Commentary

180 days, 180 speeches, one big job

How will Brian Kelly win over football-crazed South Bend? One speech at a time

Updated: August 20, 2010, 2:24 PM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

On Dec. 9, 2009, Jack Swarbrick sat down for a series of meetings with Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly. Over the next 36 hours, Notre Dame's athletic director discovered Kelly had what it took to be successful in South Bend. He liked that Kelly had been a college head coach for 19 years -- winning more games than he lost in 17 of them -- and yet was still only 48 years old. Kelly was a sharp contrast to the man he was hoping to replace. Charlie Weis had shown up five years earlier flashing Super Bowl rings he'd won as an assistant but an empty entry on his resume under "Head Coaching Experience." That deficiency showed as the Irish limped to a 16-21 mark in his final three seasons. Swarbrick also loved the way Kelly ran a program, right down to dictating a body-fat percentage for each position. But there was one particularly thorny issue the AD had to broach before he could be sure he'd found his guy.

"There are a number of things about Notre Dame that aren't going to change," Swarbrick, class of '76, told Kelly. "You're either okay with them or you're not. If you're not, good luck to you; they're not getting altered." The list of immutables included striving to have the best graduation rate among D1 football teams, housing players in on-campus residences for most of their career, academic-support services run independently of the athletic department and random drug testing, also independently administered. "It's what we do, and you have to be okay with it," Swarbrick said.

"I know," Kelly replied. "It's part of why I want the job."