BATON ROUGE – If no one else will say it, I will.
When I left the Caesars Superdome on September 4 after watching Florida State’s 24-23 season-opening victory over LSU, I had nary a shred of confidence that new head coach Brian Kelly would produce a 10-win season. From freshmen that looked like they had no business playing in a Power 5 game, to wildly disheveled special teams that were nothing less than downright embarrassing, thoughts of the Tigers beating Alabama and Ole Miss were laughable as I watched Kelly take the podium after his first game.
To his credit, Kelly handled that press conference (which, for what it’s worth in hindsight, would probably be his most uncomfortable media appearance) very well, with an even-keeled attitude and calm reassurance that a coach needs to avert mass panic from a passionate fanbase like LSU.
When it came to Brian Kelly and his prospects at LSU, I was so wonderfully wrong.
Kelly brought his pedigree with him, something that most Tiger football fans aren’t used to seeing. There was that mediocre stop a decade earlier at Ole Miss for Ed Orgeron and an encouraging three-year stint for Les Miles at Oklahoma State before they took the reigns at LSU. Neither of them were legitimate title contenders upon arrival. Both of them won national championships for the Tigers, but neither of them could hold together a dynasty despite coaching one of the game’s premier programs.
Kelly’s off to a much better start to that decade-long dynasty fans are so hungry for.
But what did Brian Kelly do that Orgeron and Miles couldn’t?
I found myself coming back to the same thought over the season as I listened to Kelly talk about his players and coaches: Kelly’s a good football coach, but an even better boss.
He knew his team’s strengths and weaknesses. He wasn’t going to force someone into failure, and he wasn’t married to any concept or notion of what his offensive scheme should look like, instead tailoring the offense to his personnel.
Take Harold Perkins, for example — an uber-talented, elite athlete who was 18 years old and living on his own for the first time in his life. While Perkins was a menace to opposing quarterbacks and a TV darling because of it, Kelly drove one point home in his press conferences: Perkins was still a work in progress.
“He came in as an inside linebacker, and I think we identified early on that that was going to take longer for us to get him into the rotation on the field,” Kelly said earlier in the season. “We moved him to an outside linebacker position, which we felt like was an easier fit for him to pick up what we wanted because we could put him into different packages.”
Maybe it’s the way Kelly conveys his thinking, something that neither Orgeron nor Miles were particularly good at doing. Maybe he’s embraced the ever-changing landscape, one where athletes have more control over their own destiny than ever before. Maybe he’s just full of common sense, something that the world seems to be severely lacking.
Or, maybe he’s just a good boss.
Contact Ryne at firstname.lastname@example.org