Balancing act begins for Kelly

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An early Brian Kelly quote that’s followed the head coach from the moment he uttered it keeps bubbling back to the surface.

“Get used to it.”

That’s the first thing that comes to mind when you watch Irish assistants head out the door for head coaching jobs.

First, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin left South Bend for the Cradle of Coaches, taking over a Miami Redhawks program that is in need of a massive rebuilding job. If there was any despair in Kelly after losing one of his most trusted assistants, it certainly didn’t show.

“I want my coordinators to have an opportunity for leadership positions,” Kelly told Comcast SportsNet. “I do not endorse lateral moves for my coordinators, but if they have a chance to lead a program, I’m excited for them. Miami of Ohio is the cradle of coaches—Bo Shembechler, Woody Hayes, some of the great coaches have gone through there. It’s a great opportunity for Chuck Martin.”

Just eight days later, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco left to take a UConn job that brings him back home to the East Coast. For those that had the pleasure of watching Diaco introduced as the head man in Storrs, the energetic assistant spoke Latin, quoted Rockne, talked about Pavlov’s Dog and Energy Vampires, all while whipping out stats about the Nutmeg state like a tour guide.

The hiring came out of the blue for players and recruits, with Diaco on the road with Kelly recruiting. But one listen to Kelly and again, you don’t get the feeling this is a move that angers or surprised the Irish head coach.

“Connecticut hired the perfect man to lead their football program into the future,” Kelly said in a statement released Thursday. “Bob Diaco possesses every characteristic necessary to be successful. He’s a top-notch recruiter, tremendous leader of young men and brilliant coach. Bob was arguably the top coordinator in the country as demonstrated by our defense over the last few years. He played an immense role that ultimately helped our program reach four consecutive bowl games, including the 2013 BCS National Championship game.”

We all knew change was coming. No staff stays together forever, especially not one filled with young, energetic and hungry coaches like the group Kelly put together. Both Diaco and Martin had opportunities to leave last year. Martin came close to getting the Northern Illinois job, a pairing with Jordan Lynch that would’ve catapulted Martin quickly. Diaco was on a variety of shortlists, but ultimately wasn’t looking to leave without seeing last season to the end.

Kelly pulled all the right strings during his last staff shake up, letting Ed Warinner, Tim Hinton and Charley Molnar walk from the offensive staff, and replacing them with Harry Hiestand, Scott Booker and Martin.

But with the identity of the defense so aligned with Diaco, how will Kelly respond? Does he turn the keys over to Kerry Cooks, by name the unit’s co-defensive coordinator? Kelly released a statement today from the road, saying that Cooks will coordinate the defense for the Pinstipe Bowl. Or does he promote Mike Elston, who FootballScoop.com reports is Diaco’s first choice for defensive coordinator at UConn.

Lou Holtz seemingly reshaped his staff just about every year he was in South Bend, with Holtz the only true leadership constant. With a quiet period coming in recruiting shortly, Kelly will have time to catch his breath and make some significant hires, by either promoting from within or reaching outside the program.

This is Kelly’s fourth coordinator that’s gotten a head coaching job in four years. With Jeff Quinn and Charley Molnar coming before Diaco and Martin. That’s quite a bit of talent drain.

But with the team’s end of the year awards banquet tonight, and a major on-campus recruiting weekend taking place, expect Brian Kelly to sell his most important message to players, recruits and fans alike.

Get used to it.