CINCINNATI - Notre Dame has settled on Brian Kelly as the man who can restore its faded glory, just as he turned Cincinnati into a national title contender.
Just 10 days after Charlie Weis was fired, it's up to Kelly to revive the fortunes of a team that just completed the worst decade of football in the history of the storied program with a 70-52 record and three losing seasons.
Kelly got a five-year deal from Notre Dame and will be introduced as its football coach this afternoon in South Bend, Ind. He declined to comment in Cincinnati, where he informed his players of the move after their football banquet last night. He won't coach them in the Sugar Bowl.
"I am very pleased that a thorough and extensive search has led us to a new head coach in Brian Kelly, who I am confident will help us accomplish our goal of competing for national championships," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement.
The news didn't play well with Kelly's current team. Bearcats players were led into a meeting room, where Kelly told them he was leaving and thanked them for making his opportunity possible. One minute into the meeting, the door opened and receiver Mardy Gilyard walked out angry and alone, save for his MVP trophy.
"He went for the money," Gilyard told the Associated Press. "I'm fairly disgusted with the situation, that they let it last this long."
Players weren't told of Kelly's decision until the banquet ended, nearly three hours after the news first broke. A few blinked back tears.
"We already knew what he was going to say. We weren't giving him a round of applause or anything," tight end Ben Guidugli said. "It's like somebody turned their back on us. We brought this whole thing this far. We've come this far. To have someone walk out now is disappointing."
Offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn will coach the No. 4 Bearcats in their first Sugar Bowl game against Florida. Quinn has been one of Kelly's assistants for 22 years, moving with him from Grand Valley State to Central Michigan and Cincinnati.
The 47-year-old Kelly was 34-6 in three seasons at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to back-to-back Big East titles and two straight Bowl Championship Series berths. The Bearcats set a school record last season for victories with an 11-3 record, then topped that with a 12-0 mark this season.
Kelly signed a five-year contract with Cincinnati, worth $6.3 million, in December 2007. Last June, he got a one-year extension worth nearly $1.5 million.
Notre Dame has been searching for a coach for about a week and a half since firing Weis, who failed to lift the Irish out of mediocrity, much like his two predecessors.
Turning around the program won't be easy. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and his favorite receiver, Golden Tate, said Monday they will bypass their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft.
Cincinnati players had assumed from Kelly's statements to the team last week that he was staying.