Ralph D. Russo
BATON ROUGE, La. — On the first floor of the LSU Football Operations Center, left of the front desk, is the performance nutrition center.
With high ceilings and a wall of windows brightening the space, the dining hall seats 170 people and serves meals day and night, often including Louisiana staples such as etouffee and gumbo. Players don’t need to leave the building for a freshly cooked meal before or after practice.
If you want to know why Brian Kelly left Notre Dame after 12 years spent leading college football’s most storied program to become the coach at LSU, the answer in part lies in one of the nicest cafeterias in college sports.
“It’s been awesome because you’ve got incredible facilities, you’ve got players that want to be great,” Kelly told The Associated Press. “I want to be in an environment where I have the resources to win a national championship.”
Nine weeks after becoming the winningest coach the Fighting Irish have ever had, Kelly, 60 left behind the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus for Mike the Tiger and Mardi Gras to chase the one prize that has eluded him: a national championship at the highest level of college football.
Kelly said before he left, he made several requests for additional resources and improvements at Notre Dame.
“I felt like what I was looking for was student-athlete centered. And I was pushing for more for the student-athlete. And I wanted to see that piece. And we didn’t seem to be on the same path as to how that was going to get accomplished,” Kelly said.
Among the items he was pushing? A chef dedicated to the football program and a new facility to replace the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, which currently houses the football team and does not have a dining hall.
Kelly’s request for a new facility was not new: “I mean, and that’s something that has been on the books since 2016.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick declined a request for comment from The Associated Press. He has said publicly that Notre Dame, which has an endowment of some $20 billion, is in need of an upgraded football facility.
“We’re trying to nail down what this might look like phased in over time to give us what we need in the facility,” he told the South Bend Tribune last year.
The university had approved a new chef for football, a person familiar with the correspondence and conversations among Kelly, his representatives and Notre Dame told the AP on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. But how quickly a new and improved football facility could become a reality at Notre Dame remains unsettled.
And so Kelly, with the Fighting Irish still in contention for a playoff spot, accepted LSU athletic director Scott Woodward’s offer of a 10-year, $95 million contract to head south.
“I loved my time at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “We were on different paths and that’s fine. I’m fine with that.”