Kelly vs Napier: Round One goes to the LSU coach

The first round goes to Brian Kelly.

The first meeting between the man who was actually hired to coach the LSU football team, and the man (Billy Napier) some felt should have been hired to coach the Tigers, ended with a dose of fourth-quarter drama — sadly without a player literally throwing a game away by throwing a shoe.

The S-E-C — where meltdowns just mean more.

With a pair of late touchdown drives, the Gators made things interesting but, like many of the most recent matchups between LSU and Florida, it ended with another win for the team that dons the purple and gold.

The Tigers have now won eight of the last 10, including four straight. The last time that occurred was when Jimmy Carter was in The White House — so it’s been a little while.

LSU taking down Florida 45-35 in “The Swamp” was important for a multitude of reasons.

It proved that the Tigers could bounce back after an embarrassing defeat to Tennessee, that quarterback Jayden Daniels may be good enough to lead this team to more than seven wins, and that the special teams are an absolute mind-numbing disaster.

But let’s just focus on why the game was positive.

The other big reason is that it will quiet — only temporarily — the LSU supporters who believed that Kelly was the wrong hire for the Tigers.

The criticisms were loud from the very first days that rumors began circulating about LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward luring away the winningest coach in Notre Dame history.

The naysayers said “he was too old” to rebuild LSU into a powerhouse, because apparently being 60 years old means you are, in fact, washed up. That is bad news then for 70-year-olds Nick Saban and Bill Belichick.

The naysayers also said he couldn’t recruit in the deep south. This ignores the fact that Kelly was able to recruit great players to a place that has academic restrictions akin to Yale, Harvard and Stanford.

I am supposed to be convinced that Kelly won’t be able to recruit when he is at a school, and conference, with some of the most relaxed academic requirements in the country? By the way, academic standards do not mean more in the SEC.

For the majority of his career, Kelly has done one thing — win football games.

He won a pair of national championships at Division III Grand Valley State, led Central Michigan to nine wins in his third year, guided Cincinnati to double-digit wins three times and trips to the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowls.

Kelly then led Notre Dame to six 10-win or more seasons and had the Fighting Irish in the mix for major bowls or the playoffs numerous times.

Yes, it is fair to point out that the Fighting Irish would routinely get trucked by SEC or Big 10 teams in BCS Bowls, BCS National Championships and the College Football Playoff.

Kelly, despite his cringeworthy dancing and attempts at a southern accent, is actually a good coach with a proven track record and one that has already brought stability to a program that was in desperate need of a steady hand.

The same can be said about Napier — the former UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns coach and current Florida Gators head coach. Napier, who was a candidate at both Auburn and South Carolina along with Florida, was linked to the LSU job in media speculation.

Did LSU ever really consider the coach who was winning 10-plus games an hour west on I-10 as a legitimate candidate for the Tigers vacancy? Probably not, but that didn’t stop many fans from throwing a fit about it, many of them just waiting to see Napier take down Kelly.

That didn’t happen on Saturday night.

For the Kelly supporters, it was a statement game and proof that Woodward made the right hire — the move to bring LSU back to prominence.

For the Kelly detractors, it was a minor setback and one that will simply delay the Tigers new coach for being exposed as a fraud.

Fan base overreactions — they also mean more in the SEC.

Will Kelly win a national title at LSU? Maybe. Will Napier win a national title at Florida? Maybe. Could both men win titles? Sure. Could both men fail? Yep.

We don’t know that for certain and won’t for years to come. What we do know right now is that Kelly was able to take Round One in this fight against the man he will likely be linked with for the next few seasons. More rounds and more drama to come.

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