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Kelly coaching his last Irish game?

Image: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly (© Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)
Looks like the Eagles want Brian Kelly on their sideline.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.

This is Notre Dame’s dream team. Irish fans have been told for years they couldn’t get back to the big game their way, yet here they are in Monday's BCS Championship Game against Alabama.

It’s all thanks to Brian Kelly. But I’ve come to one conclusion:

Brian Kelly should be the coach of the Chicago Bears.

Some people are built for college and some for pros. And, based on his weird response the other day when he was asked about the NFL, I wonder if this will be his last game with Notre Dame. It should be.

Someone asked him whether NFL people have contacted his agent to inquire about him.

“You know, any of those things that occur relative to contact, there’s a strict protocol for that,’’ he said. “They have to contact my representation and then they’ve got to follow through that. If that did occur, then all that stuff is secondary to this football game.”

That was a complete non-answer. If that did occur? You mean, he doesn’t know?

He then was asked about whether the NFL was his dream and said something about how you don’t think about your dreams while coaching a season. Notre Dame had been his dream, but he didn’t think about it while doing his job at hand.

Kelly is a great college coach, and I don’t throw around the word "great" that easily. His specialty is player development, which is what college football coaching is all about.

HEADLINERS

Irish, Tide might not be as good as their records, but it's a BCS Championship Game matchup sure to please fans.

But the curious thing about Kelly, the thing that’s hard to forget and resolve is how he has handled the off-field troubles that surround and envelop every college coach. Declan Sullivan, the student videographer, died after going up on the scissor lift in dangerously high winds to film practice. Kelly should never have let him go up at all in those winds but seemed to have tunnel vision about the need for practice and video.

With the wind storms blowing through the Midwest, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel — a day before Sullivan’s death — reportedly moved practice indoors, saying he was worried about “our cameramen, their well-being up there 50 feet in the air.”

Several media outlets have talked with Sullivan’s parents the past few weeks, and they say that they agree that things should have been done differently, but they also don’t have anger in their hearts about it.

Kelly also has fudged rules for punishment over behavioral issues at Notre Dame. And when he was at Central Michigan, there was a scandal involving players he had inherited from the previous coach. Several of those players faced charges surrounding the beating death of a man outside a bar. Kelly made statements rationalizing players who might have perjured themselves to protect their teammates.

I’m not saying that Kelly is a bad person, or I wouldn’t be suggesting he become the Bears coach. He shouldn’t have let Sullivan go up that lift. But it’s just that Kelly is focused on practice, taping, football. He’s not the type to fill his program with thugs and criminals. It’s that he is a guy focused entirely on football.

Some coaches are into the whole grooming of young men thing, and some aren’t. NFL coaches can think about football only. When the Bears had a player in trouble with the feds over drug charges, not one person pointed a finger at coach Lovie Smith.

Gun issues, legal troubles. All those personal things are the concern of the general manager in the NFL.

Now, player development matters in the NFL, too, just not as much as in college. But the Bears have an old defense and an inept offensive line, and it’s time for them to focus on the draft, getting more and more picks. That means younger players to rebuild with.

And though Smith was fired for his bad offenses over the years, Kelly has been known for his offenses. This year, he’s winning with defense.

Chicagoans think the Bears are going to look at offense-only now, but there is no way the Chicago Bears will allow themselves to have anything but a top, tough defense. It is the staple of the franchise.

Kelly also seems like a Chicago type of guy. Tough, having worked his way up. He has been talking the past few days about his time as a Division II coach and how his team would stay at a Best Western when coming for the national championship.

And have you seen the pictures of Kelly with a purple face, screaming?

Chicagoans still romanticize Mike Ditka’s rantings for some reason. Kelly doesn’t need to go that overboard, but Smith was too dispassionate, seemingly disconnected at times.

Chicago fans would gladly accept a fiery, successful Notre Dame coach.

The question is where that would leave Notre Dame. Kelly has worked a miracle. It’s a world of conference politics, and the Irish are in the Midwest, where players are too slow and plodding, wanting players who graduate. Yet here they are, not in a conference, not in the South, not in the SEC, not even with a dynamic offense.

Irish fans and boosters would panic. At the thought of losing Charlie Weis to the NFL someday, they massively overpaid for him and gave him a 10-year contract even though he hadn’t done anything yet.

The Weis panic was a huge mistake, based in Notre Dame’s own insecurities. Even Notre Dame wondered if it could get back to the big game their way. They made one coaching-hire mistake after another, in Bob Davie, Ty Willingham, George O’Leary, and were getting desperate to find a coach to believe in.

In that panic, they were duped by a guy they should never have believed in just because he flashed shiny Super Bowl rings and talked a big game.

Kelly isn’t talking. He’s doing. Losing him would be a nightmare for Notre Dame, which I’m sure is planning to pony up to keep him. The Chicago Bears are notoriously cheap, and it’s possible that Notre Dame can outbid them.

But Kelly has shown something about Notre Dame to the Jon Grudens and other top coaches of the world. You can still recruit the best players and develop them. You still have your own TV network.

Kelly has shown that Notre Dame can still be the dream team. Now the dream coach needs to show the same thing about the Bears.

Tagged: Buffalo, Notre Dame, Brian Kelly

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