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Thread: Kelly has placed Cincinnati on national football map

      
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    Default Kelly has placed Cincinnati on national football map

    Kelly has placed Cincinnati on national football map
    By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY


    When Brian Kelly, right, landed in Cincinnati in 2006, the school had one season with at least 10 wins. He did it twice in his first two seasons with the team.

    CINCINNATI With a quick-strike, big-play offense which uses the whole field, Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly learned to be creative at practices given the school has just one football field, Nippert Stadium.

    Only two schools among 120 in major college football don't have a practice field, but Kelly is not complaining. Turning programs, and players, into winners no matter the situation is his specialty. Tonight his No. 9 Bearcats (5-0) take center stage against No. 21 South Florida (5-0) in Tampa, a game that will not only define the Big East, but perhaps the national championship picture as well.

    To contend for the Bowl Championship Series title, the Bearcats need to finish undefeated and convince voters that a Big East team is a worthy contender. "Are there things stacked against? Sure," Kelly says. "But if you win them all, you're going to be in the hunt at the end of the day. It's not like the BCS vs. non-BCS argument."

    It's been a remarkable run for Bearcats, who began the season unranked and are currently at their highest poll position in school history. They are led by a former fifth-string quarterback, a wide receiver who had been kicked off the team, a no-name defense that replaced 10 starters, and a political junkie who became arguably the most coveted coach in the country.

    "He put our program on the map," says Grand Valley State athletics director Tim Selgo of Kelly's 13 seasons with the Lakers which included two consecutive national titles. This weekend, Kelly will be inducted in the Lakers hall of fame. Selgo, who worked at Toledo during the tenures of Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel, always viewed Kelly to be in the same category. "I'd say his star is shining pretty bright right now."

    Kelly took over downtrodden Central Michigan in 2004 and led the Chippewas to a Mid-American Conference title in his third season behind freshman QB Dan LeFevour. At the end of 2006 after Mark Dantonio left Cincinnati for Michigan State, Kelly was hired.

    "We needed someone who could be the face of a program in a city that's really looked at as pro city," says athletics director Mike Thomas. "Someone who could really sell this program."

    His quick-witted, high-energy personality was a perfect fit for the task. "He makes caffeine nervous," says Thomas. "And he can sell ice to the Eskimos," adds quarterbacks coach Greg Forest.

    Fittingly, his no-huddle, spread offense operates at a similar pace. The No. 3-ranked scoring offense is averaging 42 points per game with the average scoring drive taking 2:25. He calls it the "coast to coast offense." Why? "I've stolen good ideas from the East Coast to the West Coast," he says. The entertaining style of play also helped fill the stands in his inaugural 10-3 season.

    Last year the two-time Big East coach of the year led the Bearcats to a school-record 11 wins, a Big East title and Orange Bowl berth. It was the program's second 10-win season. Before Kelly arrived, the Bearcats had just one 10-win year in 1951.

    Mentioned as a candidate for openings at Tennessee and Washington last year, he will again be at the top of wish lists if the success continues. "I have it in perspective," Kelly says. "My name is being mentioned because the program is successful. The perception is that this program is not a destination job. No one puts Bob Stoops or Mack Brown or Pete Carroll on their list because they are at destination places." He aims to change that perception.

    Last summer, Kelly extended his contract to 2013 at nearly $1.5 million a year and emphasized his commitment to a school viewed as a stepping stone for just about every coach since Sid Gilman. "Coaches used to come to Cincinnati to get a few wins and move on to something bigger," says quarterback Tony Pike, a life-long Bearcats fan who grew up in the city. "Now you come to Cincinnati get a few wins become a top-10 team and contend for a Big East and BCS championship."

    "I don't think people truly understand Cincinnati is truly no longer just a basketball school," Kelly says. "People look at Cincinnati and say he's not going to stay there. You know what? There's something really neat about building something that's never been done before."

    Kelly's loyalty has resonated with his players. "Boss Man is like no other coach I've ever had," says receiver Mardy Gilyard. "We hoped it wouldn't do what Dantonio did. We were really vulnerable, heartbroken. But he (Kelly) stayed and showed a lot of character, gave team a little more respect for him. We had his back then from here on out. We bought in as a team. You want me to go fast, I'll go fast. Want me to block. I'm blocking. Go deep, I'm going deep."

    The school is also going deep for Kelly as well. A practice field will be completed by next season. There's a plan to add luxury boxes and club seats to increase the capacity of Nippert Stadium, a charming relic which seats 35,000.

    Still, Kelly is accustomed to making do, no matter the situation. "You learn in Division II how to do your own laundry. You have to do so much more with less," he says. With limited scholarships at that level, he also learned to make the best use of talent, no matter the position.

    "I call it, 'If there's a worm in the apple just turn the apple away so you don't see worm,' " he says. Needing to replace 10 starters on defense this year, Kelly simply raided his offense. Six former offensive players have started for the UC defense, including two former quarterbacks who are now linebackers, in a new 3-4 scheme under first-year coordinator Bob Diaco. The Bearcats are No. 1 nationally in tackles for loss (10 a game) and sacks (4.2).

    On offense, that former fifth-string quarterback is now a leading Heisman Trophy contender. Buried on the depth chart the summer of 2008, Pike followed up last year's storybook rise by throwing for 1,493 yards with 13 TDs and just three interceptions so far.

    For a hometown kid, the journey has been especially sweet. Pike lives with his parents 15 minutes from campus. Home-cooked meals, freshly laundered clothes and a Skyline Chili just two minutes away are the spoils of living at home. Like a scene from "Cheers," Pike simply walks into Skyline and a three-way and three cheese coneys simply appear. Here everyone knows his name, and his order.

    Kelly has gotten the most out of Pike and Gilyard, a back-up cornerback his freshman year in 2005 under Dantonio. Following that season, Gilyard stopped going to classes and became academically ineligible to play. His scholarship was revoked and he worked several jobs to pay his out-of-state tuition bill. Homeless, he even moved his belongings into his car. When Kelly was hired, he gave Gilyard another shot and switched him to receiver. "He needed this program more than we needed him and he recognizes that today in the way he gives back," says Kelly of Gilyard, who is first to volunteer for the Bearcats community service projects.

    Gilyard, from Bunnell, Fla., is also benefiting from his quarterback's home-cooking. After every touchdown reception, Pike's grandmother bakes Gilyard a cheesecake. "I keep grandma nice and busy," Pike says.

    Add that to the list of what's on the line tonight. A Big East championship, a possible BCS title run and grandma's cheesecakes.

    Just the other day Kelly decided to challenge 6-6, 280-pound offensive lineman Andre Cureton to a race. Uphill.

    "Coach Kelly took a dive. Big 'Dre won," reports linebacker Andre Revels.

    It's Kelly's only loss this season, but he stakes are raised considerably tonight. A win against South Florida, the only ranked team left on their schedule, and the real uphill battle begins.

    "We try shy away thinking about what if we finished unscathed," Gilyard says.

    Kelly has tried to keep his players relaxed amid the spotlight. "I say this to our guys all the time, 'Just play well and the scoreboard will settle it,' " he says. " 'You may or may not win the game.' I learned a long time ago, you might as well be an optimist. So I'm optimistic we'll win the game."

    http://www.usatoday.com/sports/colle...ti-kelly_N.htm
    "You only have one life, and you will not get out alive. Make the most of your time and have no regrets." - Me.

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    "You only have one life, and you will not get out alive. Make the most of your time and have no regrets." - Me.

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    Can I reemphasize how much I dislike Mel Kiper Jr and Todd McShay?
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBen2112 View Post
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    Can I reemphasize how much I dislike Mel Kiper Jr and Todd McShay?

    Jealousy will get you nowhere.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Les View Post
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    Jealousy will get you nowhere.
    Of what...Kiper's hair?!
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    "Like I always say, there's no 'I' in team. There's a 'me,' though, if you jumble it all up."--House

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigBen2112 View Post
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    Of what...Kiper's hair?!

    No,Kiper's incredible ability to assess football talent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Les View Post
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    No,Kiper's incredible ability to assess football talent.
    And be wrong all the time? Yeah that's real enviable.
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    "Like I always say, there's no 'I' in team. There's a 'me,' though, if you jumble it all up."--House

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