the gym.

    And you are spot on. Many of Cincy seniors will never get a wiff of the NFL. They will have to get jobs like the rest of us. So, what message does this coach send to that young man about loyalty, trust , and respect for authority??

    Even though all of his players are physically built like grown men — they are still a bunch of kids finding their way in the world. I cant help but feel bad for what this lesson taught them.

  • Elon

    Oh and by the way — I am a used car salesman. I would expect a writer of your talent to come up with analogies a bit more imaginative.

  • Ted

    How cynical people have become, basically cutting Kelly a break because that’s the way it is in today’s world. Doesn’t change the fact he’s a liar and a jerk.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life