Kelly wants Cincinnati football on city, nation map
CINCINNATI -- Brian Kelly's new boss expects him to turn Cincinnati's ignored football program into a Top 25 mainstay, win a Big East title right away and make sure his players graduate.
Before the Bearcats' new coach gets started on that daunting to-do list, he's got to figure out what to do about their bowl.
Kelly arrived on campus and met with players on Monday, a few hours after he accepted the job of replacing Mark Dantonio. Then, he was introduced at a news conference that felt more like a pep rally -- cheerleaders and the band were on hand, with the public invited to attend and ask questions.
Kelly, who rebuilt Central Michigan into the Mid-American Conference champion in only three years, promised similar results at another school not known for football.
"We're going to win a championship here right away," he said later, in an interview. "We're on a 5-minute plan here. We have to win right away."
First, he has to decide how to get the Bearcats through the end of their season.
Cincinnati went 7-5 under Dantonio, who took the job at Michigan State. The Bearcats accepted a berth in the inaugural International Bowl on Jan. 6 in Toronto. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who interviewed for the job, has been running the team during the interim.
The Bearcats play Western Michigan in the International Bowl.
Kelly will leave Central Michigan before its game against Middle Tennessee State in the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 26. He's not sure how big of a role he'll play in preparing his new team for its game.
"It's a very fluid situation now," he said. "I'm going to be here at Cincinnati. In terms of whether I'll be coaching on the field, that has to be determined."
Kelly has a five-year contract with the school that includes a $100,000 signing bonus and a base salary of $250,000 but will earn him over $800,000 per year. The other income is from other bonuses, including radio and television appearances.
School president Nancy Zimpher, who forced basketball coach Bob Huggins out of his job more than a year ago because of the program's image, said she expects a perennial Top 25 team. "My job, Brian," she said, "is to raise expectations."
Dantonio coordinated Ohio State's national championship defense before he arrived on campus and started rebuilding a program that moved into the Big East for the last two seasons. Even though the Bearcats were starting to win, they couldn't draw many fans, which was a factor in Dantonio leaving.
Cincinnati hasn't come close to filling its 35,000-seat stadium since it moved to the Big East. There were 7,000 empty seats for an upset of then-undefeated Rutgers this season despite major ticket discounts and fan promotions, another indication that college football is low on the community's priority list.
Kelly pointed out that Central Michigan had the second-lowest attendance in the MAC before he took over, and is near the top as he leaves.
"There's a niche out there," he said. "High school football has its niche. The NFL and major league baseball in the Cincinnati area have their niche, and college football does. We've got to find our niche and develop that."
He'll change one thing: Cincinnati's reliance on defense.
For the last 13 years, the Bearcats' coaches have been former defensive coordinators. Most of their success this season was based upon a stingy defense that kept games close.
At Central Michigan, Kelly opened up the offense and made the Chippewas one of the nation's top passing teams. He plans to do the same thing in Cincinnati.
"It's all part of it," he said. "We have a unique opportunity here. It hasn't been an offense that people would necessarily want to change their schedule for. You'll change your schedule to see this offense. People will come to the stadium when you win."
Kelly, who also coached Grand Valley State to Division II national championships in 2002-03, understands that there's a lot of skepticism about whether he can turn Cincinnati into a prominent football school.
"At the end, we'll erase a lot of that skepticism," he said. "But that's natural, and it should be natural. I'm going to come in here and be perceived as very confident, maybe a bit cocky, if you will. But it's confidence, it's not cockiness. I've done it before, and we're going to do it again."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press