Kelly is focused on Bearcats, not Irish
CINCINNATI - With the Big East title at stake, Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly is doing everything he can to keep his unbeaten Bearcats away from distractions this week. Media availability is limited. Practices are closed.
The Notre Dame rumors? Not so easy to keep at arm’s length.
Kelly brushed aside speculation yesterday that he could be a candidate to replace Charlie Weis, who was fired by the Irish Monday. At Kelly’s weekly luncheon - the media’s only access for the week - he took five questions about the speculation and didn’t say much, other than that in-season coaching changes put others in an awkward position.
“I really don’t know that there’s an answer,’’ Kelly said. “It’s not comfortable for me. It’s not comfortable for those that are involved in it, but it’s the reality of it. The only thing I can control is the message every day, and the message to our football players is about how we can become champions and how we can win football games.’’
The fifth-ranked Bearcats (11-0, 6-0) would win their second straight outright Big East championship with a victory at No. 14 Pittsburgh (9-2, 5-1) Saturday. Whoever wins gets the conference’s automatic Bowl Championship Series berth.
Rumors about potential replacements at Notre Dame were swirling before Weis was fired. Florida’s Urban Meyer and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops - both mentioned in the media as possible candidates - tried to dampen the speculation by saying they plan to stay at their schools.
Kelly is taking a different approach this week, trying to keep the focus on Cincinnati’s biggest game of the season. He was energized when he walked to the podium for his media session, talking excitedly about the chance to win a second straight conference title.
“It’s championship week,’’ he said, his eyes widening. “As a coach, it doesn’t get any better than this, when you’re playing for a championship. There’s nothing that gets you more excited than being in this kind of environment, with a championship this week.’’
After one perfunctory question about Pitt, the talk turned to Notre Dame, and Kelly’s demeanor changed. Asked if he would talk to anybody from Notre Dame this week, Kelly said, “No. We’re focused on Pittsburgh 100 percent.’’
After a couple of more questions about whether the job speculation could become a distraction, Kelly became animated.
“I’m telling you what: Last week? That was a distraction,’’ Kelly said, yelling as he recalled preparations for Cincinnati’s senior day win over Illinois. “You ought to be around here when 16 seniors are trying to buy tickets when the NCAA only gives you four tickets, trying to get those tickets for everybody. It’s a nightmare. That’s a distraction. I’m sending them home for Thanksgiving and hoping they get back on campus. That’s a distraction.
“They don’t care about this stuff, I’m telling you.’’
Some of them do. Tight end Ben Guidugli said Kelly hadn’t talked about the Notre Dame rumors with the players.
“He hasn’t addressed it at all,’’ Guidugli said. “I guess we would have liked to have seen him address it - like he says, keep everything in the family - but he hasn’t addressed it, so I don’t know.’’
Kelly, who attended St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Mass., and Assumption College, came to Cincinnati from Central Michigan when Mark Dantonio left for Michigan State after the 2006 regular season. Kelly then coached the Bearcats to a win over Western Michigan in the International Bowl.
The players are aware that things could change fast.
“We want to win whoever the coach is,’’ Guidugli said. “Whatever he’s doing - I understand the business side of things. But the players want to win this game more than anything. That’s really what matters.’’