It is truly the start of the college football season when conference media days occur, especially for SEC Media Days. It is a chance for all the SEC head coaches to talk about the upcoming season and to talk to the media about the progress of their perspective teams. One of the biggest headliners at the annual media event is new LSU head football coach Brian Kelly. Despite all of his success and the number of years in the coaching profession, it has been a while since Coach Kelly has participated in any conference media days considering he was the head coach at Notre Dame for the past 12 years. In fact, the last time, Kelly has participated in any conference media days was when he was the head coach at Cincinnati back in 2009. It was new territory for Coach Kelly going through conference media days last week and doing so as a first year SEC head football coach so there were plenty of eyes and ears focusing on the new headman in Baton Rouge.
In regards to the topics being discussed with Coach Kelly, there was certainly a lot to talk about. It is hard to go through every one of them, but here are of my ten biggest takeaways from listening to Coach Kelly.
1. Brian Kelly came to LSU for the challenge.
Quote: “So for me, it was then taking on that great opportunity in front of me to be part of restoring championship-quality football to LSU. Also the chance to be part of this incredible conference, the SEC. The challenges that come with that, playing the great schools. I’ve never been in many of the venues. I’ll get an opportunity to play at Auburn this year. I’ll get a chance to play at Kyle Field, in the Swamp. Those will be exciting opportunities, something that I’ve never experienced in my career of 32 years.”
Breakdown: Brian Kelly had some great teams at Notre Dame with even a couple of those teams competing for national championships. However, Kelly knows that an opportunity to win a national championship is even greater at LSU considering the talent and the resources that the program has. It also gives Kelly an opportunity to compete year in and year out with the best programs in all of college football, which so happens to be the majority of the teams within his own division. Brian Kelly wants the opportunity to prove that he is indeed one of the best head coaches in all of college football, and what better way to do that than go head to head with coaches like Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, and Kirby Smart every year.
2. Brian Kelly is embracing the Louisiana culture.
Quote: “I don’t think that needs to be geographical in a sense. I’ve gotten to love where I’m at in Baton Rouge. I love the people. They love football. They love family. They love food. That fits me really well. I guess I should have been in the South all along.”
Breakdown: Coming from Massachusetts, Brian Kelly has spent most of his life in the midwestern portion of the United States so one of the many questions when Kelly first took the LSU job was how he would fit in South Louisiana. Ever since taking the head coaching job, he has shown an interest in getting to know the Louisiana culture. He has even enjoyed some of Louisiana’s finest dishes including chargrilled oysters and crawfish etouffee. Although accepting the southern culture and its cuisine is nice, LSU fans do not care where the coach is from, but do in fact care about how many championships he can bring to Baton Rouge.
3. Brian Kelly is continuing to learn how to recruit the entire state of Louisiana.
Quote: “Yeah, I mean, I think first and foremost, making sure that you evaluate the entire state of Louisiana. I think that means make sure you extend yourself. It’s not just New Orleans and the greater Baton Rouge area. You have to get up north, all the way up through Shreveport, up to Monroe, all into the state of Louisiana. Now, that doesn’t mean you just take a kid from Louisiana because he’s from Louisiana. If he’s not rated as high, can you go out of state? Sure. But you better know the players in the state of Louisiana. That means the entire state.”
Breakdown: Per capita, there may not be a better football breeding ground than the state of Louisiana as the Pelican state has more players in the NFL than any other state in the country so it is very imperative to win the state in recruiting. However, Kelly has learned quickly that it is not just in certain areas of the state that has all the talent, but there are indeed a lot of hidden gems all across the state of Louisiana. In order to lockdown the state, the coaching staff must be thorough in evaluating talent around every square inch of Louisiana, and that is exactly what the coaching staff is learning to do now.
4. Trust is being earned within the program already heading into the fall.
Quote: “I think in all three of those cases, we’re building trust. As you know, Kayshon was just awarded No. 7 which we consider a program number that highlights the very best player, in particular from the state of Louisiana. That has to happen when trust has been formed. Myles has been one of our best leaders in our program. John Emery has done an incredible job of bringing himself back into our program. I think you brought up three guys that have earned a lot of trust and we’re trusting them.”
Breakdown: Just to show how much trust is within the program, three key players have already shown major strides in trusting the process of what Kelly is trying to build in year one. Kelly and star wide receiver Kayshon Boutte have come a long way in their relationship. So much so, Boutte has been awarded the coveted number seven jersey. After going through many ups and downs in his career, quarterback Myles Brennan decided to come back to LSU knowing he could have gone somewhere else and become a starting quarterback immediately. Now, he is trusting the process while being involved in a deep quarterback competition. Finally, running back John Emery Jr. has stepped up as a leader with his actions taking care of his business not only on the field as a leader, but in the classroom too. Those are three key players that need to show their trust in the process and they have shown that by their commitment and their actions.
5. The LSU coaching staff has addressed the transfer portal masterfully.
Quote: “They have been outstanding additions to our program. I know many don’t like to see that happen within the league. I’m not crazy about it either. But these are two Louisiana kids that wanted to play at LSU, and they have been great additions. Character. I would say that when we were looking into the transfer portal, we wanted young men that had SEC experience and had ties to the state of Louisiana. Brooks and Foucha fit that to the T.”
Breakdown: The additions of Louisiana guys like former Arkansas defensive backs Gregory Brooks and Joe Foucha through the transfer portal is a perfect example of the outstanding job this coaching staff has done in getting guys that have a love for LSU while also filling in some much needed holes. Foucha and Brooks are examples because both played high school football in Louisiana and signed elsewhere. Now, those players get the opportunity to play for their home state and for LSU, it also solidified their needs in the secondary. There were a lot of win-wins for both the program and the players. Because of that, it has allowed the Tigers the opportunity to compete in the always tough SEC West.
6. Running a successful program is more than just the X’s and the O’s.
Quote: “Well, I think fit is about the ability to run a program at the highest level. I’ve done it for 32 years. I’ve had success at Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Central Michigan, wherever I’ve been. So running a program and then player development, I think those are the most important things.”
Breakdown: No matter how good of a coach someone is, the games ultimately come down to the players on the field. Sometimes, the best coaches are the ones that run programs like businesses. Kelly is a business oriented head coach that puts his focus on the entire program and running that program as smoothly as possible. Putting focus on bettering the program every day as well as developing the players on the roster ultimately gives these type of programs the best chance to win consistently.
7. Brian Kelly’s familiarity with Florida State puts him in a comfortable position getting ready for the season opener.
Quote: “I think probably more than anything else, the fight in that team. I thought they fought for four quarters against Notre Dame last year. That was a team that obviously played to overtime. They were down late, came back. That has a lot to do with buy-in. You could see them playing harder and harder. Maybe that wasn’t as visible earlier on. This is a team now that has Mike’s stamp on it. It’s going to play hard for four quarters. You can see the development of younger players coming along, special on the offensive line. Defensively there’s a structure there that is sound and fundamental.”
Breakdown: Brian Kelly makes his debut as LSU’s head football coach on Sunday, September 4th. Although this will be new territory leading a different team, he will, however, be in a familiar position playing against Florida State as he has faced the Seminoles three of the last four seasons including Notre Dame’s season opening win last year against Mike Norvell’s squad. Despite being in a new setting, this will be a familiar opponent, which will help Kelly settle into his new role even quicker.
8. Having a healthy balance in strength and conditioning is important.
Quote: “We trained outside all summer. We have two more days this week, then we’re off. We finish up our summer program with two more days of training this week, today counting. Yeah, we’re healthy. I think our kids would tell you they feel as good as they’ve ever felt. Our numbers look really good across the board.”
Breakdown: Being conditioned and in shape is important, but also getting the players fresh enough to play is also important. Kelly has stated that the Tigers looked tired in the season opener last year against UCLA and because of that, he and new strength and conditioning coach Jacob Flint have come up with a plan to get the team in shape, but at the same time, give the players enough rest to be healthy and energetic, especially going through a gauntlet of a SEC schedule.
9. The LSU starting quarterback competition will come down to more different factors than in previous quarterback competitions.
Quote: “Certainly we have four quarterbacks. The spring really was for us to lay down our offense. We weren’t really going to gear it towards any particular skill set. I feel much better about the depth in the quarterback situation. Dane was really the only quarterback that had any experience. We’re young and inexperienced at that position. I think the depth at the quarterback position is much different. Jayden and certainly Myles bring us obviously starting experience. Garrett obviously for me is an exciting quarterback. Walker is a true freshman, but there’s great depth there.”
Breakdown: A starting quarterback competition has been a familiar sight in Baton Rouge and Tigers fans have certainly seen a lot of them over the years, but this quarterback competition feels different. For starters, the Tigers currently have four quarterbacks battling for the job and all have different talents. This quarterback battle will come down to not only who is the best quarterback, but who best fits what offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan want to run, who best gets the ball to all of the Tigers’ great playmakers, and what style of quarterback Brian Kelly wants running his offense.
10. Leadership is the number one quality Brian Kelly looks for in his assistant coaches.
Quote: “Brad was the interim head coach. I got a chance to see him in a different capacity, much more of a, I would say, leadership capacity where he got an opportunity to really touch all of the players. I really loved his ability to reach players. I felt like if he could reach all of those players, how well would he do with 15 to 18 players.”
Breakdown: The only assistant coach Brian Kelly retained from the previous coaching staff happened to be LSU’s interim coach in the Texas Bowl last season, which is Brad Davis. Coach Davis has a great reputation as one of the best offensive line coaches in the country and is a Baton Rouge native, but those are not the reasons he kept him on the staff. For Kelly, the deciding factor was how he led the team during a difficult time last season and still was able to reach to the players in a positive way. That is leadership and having those type of qualities can only go a long way. What a lot of successful people say is that they surround themselves with great people. That translates to the football field and if Coach Kelly can surround himself with coaches that possess the leadership qualities that Brad Davis does have, the Tigers could very well be a successful program year in and year out.