Brian Kelly becoming the next head coach of LSU was the most unexpected turn of events in recent college football history. As we all know by now, Kelly suddenly left Notre Dame to sign a contract worth nearly $100 million to replace Ed Orgeron and then fumbled the exit process with the Fighting Irish players. Kelly then showed up to his first Tigers press conference with a newfound Southern twang and went viral for a TikTok with a recruit that ended up signing with Alabama.
It's a wild situation for all sorts of reasons, but the craziest part of all might've been that Kelly left Notre Dame before the final College Football Playoff rankings were announced. The Fighting Irish were on the outside looking in at the time of Kelly's departure but it was before the conference championship games were played, too.
In an alternate timeline where Michigan dropped the Big Ten Championship against Iowa or the committee was simply feeling generous, Notre Dame would've ended up in the CFP... without its head coach. A wild reality that never came to be, but one that was on everybody's mind in the six days between Kelly's departure and the final CFP rankings release.
Sports Illustrated penned a big feature on Kelly's early days at LSU that dropped today, and in it Kelly defended his decision to take off before he knew if Notre Dame's season was over:
“Everybody is like, ‘How can you leave your team?!’ LSU controlled the timeline,” he says. “It wasn’t the Brian Kelly timeline. The Brian Kelly timeline would have been, ‘Hey, can you wait for me? Hold the job open? Because I’d like to hang around Notre Dame until we know what’s going on [with the rankings].’’’
Hey, man. Do what you gotta do. Especially when a new employer is dangling a $95 million bag in front of your face. But it is not exactly a great defense against those who agree with Brady Quinn and think Kelly couldn't resist a big payday. Notre Dame fans are still bitter. Will still be bitter.
That was always going to be the case if Kelly left on his own. Big schools with lengthy histories fancy themselves the decision-makers rather than being subject to the decision-making of others. But Kelly gave the appearance that he didn't care if Notre Dame did manage to make it back to the CFP. And they will never forget that.