FORT WAYNE — Brian Kelly understands it will not be easy to repeat the success he had at Notre Dame this season or return a national championship to the Irish for the first time in a quarter of a century.
But he is ready to tackle that challenge going forward.
Notre Dame announced Saturday that Kelly will remain the team’s coach after he flirted with the idea of leaving for the NFL in the week after the Irish lost to Alabama 42-14 in the BCS championship game Monday.
“This decision was motivated purely by my love for Notre Dame and the entire Fighting Irish community, the young men I have the great fortune to coach, and my desire to continue to build the best football program in the country,” Kelly said in a statement Saturday. “We still have a lot of work to do and my staff and I are excited about the challenges ahead.”
Saturday’s announcement ended speculation about Kelly’s future with the Irish that were kicked off by the reports that he met with the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday and had planned to meet with the team again when he returned from a vacation.
“This week, I had an incredible opportunity to speak with one of the premier organizations in sports about becoming their head coach,” Kelly said. “Like every kid who has ever put on a pair of football cleats, I have had thoughts about being a part of the NFL. However, after much reflection and conversation with those closest to me, I have decided to remain at Notre Dame.”
Kelly was in line to receive a raise and extension before his meeting with the Eagles, and that process will likely continue going forward.
“I was always confident that Brian would continue to lead our football program, I am very happy to have that confirmed and share Brian’s excitement about what lies ahead for our program,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. “I appreciate the Eagles reaching out to request permission to speak with Brian, and I also appreciate Brian keeping me fully informed throughout this process.”
Kelly’s decision was good news for Bishop Luers linebacker and 2012 Mr. Football Jaylon Smith, who is one of 22 members of the Irish’s 2013 recruiting class.
“I’m just happy to have the opportunity to play under him,” Smith said. “Seeing my brother (Rod Smith, a running back at Ohio State) go through that whole coaching change, I’m glad that I will at least get multiple years with Coach K.
“Like (Kelly) once said before, there is no better place than Notre Dame. Like he said, he believes it is the best coaching job. I’m sure he wouldn’t go against his word then he would be lying.”
Kelly led Notre Dame to a 12-1 record this season and its highest rankings in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll (No. 4) and USA Today coaches poll (No. 3) since 1993 when the Irish finished No. 2 in those end-of-season polls.
Kelly is 28-11 in his first three seasons at Notre Dame, and the program is poised to bring in the nation’s second-best recruiting class, according to Rivals.com.
National signing day is Feb. 6.
“We all look forward to what’s ahead for Notre Dame football,” Swarbrick said.