BATON ROUGE, La. — There’s a black Model X Tesla with falcon doors parked in the head coach’s spot outside the LSU football facility. Walk into Brian Kelly’s new office and there’s an electric purple carpet that assaults the senses. Throw Kelly’s name into a search engine and the critiques of his dance moves dominate the chatter.
There’s plenty to distract from the core of the most fascinating college football transaction this offseason. Cut through the eye-popping visuals of Brian Kelly’s transition from Notre Dame‘s navy and gold to LSU’s purple and gold, and the obvious blueprint for Kelly’s success in Baton Rouge remains.
Kelly left Notre Dame for LSU because the latter has better geographic access to talent and an improved chance to win a national championship.
How can that happen? Distilling LSU athletic director Scott Woodward’s splashy $95-million experiment to a single statistic is easy. Notre Dame won 94.2% of the time as a favorite over the past five years, according to ESPN Stats & Information — better than any power conference team. That includes Kelly winning his final 40 games as a favorite at Notre Dame.
While Kelly enters LSU in a moment when the roster lags behind the talent of SEC West rivals like Alabama and Texas A&M, the program remains ideally situated to soon become the betting favorite in nearly every game. And that’s the edge Woodward sought to capitalize on with his axis-shifting hire.
Kelly now coaches in a state where talent is as prevalent as Abita in the French Quarter. Louisiana has more NFL players (68) per capita than any other state, good for one out every 68,498 people in the state. There’s no close second, as Georgia (124) has one every 86,368 residents.
Most important, LSU has no Power 5 school within state lines to compete with for those players. In the past decade, Louisiana has the fifth most ESPN 300 recruits (137) and fifth most top-50 recruits (29). But unlike other hotbeds like California, Texas and Florida, there are no in-state schools to fight off.
“If we have players that are equal to or better, we’re gonna win at a very, very high, high percentage,” Kelly told ESPN in his office recently. “And I think that goes into the preparation that I’ve had as a head coach and preparing football teams. So that experience, the years, three decades-plus, is certainly an advantage in preparing when you have the horses.”
While Kelly may be a Massachusetts Yankee waking up in Mike the Tiger’s court, he’s certainly not a rube. Kelly, 60, won 284 football games prior to his arrival at LSU during stops at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. His hiring on the Bayou is an obvious collision of seasoned coach and a spiraling program, as LSU fired Ed Orgeron after failing to finish with a winning record in the two seasons after the star-kissed 2019 national title.
“I’m here to win a national championship,” Kelly said. “I came down here explicitly for that purpose.”