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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Searching for Head Coach as Brian Kelly Bolts to Baton Rouge

November 30, 2021

Brian Kelly officially left campus for Baton Rouge at 7:11 a.m. on Tuesday morning after a brief goodbye with his former team inside The Gug. 

It’s a move that surprised not only the Notre Dame community and fanbase, but the entire college football world as the Irish finished 11-1 on Saturday night to complete its fifth 10-plus win season in five years. 

Yet, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick saw the potential of Kelly leaving weeks ago as he saw signs of a coach who was open to leaving South Bend. 

“I have to let Brian answer the question of why he ultimately left Notre Dame,” Swarbrick stated on Tuesday morning inside Notre Dame Stadium. “I can't answer that. There is just a sense you get when you work closely with somebody for 12 years - there's a certain restlessness and I could sense that. I could sense that in some conversations.

“There was a Freudian slip or two along the way that sort of grabbed my attention and whether that was intentional or not, it just feels a little bit like somebody who might be open to a different opportunity."

Kelly’s name was tied to the USC job multiple times over the last month and while the Trojans didn't land him, Swarbrick said those conversations never crossed his desk. 

“Yes, he did not discuss with me the conversations he had with other universities,” Swarbrick stated. “We always are talking about the program's needs and how to improve it, and there was not anything identified at any time that was something we could not accommodate or meet. We just didn't have those things come up.” 

The move is odd as Notre Dame and Kelly found success in recent years, but speculation centers around the new LSU coach wanting a commitment from Swarbrick to improve facilities and make the program known for its mental performance. 

Swarbrick denied he was given guidelines or feedback from Kelly on what he wanted to potentially stay or to kill his recent restlessness. 

"We never had a conversation along those lines, which is why I think this was fundamentally a decision by Brian and his family,” explained Swarbrick. “This wasn't a matter of saying, ‘Gosh, I need X or Y to remain in Notre Dame.’

“There just weren't any of those conversations. I would not have resisted to enter into those conversations. Let me stress, we're always talking about improvements in the program, constantly, and we have a capital improvement plan that spans the next three years.

“So, it's not about not doing things to get better. It's just that we talked about what those would be and what those would look like and there wasn't distance between us."

Swarbrick also went to bat for Notre Dame’s facilities, including the new Irish Athletics Center that opened in 2019. 

“The first thing is to note how pleased I am with what we've accomplished with facilities in recent years,” Swarbrick said. “I think we have the best indoor athletic center or indoor football facility in the country and most of the NFL scouts that come in make that same observation. So that was a major investment we've made. We've made investments in our other practice fields. We've made investments in the building itself. We redid all of the offices last year.

“So it's a matter of continued investment. We'll always be updating the weight room. We'll always be updating the locker room.

“At some point in the not-too-distant future, we need to figure out how to most effectively either expand or change the footprint for the football operations building.”

It’s clear there was a distance and possibly a large gap between the two parties as Kelly didn’t give Swarbrick and Notre Dame a chance to keep him in South Bend. 

“Brian did not come to me, which frankly I appreciated, with some opportunity to match the offer,” said Swarbrick. “When we talked, he indicated that he was resigning to take another position. He thanked me for the opportunity the university had provided to him.

“Thanked me for our friendship, which I very much appreciated and I wished him all the best, and we talked a little bit about how today would work.”

The University’s high-level academic requirements, housing or even NIL wasn't opposed by Kelly as Swarbrick believed he had bought into the true spirit of Notre Dame. 

“We always have personnel discussions about do we need another X or Y on the staff and we've always been prepared to support those,” said Swarbrick. “We talk about facilities, but one of the things I appreciated about Brian and why he was successful here was maybe after a little initial resistance, he came to appreciate the things that define Notre Dame like its residentiality policy, like its admissions standards, like its unique eligibility standards.

“It had been a long, long time since we had had conversations about any of those.” 

Swarbrick also didn't believe Kelly’s move was a reflection of the program's ceiling being tapped out despite the incredible five-year run since the 4-8 2016 season.

“I don't want to speak for Brian,” Swarbrick said. “He can answer that question. I think it's fair for me to share that he told the team today that it was just about another opportunity and the right time for his family to take on another opportunity and have another experience. It struck me how much it sort of was similar to the comments made by Lincoln (Riley) the day before. I think there's an element of that.

“There's no sense in which I think it was motivated by a belief that we couldn't take the next step here. Brian has consistently reinforced to the team that we are positioned to take that next step, and I believe that passionately.”

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