Brian Kelly has helped the Notre Dame Fighting Irish become one of the country’s best college football programs again. He has led them to the College Football Playoff multiple times, and, before the CFP era, they even reached the BCS National Championship Game. However, Kelly had already proven his greatness as a head coach prior to taking the job at Notre Dame, and back when he had decided to leave his former team and make the move to South Bend, Kelly actually pissed that team off right before arguably the program’s biggest game in school history. That former team was the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Brian Kelly helped the Cincinnati Bearcats become a powerhouse
Brian Kelly became the head coach for the Cincinnati Bearcats after the Mark Dantonio era. The Bearcats had a good team with Dantonio, but Kelly turned them into a dominant program.
Cincinnati went 10-3 in Kelly’s first season as head coach. They were then even better the next season in 2008, as they went 11-3 and secured a berth into the Orange Bowl.
However, the 2009 Cincinnati team was probably the best team in program history. Kelly helped lead them to a 12-0 regular season record that year behind stellar players like wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, who caught 87 passes for 1,191 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns that season.
The Bearcats also had one of their biggest wins in program history during their final regular-season game that year. They were ranked No. 5 in the AP poll and had a comeback win over No. 14 Pitt, 45-44. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, they were even ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings at the end of 2009 and would have maybe even played in the national championship game had Nebraska beaten Texas earlier in the year.
Cincinnati’s success was certainly exciting for Bearcats fans, but it also helped Brian Kelly get his job at Notre Dame.
He has had success at Notre Dame
The 2010 season was Kelly’s first at Notre Dame, and in just his third season in 2012, UND become one of the country’s best teams. They went 12-0 in the regular season that year and reached the BCS National Championship Game before ultimately losing to Alabama.
Notre Dame has since had other successful seasons with Kelly, but in 2018, they were one of the best teams in the country again. They went 12-0 in the regular season again and made it into the College Football Playoff. The Irish, however, lost to Clemson in a CFP semifinal.
Just two years later in 2020, Kelly, again, helped lead UND back to the CFP. They ultimately went 10-1 in the regular season, and also had a big win over Clemson.
Brian Kelly pissed off his Cincinnati Bearcats team
Before going to Notre Dame, Kelly actually pissed off the players on his Cincinnati team.
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, days after the Bearcats defeated Pitt, and directly after a team banquet, Kelly told his player that he had decided to go to Notre Dame. Those players were not happy, either.
“He went for the money,” Mardy Gilyard said to the Associated Press back then, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I’m fairly disgusted with the situation, that they let it last this long.”
According to NJ.com, the Associated Press reported that Gilyard walked out of the meeting and his teammates followed him. Some had tears in their eyes. This came after Kelly had told them that he was happy being in Cincinnati the week before.
“We already knew what he was going to say. We weren’t giving him a round of applause or anything,” tight end Ben Guidugli said at the time, according to NJ.com. “It’s like somebody turned their back on us. We brought this whole thing this far. We’ve come this far. To have someone walk out now is disappointing.”
UC’s athletic director decided to have offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn run the Bearcats as an interim head coach for the Sugar Bowl. Kelly did not coach the Bearcats in arguably the program’s biggest game in school history. They then lost to Tebow and the Gators 51-24.
He has tried to make amends with the Cincinnati Bearcats
UC ultimately honored the 2009 team during a game in 2019 as they had been inducted into the school’s athletics Hall of Fame. Kelly was there for it to hopefully right his wrongs, too.
“It’s been really special to get an opportunity to come back and to thank them,” Kelly said, according to the Enquirer. “I didn’t get that opportunity. It was taken from me. The circumstances were what they were, but to get this opportunity to come back is another reason why it was important for me to come back and properly thank them for what they did that year.”
Time heals all wounds, and it appears that might have ultimately been the case with the Brian Kelly and the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Stats courtesy of Sports Reference