This the fifth time in his coaching career where LSU football coach Brian Kelly has started from scratch.
From the time he embarked on a 34-year coaching career at Grand Valley State, to Central Michigan, to Cincinnati and Notre Dame, to his most current stop at LSU, Kelly’s never had a first year quite like 2022. The Tigers (8-2, 6-1 in SEC) are ranked No. 6 in both The Associated Press rankings and College Football Playoff rankings and locked up the SEC’s West Division with a spot in the Dec. 3 SEC Championship Game.
Kelly and his coaching staff took advantage of the one-time NCAA transfer portal to sign 17 players that were immediately eligible such as quarterback Jayden Daniels to cornerback Jarrick Bernard-Converse and added 15 signees from high school seniors led by offensive tackles Will Campbell and Emery Jones Jr., linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. and tight end Mason Taylor.
The result has been beyond what most observers predicted for LSU. The Tigers were selected to finish fifth in the SEC West at the conference’s media days and began the season well outside the Top 25 rankings and College Football Playoff rankings.
Kelly went 8-2 and tied for second in conference play in his first season at Grand Valley State. He was 4-7 and 3-5 in conference play in his first season at Central Michigan, 10-3 overall and 4-3 at the University of Cincinnati before going 8-5 in his first season at Notre Dame.
“I came here with my eyes wide open,” Kelly said Wednesday during the SEC Coaches’ Teleconference. “I knew that the roster had some talented players. Certainly, there was going to be incredible support from the top all the way down. From our president (William Tate) to our athletic director (Scott Woodward), we were going to have the resources necessary.
“The resources here were better than anywhere I’ve been in my career,” Kelly added. “Those resources go to work right away and help lead your football program from nutrition to strength and conditioning to just having the support necessary from any manpower standpoint, all of those things coming together, allow you to have this opportunity to develop your football team right away.”
Here’s what else Kelly had to say:
“Excited about the opportunity to be back out and this is our last home game. We have 17 seniors that we’re honoring, 13 graduates. Last home game, recognizing our seniors, playing a really good UAB team (with) one of the top rushers in the country (DeWayne McBride) with over 1,400 yards. A team that could easily be a nine-win team. They’ve got our attention. We’re excited about sending our seniors off with a victory and really that’s been our focus this entire week. Playing to our standard. It’s been a great year, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
On outside expectations being an SEC West title when you took the job last December?
“You have to look at the circumstances when you come into any business or organization. What’s the organizational health? The organizational health (at LSU) was such that it needed to be rebooted. That started with new coaches, new support staff. We had 39 scholarship players that were available for the (Texas) bowl game, it would not have been a realistic expectation. There are some circumstances where there is a transition where those circumstances (SEC West title) could be realistic. In this situation that would not have been a realistic expectation.”
On thoughts of already having SEC West, berth to SEC title game wrapped up?
“Any time you can over-deliver, given the circumstances, says a lot about the young men and how well they have really bought into a change in the standards and played exceedingly well. We’ve gotten contributions from kids that weren’t on this campus. We’re playing a number of freshmen and transfer students that we brought in. That’s difficult. We didn’t have any indication how that would all come together, but the kind of kids they are, the kind of production they’ve given us, has really allowed us to meet and exceed expectations.”
On long-range philosophy of transfer portal?
“You can top the tank off but most of the tank has to be through player development, development through freshmen. Developing your program, getting them right through the standards set, the culture of your program. Then you can bring in guys (from transfer portal) because they are going to assimilate to the culture that’s been built. You don’t want the transfer portal and a number of those guys to set the culture because they don’t know what it is. That’s where the transfer portal is great, but I think it’s great if you top the tank off with it and fill in some needed positions. But have the base of your program built through freshman recruiting.”