June 28, 2009

How long will Brian Kelly last at Cincinnati?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Cincinnati rewarded coach Brian Kelly for the team's Big East title last season by giving him a one-year contract extension, through the 2013 season, last week. Will he be at Cincinnati in 2013?

Frankly, I'm surprised Kelly is there now. I thought after last season's 11-win finish Kelly would be a hot commodity and a higher-profile program would have lured him away. Maybe he just likes living in Cincinnati and is content. If that's the case, I applaud him for that. But it's also possible it just wasn't the right time or the opportunities weren't quite right. Cincinnati only returns one defensive starter from last season's team, so if the Bearcats have another strong season that will really show something. And those higher-profile teams will surely take note. I'll put it this way: If Cincinnati has a good season in '09 and Kelly still returns in 2010, then I think he will be at Cincinnati in '13.


I think there are two chances of that happening: 1. Slim. 2. None. Kelly is one of the hottest coaching commodities in the nation and is destined for an elite program. Kelly probably already has maxed out the potential of the Bearcats' program after taking the school to a Big East crown and Orange Bowl berth last season. Can things really ever get much better? You know the answer to that. Knowing what Kelly has done at Cincinnati, Central Michigan and Division II Grand Valley State (Mich.), you wonder what he could do as the head coach at a place like, say, Notre Dame.


This is contract extension as a recruiting tool: "See, Brian Kelly's not leaving. He has a contract until 2013." I'd like to see any good coach stay at a non-traditional power, but I don't think this will be the one. A "major" program will offer him a job soon. He built Central Michigan into a MAC champion while discovering Dan LeFevour and first-round draft pick Joe Staley. At Cincinnati, he won the Big East despite his offense being held back by seemingly endless injuries to his quarterbacks. He also helped turn tight end Connor Barwin into a second-round NFL draft pick at defensive end. Besides, Cincinnati is a basketball school with limited ability to match facilities with other perennial football powers in the Big East or otherwise. Cincinnati fans shouldn't be too surprised if Kelly follows his predecessor Mark Dantonio and leaves for a more established program.


I don't think so. I think he will leave in the next year or two for a "better" program. Kelly led Cincinnati to the Big East title and a BCS bid last season, but you cannot win a national title at the school. I think Kelly, like most every coach, wants to be at a school that can legitimately contend for a national title. Cincinnati forever will be in Ohio State's shadow in that state, and I don't think Kelly is content to play second fiddle the rest of his career.


I'd give it about a 20 percent chance of happening. It's tempting to say there's no chance of him sticking around that long. Cincinnati doesn't have much of a tradition, and as long as he keeps winning, nearby Big Ten programs are sure to take notice and see if he's interested in heading elsewhere. But other Big East coaches have proved me wrong before. Sure, Rich Rodriguez left his alma mater behind when Michigan lured him away from West Virginia, but USF's Jim Leavitt, Rutgers' Greg Schiano and Connecticut's Randy Edsall have stayed at their current positions even after bigger-name programs came calling. They know that they can reach a BCS bowl out of the Big East just as easily as they can get there with an SEC or a Big Ten program. In fact, it might even be easier since the Big East has fewer teams and less competition. Kelly already led Cincinnati to an Orange Bowl bid and might want to establish roots here, just as Leavitt has done at USF and Schiano has done at Rutgers. The prospect doesn't seem likely to me, but I at least have to acknowledge it's conceivable.


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