12-0 Bearcats get ready for bowl without Kelly

The unbeaten Cincinnati Bearcats are heading into the biggest

bowl game in school history with anger, uncertainty and an interim

head coach who may not be around much longer.

It’s time to move on.

In many ways, the Bearcats have to move on from coach Brian

Kelly before they can move on to the Sugar Bowl, their reward for

finishing third in the BCS rankings. The game took on a whole

different mood when Kelly left for Notre Dame on Friday, leaving

the Big East champions shocked and unsure what comes next.

“It’s hard, man, but we can’t let it get us down,” junior

receiver Armon Binns said after Kelly told his team he’d accepted

the Notre Dame job on Thursday night. “We’ve got a really, really

big game ahead of us. When it comes down to it, we were the guys on

the field out there. They were the ones calling the shots.”

Athletic director Mike Thomas began looking for Kelly’s

replacement, though it’s unclear whether a new coach will be around

for the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s night against Florida. Thomas

decided that Kelly wouldn’t coach the Bearcats in their bowl game.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Quinn – who has been with Kelly for the

past 22 years – was named interim coach.

“I think at this point moving forward, the focus should be on

our (players) and the coaches,” Thomas said. “Certainly I feel

confident that coach Quinn and our staff, we’ll be in pretty good

shape when we move to New Orleans after Christmas.”

A lot is yet to be determined.

Thomas hired Kelly after Mark Dantonio accepted the Michigan

State job following the last regular-season game in 2006. Kelly was

hired from Central Michigan eight days later and coached the

Bearcats in the International Bowl.

It’s unclear whether Quinn would be considered for the full-time

job because he has never been a head coach. Quinn was Kelly’s top

assistant and offensive coordinator at Grand Valley State, Central

Michigan and Cincinnati, helping him refine the no-huddle, spread

offense that was one of the nation’s best.

If Quinn isn’t a candidate in Cincinnati, Kelly would likely

want to bring him to Notre Dame to transplant their offense.

The uncertainty left the players rattled.

“If I was a senior, I probably wouldn’t care as much,” junior

tight end Ben Guidugli said. “But coming back next year and all

that’s involved in that, and then the bowl game – we really don’t

know what’s going on. They said coach Quinn was the interim. I

don’t know. Hopefully we can get on the field and everybody can

just concentrate on football.”

The players had off this week to take final exams. They spent a

big part of it talking and texting each other about all the rumors

involving Kelly. How they finally got the news left some of them

bitter. Kelly’s hiring by Notre Dame had already been reported for

several hours when he finally took them aside after their football

banquet at a downtown hotel and told them the news on Thursday


It’s not how he had told them he would handle it.

“He told us from the get-go that we’d be the first people to

know whatever he decides,” quarterback Tony Pike said before the


Instead, they were among the last.

Receiver Mardy Gilyard, who was honored as the team’s Most

Valuable Player, said younger players were angry over Kelly’s

decision to leave after only three years at Cincinnati.

“They feel they bought into a situation they were going to be

in for the long haul, and now the general kind of let the reins

go,” Gilyard said. “It is what it is. I’m old enough to know it’s

a business move. If I was a younger guy, I’d be bummed out about


Several players said there was silence as Kelly told them in an

unemotional tone that he was leaving for Notre Dame. Then, the

assistant coaches left the room and the players met by


“We got the coaches out of there, then the players just said

that we’re the ones on the field making the touchdowns, getting the

sacks, blocking, tackling,” Guidugli said. “So when we step on

the field, we’re a bunch of guys that know what to do.”

Players also began wondering who might become Kelly’s


The last two coaches – Dantonio and Kelly – had Midwest coaching

backgrounds and experience recruiting in the talent-rich area.

Kelly’s three most prominent quarterbacks – Ben Mauk, Pike and

sophomore Zach Collaros – came from Ohio high schools.

There were reports on Friday that Houston’s Kevin Sumlin could

be among those considered. His team runs a wide-open passing

offense that would suit Cincinnati’s current talent. Thomas

declined to talk about his search.

The Bearcats return the nucleus of their offense, including

Collaros, who led them to wins in four games after Pike got hurt.

Players are hoping that Kelly’s successor is like-minded.

“Hopefully they bring in somebody with a passing scheme who is

going to throw the ball like we did, and we can just pick up where

they left off and keep it going,” Binns said.