Eagles Wake-Up Call: Making Sense Of the Brian Kelly Interest

The Eagles’ coaching search took a sharp left turn Wednesday night when reports surfaced that the team has expressed interest in Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly.

Kelly interviewed with the Birds on Tuesday, one day after the Fighting Irish were blown out by Alabama, 42-14, in the BCS title game.

Of all the candidates who have been linked to the Eagles – and there have now been 11 total – Kelly is perhaps the most surprising name. He said as recently as last week that leaving was “not an option.” But as we know by now, what coaches say and what they do can be two different things.

So the obvious question is this: Is Kelly just leveraging NFL interest into a more favorable deal at Notre Dame? We’ve already seen Bill O’Brien and Chip Kelly interview with NFL teams before going back to their respective college gigs. Is Brian Kelly doing the same thing?

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbick recently talked about what he could do to keep Kelly. From the Chicago Tribune:

“Everything that goes into the program is on the table when we have those discussions,” Swarbrick said, when asked if a raise or extension would be part of his postseason talks with Kelly.

“Every year when we’re done, we talk about what the program needs. It’s been reflected in staff hires and equipment and all kinds of things that you do to make sure the program has the resources it needs to go forward. We go through a laundry list of those.”

So, perhaps that’s all it is. Kelly is playing the game like others before him.

But there’s always the possibility that he’s ready to make the leap. He spent three seasons at Central Michigan (2004-2006) and then made the move to Cincinnati. He spent three seasons there (2007-2009) and then landed the Notre Dame job. He’s spent three seasons in South Bend, and well, you get the picture.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports doesn’t buy the idea that Kelly is just looking to negotiate a better deal at Notre Dame:

The thing is Kelly was already going to get paid. He was already in the perfect position. He restored Notre Dame, bringing joy to one of the wealthiest alumni bases in major college football. He’d earned his raise.

No, the interest in the NFL is real. It’s always been real, the ultimate spot for an upwardly mobile coach.

Wetzel’s argument makes a lot of sense. Kelly just led Notre Dame to the BCS title game. Wasn’t he already operating from a position of strength if all he wants is a better deal from the university?

From the Eagles’ perspective, the interest in Kelly tells us a couple things. Number one, they don’t plan on leaving any stone unturned (this side of Jon Gruden, that is).

And number two, this coaching search is completely wide-open. It appears Jeffrey Lurie had Chip Kelly and O’Brien at the top of his list. After them, the candidates are lumped together. And they come in all different shapes and sizes – from the college ranks (Brian Kelly) to NFL second-chancers (Lovie Smith) to up-and-coming coordinators (Gus Bradley).

The search is going to be exhaustive and thorough. And with the way things are developing, Brian Kelly might not be the last surprise name on the list.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Tim’s got more details on the interest in Kelly.

There were rumors that Jon Gruden was in town yesterday. T-Mac looked into them.

I took a break from the coaching search and offered up three playoff thoughts with an Eagles slant.

Howie Roseman talked to the Eagles’ Web site about the coaching search.

Greg Roman could be drawing some interest, and Mike Pettine is headed to Buffalo.

Tim looks at the philosophical decision between established candidates and unknowns.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com is skeptical of Kelly’s motives:

One longtime general manager says he generally stays away from trying to hire college coaches because you rarely know what they really want — do they want to go to the pros or use the pros to better their situation in college?

The NFL is a huge cash cow and not just for players or coaches but for college coaches looking for a raise. A great college coach leaks word about an NFL interview and boosters show up and ask: How would you like your extra cash? Stock options OK?

From SI.com’s Pete Thamel:

ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen report that the Eagles and Kelly have agreed to revisit talks when he gets back from vacation this weekend.

COMING UP

I have a hunch we’ll come up with something to talk about.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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