Kelly echoes old Notre Dame talking points in his arrival at LSU, avoids answering biggest Irish questions

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Brain Kelly tried to balance showing appreciation for his time at Notre Dame and expressing excitement about his new gig at LSU during his introductory press conference in Baton Rouge, but the balance unsurprisingly tilted toward praising what awaits him in Louisiana.

“I can’t say enough about my 12 years at Notre Dame, the incredible people that I worked with and certainly the incredible players that I had the honor to coach there,” the new Tigers head coach said Wednesday afternoon.

Kelly said he had no premeditated plans in 2021 about finding a new job after 12 years in South Bend. Instead, a 45-minute conversation with LSU athletics director Scott Woodward quickly made this an opportunity Kelly wanted to take.

“When you talk to Scott Woodward, he has a clear way of communicating,” Kelly said. “It was 45 minutes and I had an understanding of where LSU was, from a commitment, and how this was going to look. I’d say that’s pretty quick.”

Kelly constantly praised LSU’s “alignment,” presumably not intended as a callback to his same praises of Notre Dame’s alignment when he broke Knute Rockne’s record of 105 wins with the Irish.

“It requires consistency to get to these marks,” Kelly said in September. “We have it with our leadership, we have it with our athletic director, and we’ve had it in the coaching because we have alignment. Because of that, that’s helped a lot in being consistent in winning football games.”

His praise for the “alignment” in Baton Rouge came across more as a buzzword praising a university that has excelled in a good amount of dysfunction during its last two coaching tenures.

“I came down here because I wanted to be with the best,” Kelly said. “The resources here are outstanding. It starts with the alignment, excellence, the standard of expectation. You’re looked at in terms of championships here.

“I want that. I want to be under the bright lights. I want to be on the Broadway stage.”

Again, Kelly — assuredly unintentionally — dropped a callback to his past Notre Dame talking points. As the Irish finished off an unbeaten regular season in 2018, Kelly likened them to an “on-Broadway show,” particularly since their schedule included an added trip to New York City against No. 15 Syracuse. That game had once been scheduled to be in South Bend, its move opening director of athletics Jack Swarbrick to outside criticism for adding undue travel to the back end of a football season. Kelly turning that into a perk came across then as, well, alignment.

“The way we played consistently to win all of our games against four top-25 teams, to win every week and the schedule we play,” Kelly said in November of 2018. “We’re in LA this week. We’re like an on-Broadway show, we’ll open up in a city near you. We were in New York last week, San Diego, Chicago.”

Those are mere talking points, though, and those aside, Kelly danced around the questions of pressing importance, as one would expect from any coach, let alone one who just dealt with 12 years of press conferences at Notre Dame.

Will Kelly chase current Irish recruiting commitments with the early signing period beginning in two weeks? He was asked twice, and both times he focused his response on LSU’s current commits, smart from both a compliance perspective and the perspective that flattering those Tigers pledges betters Kelly’s chances of them still signing with LSU in two weeks.

“The most important thing in recruiting is to take care of your base first,” Kelly said. “My focus will be on those that have made a decision to come to LSU. We’ll be reaching out to those young men, first and foremost. That’s the most important thing.”

Will Kelly pursue Irish assistant coaches? Yes. Will they join him at LSU? Only time will tell.

“The coaches that are on staff there at Notre Dame are still employed there,” he said. “Are there coaches there I would like to join me here? Certainly, but that’s a process that we’ll have to work through.

“There are teams to coach, on both sides. This team is going to be preparing for a bowl game. Hopefully, Notre Dame gets a chance to play in the Playoffs. They have to be prepared. This has to be done with great communication and understanding that the players are part of this, as well.”

Oh, right, those players. Again in a moment of echoing past comments from his time with the Irish, Kelly spoke of his departure from South Bend as a moment of regret where he did his best, similar to his thoughts when he first arrived in South Bend in December of 2009.

“Leaving is never easy,” Kelly said Wednesday. “It can never be done in a fashion that you could say, ‘Hey, it’s always the right way to do it.’ …

“We did our best. I wanted to get in front of them. I was fortunate that I had that opportunity to get in front of them and tell them I was coming to LSU, face-to-face.”

Of course, there was one way that leaving would have been easier, and it was a way Kelly said he very much expected was available to him. The last question of his introductory press conference at a new job asked Kelly if he thought he could have retired at Notre Dame.

“I don’t think there would have been any hindrances there.”