As head football coach at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly was always in a national media spotlight.
But during his 12 seasons with the Fighting Irish, he never got to participate in a conference media day, not since he was head coach at Cincinnati well over a decade ago. The Irish have steadfastly maintained their independence.
That fact, coupled with the opportunity to compete in the country’s premiere football league, helped bring Kelly to Atlanta and the podium at the Southeastern Conference Media Days. LSU’s new coach acknowledged the allure of the SEC, the opportunity to coach a program at a university that is fully committed to providing resources to compete for national titles, and crawfish etouffee as reasons he is now favoring purple and gold ties.
Kelly clearly relished speaking to a media horde blended between national outlets and SEC local papers and broadcasters. He was the first in a parade of SEC head coaches who will command the attention of the media through the end of Thursday.
While he expressed his newfound passion for etouffee and chargrilled oysters, Kelly spent most of his 25 minutes on the podium fielding the typical array of topical issues along with a few specific queries about the LSU team, and a healthy share related to his time at Notre Dame and his view of the Irish from the outside.
The overwhelming topics for Kelly and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey were conference realignment and the Name, Image and Likeness issue.
Kelly kicked back at the notion that NIL resources among boosters at Texas, Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia gave those programs big recruiting advantages over LSU.
“I don’t think we’re being outbid by anybody,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the place of NIL anyway. So if we were being outbid, then we’re going to be outbid if we have $50 million in our collective.”
Sankey said he and other SEC leaders have had bi-partisan discussions with congressional leaders, hoping for federal laws to refine the NIL landscape. If that’s impossible, Sankey said the SEC would look to the state legislatures in its footprint hoping uniform laws could be enacted to manage NIL.
Kelly said he didn’t sense any urgency at Notre Dame to jump into a conference affiliation, but mused about the challenges he and his team will face this fall in the SEC.
“We’ll go play at Auburn, at Florida Field, at Kyle Field, some of the most storied venues in college football, and that’s a new experience for me, after 32 seasons as a head coach. That’s exciting for me and for our team,” he said.
In his annual address to the media, Sankey said the SEC was in no hurry to expand beyond 16 teams, but hardly closed the door on speculation that ACC programs like Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia might be indicating interest.
“There’s no sense of urgency, no sense of panic,” said Sankey, who declared the SEC was a “super conference” and said the SEC’s pending additions of Texas and Oklahoma “trumped” the Big Ten adding USC and UCLA. “We’re not just shooting for a number of affiliations that make us better. Could they be out there? I would never say they’re not. I would never say that we will. We’re going to be evaluating the landscape.”
Kelly’s LSU debut comes Sept. 4 in the Superdome against Florida State, a program he faced three times in the last four years at Notre Dame, escaping with an overtime win last season.