SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III capture the emotion of just about everyone who follows the Fighting Irish with a simple tweet: “Didnt see that coming!”
News that coach Brian Kelly had interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles one day after the Irish were thoroughly beaten 42-14 by Alabama in the BCS title game caught just about everyone by surprise.
The job, after all, has not traditionally been a springboard to the NFL and is viewed by many – at least by Notre Dame fans – as a destination job at a deep-pocketed program with one of the most storied histories in college football. And why would anyone leave after coming so close to the national championship?
Nix, who already announced he was skipping the NFL draft and returning to Notre Dame next season, told his followers he wasn’t concerned about Kelly’s interview.
“Im not worried and you shouldnt be either,” he tweeted.
The early reaction from Notre Dame recruits indicated they are still committed to the Irish.
“If Kelly leaves!!!!!,,,,, I’m still a domer S/O to my ND fans,” linebacker Jaylon Smith tweeted.
Cornerback Devin Butler expressed similar feelings, tweeting: “I committed to a program and school.. Not a coach.” He then added: “But I doubt he leaves.”
Still, the interview alone could prove costly. Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports says Notre Dame was on track to possibly have the top recruiting class this year, but said some recruits will get antsy if Kelly doesn’t announce his intention soon. He said other schools probably started calling recruits shortly after the news broke.
“There will be kids looking at other schools now. I don’t see that happening unless Kelly’s telling them he’s not leaving,” Lemming said.
Kelly, who was believed to be out of the country, originally signed a five-year contract three years ago at a reported $2.5 million a year and was given a two-year extension a year ago. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick told reporters Sunday he had planned to talk with Kelly about extending his contract. Swarbrick did not respond to messages left by the Associated Press at his office or on his cell phone seeking comment. Neither did Kelly’s agent, Trace Armstrong.
Kelly told reporters in Florida before the game that Notre Dame was his dream job, but said while he was coaching at Cincinnati he was focused on that. He then added: “I think that’s the same thing with the NFL.”
“I think from my perspective I’ve got the best job in the country, NFL, college, high school, whatever. I just look at the place that I’m at and thankful for the opportunity that I have,” he said.
The question is, will he have another opportunity? He is the first Notre Dame coach in recent memory to interview for another job. Former Irish coach Charlie Weis was given a 10-year contract when there were reports the New York Giants might be interested in talking to him.
Former Big Eight commissioner Chuck Neinas, who has spent years helping coaches and administrators find jobs and recently spent about 10 months as the Big 12 interim commissioner, said it’s hard to tell what might motivate a coach to interview for a job.
“Some people might be using this as a stepping stone, others to get their name out, that they’re movable,” he said. “But I think most people that interview are interested in the position.”
Kelly could be trying to get something more than a better contract for himself, including more money for his assistants, and he has indicated he would like a massive scoreboard that can show video replays and synthetic turf at Note Dame Stadium.
Neinas said he doesn’t think most coaches have hidden interests. He said his advice is to interview only if you want the job.
“I tell them, `If you’re not interested, don’t interview,”’ he said.
But sports agent Darren Heitner says Kelly owed it to himself to at least talk with the Eagles.
“Even if he had no intention of actually accepting that job, it is the most beautiful bargaining chip he has in his possession. Even if the entire time he intended to stay, why not entertain the offer and perhaps get some more money into his pocket?” he said.