Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

A tale of three coaches -- Dan Hawkins, Les Miles and Brian Kelly

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Will Brian Kelly succeed at Notre Dame? Too early to tell right now. But two games last weekend showed just how fickle the fate of a college football coach can be:

Kansas 52, Colorado 45

LSU 24, Alabama 21
The Buffaloes' spectacular collapse in Lawrence -- they led 45-17 in the fourth quarter and still lost -- marked the end for coach Dan Hawkins, who was fired Tuesday. Hawkins' demise reverberated in South Bend because he took the Brian Kelly small-time route to the big-time -- using an aggressive personal style, an attacking scheme and a high-scoring spread offense to turn small-school teams with unheralded players into big winners.

A former assistant at College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif. and Sonoma State, he took Willamette University of Salem, Ore. to the NAIA championship game in 1997, then went 53-11 at Boise State, including seasons of 12-1, 13-1 and 11-1 from 2002-04.

He seemed like the perfect antidote for a program wallowing in the muck of the Gary Barnett era. But at Colorado he hit the wall. After going 2-10 in his first season in 2005 to the Independence Bowl and a 6-7 season in 2006, he went 5-7, 3-9 and 3-6 this season before Colorado pulled the plug and named former Bears linebacker Brian Cabral as his replacement.

The Hawkins-Kelly analogy is not exact -- Kelly's success at Cincinnati is a step Hawkins never achieved. But it still bears watching, because Notre Dame is yet another step up for Kelly -- to a level where no matter how well your plan has worked and no matter how good your system is, you better get great players to run it.

Another coach with similarities to Kelly was on the other end of the spectrum after LSU's victory over Alabama. Despite a national championship to his credit, Les Miles doesn't rate with Urban Meyer and Nick Saban among the great coaches in college football because of his gambling style and penchant for poor clock-management and end-game decisions.

But he's got a knack for pulling a horseshoe out of his ... back pocket. Against the Crimson Tide, LSU trailed 14-13 with 9:51 to play and faced a fourth-and-1 at the Alabama 26. Miles could have kicked a 43-yard field goal to take the lead. But he not only chose to go for the first down, he ran a wide receiver reverse that gained 23 yards to the Alabama 3-yard line and led to a touchdown that made the difference. He previously used a fake punt for a first down.

Miles still isn't considered a better coach than either Meyer or Saban, but he's beaten both of them this season -- using a fake field goal to beat Florida -- and is ahead of both of them in the latest AP poll, jumping from No. 12 to No. 5 after the victory over Alabama.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on November 10, 2010 11:03 AM.

Brian Kelly: Criticism 'doesn't affect how I go to work every day' was the previous entry in this blog.

Notre Dame will wear green jerseys vs. Army is the next entry in this blog.

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