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September 15, 2009

Q&A with Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly

Coach Brian Kelly led Cincinnati to the Big East title and an Orange Bowl berth last season and has the Bearcats off to a 2-0 start this season.

Kelly talked with Rivals.com senior writer Tom Dienhart on Sunday about Saturday's big game at Oregon State, his coaching background, the facilities at Cincinnati and some other topics.

What problems does Oregon State pose?

"We played them two years ago, and they obviously didn't have the Rodgers brothers. They pose all type of problems with their running and catching. Jacquizz is a very difficult player to defend. And Mike Riley is one of the nation's top coaches. It will be tough going out there."

How good can quarterback Tony Pike be?

"I think he has the potential to be the finest quarterback in the country. He is 6-6 and has a strong arm; he recognizes defenses very well. He just needs more experience. He only has played about a dozen games as a starter. He is experiencing things that he is seeing for the first time. If he continues to grow and to do what he's doing, by November, he will be regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the country."

Many felt your defense was going to be an area of concern. How has that unit developed?

"I was confident that our front seven would be pretty good. I knew the players we had who didn't play a lot last year were pretty good players. I think we have adapted extremely well. We aren't just a 3-4 defense. We can be multiple. What I wanted to do was be more flexible on first downs instead of always having to change our personnel with nickel and dime on third downs. That is what this defensive structure gives us. [New coordinator] Bob [Diaco] is a known commodity to me because he was my defensive coordinator at Central Michigan. He had the pedigree to be our defensive coordinator. We need to get better. We are inexperienced on the back end of our defense. If we get better there, I think we can be pretty good."

Tell me about the notebook you carry around.

"I am like most coaches in that I am a pack rat and I don't throw away many things. I have notebooks I have kept since I was at [Division II school] Grand Valley State [from 1991-2003]. I go back to them and look at some of the things that I have done. It has been one of my hobbies to doodle things in them. It has been the way I have developed my offense over the years, to be honest with you. I didn't come from a pedigree background of having worked under great head coaches. I got a head-coaching job at 28 and I kind of had to figure it out on my own."

What is your background?

"I was defensive coordinator for two years [1989-90 at Grand Valley State] and got lucky by being in the right place at the right time and got a head-coaching job [and later took the head-coaching job at Central Michigan from 2004-06 before going to Cincinnati]. I never was an assistant for very long, and a lot of this goes back to developing my own offense."

What did you learn the most by cutting your teeth as a Division II coach?

"I think you learn how to do more with less. To me, you can collect as many five-star athletes as you want, but I am going to recruit the kind of guys who I think I can develop. And I think one of the strengths I have is my ability to take a guy that some others may pass on and develop him into a top-notch BCS player. That experience in Division II has helped me today in being a head football coach."

You have become known for your high-powered offenses. How have you developed your offensive philosophy?

"I always have taken a lot of pride in going to clinics with other coaches over the years. There are a lot of people out there who I have tried to spend time with. I have spent a lot of time with [offensive coordinator] Greg Davis at Texas. He runs a similar style offense that I do. [Florida coach] Urban Meyer is another one. There are a lot of coaches who have helped me kind of establish what I want to do offensively. And a lot of it has been trial and error, as well. That is how I have developed my philosophy. I also have spent time with [Central Michigan coach] Butch Jones and [former Eastern Michigan coach] Jeff Genyk. There are a group of us who made our way through the MAC together who stay in touch and share a lot of ideas."

Is there any talk of making Cincinnati-Ohio State an annual game?

"We are going to play them [in 2012 and 2014]. But this is how I feel, and I know our alums may not feel the same: We have to get to the point in our program where Ohio State has something to gain by playing us. It can't be that they have everything to lose. I want to play a game where you have your two intrastate rivals battle. They do it in Oklahoma, and you can go around the country and find other matchups. We aren't there yet. We have to win Big East championships and be a top-25 team every year. When we do that, then that Ohio State-Cincinnati game has meaning for both programs."

Is it tougher to get non-conference games now than it was three years ago when you arrived?

"It sure is. It is a lot more difficult putting our schedule together. We need to find games, and it is really hard to find them now. We played a I-AA team [Southeast Missouri State] last week and scored 70 points. That isn't good for anyone. But we have Oregon State and Illinois [out of conference this season]. We also have Fresno State coming in. I think our schedule now stands up to being a challenging schedule."

What does Cincinnati have to do to get more respect?

"Well, we have been ranked in the top 25 the last two years. But the program isn't far enough developed to be a top-10 team every year, but I like where we are going. We have to consistently be a team that is in the top 25. As we do that, we are able to build more facilities. For us to continue to grow and raise money is by winning. As long as I don't focus on the national picture but instead on being a top-25 team and winning championships, I will be able to continue to build this program."

What's the key to the program taking that next step?

"Facilities. It's the absolute most critical element that this university has to continue to take a hard look at. We aren't where we need to be. But we put an exciting product on the field. We have won a lot of football games [24-6, with two bowls and one Big East title since the start of the 2007 season]. Now, it's up to the university to step up and get these things done."

Is it true that you really have no practice fields?

"Yes, we have no practice fields. We practice at the stadium. There is no ability to go out and practice a spread, no-huddle offense. We don't get 120 yards to do that. We have to do it on 50 yards because the defense is on the other half of the field. It is hard to do, and I give our kids a lot of credit for being able to overcome it and continue to win. And, of course, we have no indoor facility. In fact, to prepare for the Orange Bowl [last season], we had to practice in an indoor soccer facility. It obviously wasn't a very good way to prepare our football team."

Where do you think your facilities rank in the Big East?

"Negative. You can't even compare it to any of the teams in our league. There are no luxury boxes, so there is no revenue stream there, either. We have the smallest stadium [35,098 capacity]. From an infrastructure standpoint, the university has to decide if it wants to get it done or not."

What is your contract status?

"I have four years remaining after this year. It is like any other contract in that there are a lot of provisions in there. One of them is that they have to get some things done here from a facilities standpoint or there is no buyout or a minimal buyout in my contract. I think all the things are in place from a contractual standpoint. I just want the university to keep moving forward on developing the program."

When does the university have to have facilities done so your buyout isn't lowered?

"They have to have them in place for this fall."

So, the university missed the deadline?

"Pretty much. Look, I just wanted them to know that it is important for me that if they want to continue to move the program forward, [things must be done on facilities]. ... [Athletic director] Mike Thomas has been awesome. He is with me on this 100 percent. But we have gone through a new president, and there was an interim president; you know how that goes. But I am an impatient guy. That is my problem. We can't wait. Our new president will have these things on his table, and I'll keep doing my job and we'll see what comes up at the end of the year."

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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