Exclusive: Mardy Gilyard Regrets Ripping 'Boss Man' Kelly
CINCINNATI -- If Mardy Gilyard is indicative of others in the Bearcat Nation, well, let's put it this way: Brian Kelly is about to get a group hug.
Oh, I know. They egged Kelly's house after his decision to leave the University of Cincinnati football program for Notre Dame. Plus, near the Bearcats' locker room, where each of the former football coaches has a name plate on a wall of honor, the one for Kelly is torn away. But to hear Gilyard tell it, many of Kelly's week-old bashers -- including himself -- wish to hide their faces inside of that crazy mix of spaghetti, cheese, beans, onions and ground beef known as chili around here.
"Speaking for me, I overreacted, and I want to apologize to Coach Kelly for my message that got a little sideways, because I felt like I kicked him in the stomach," Gilyard, Cincinnati's splendid wide receiver, said during an exclusive interview with FanHouse on Thursday night outside of the Bearcats' athletics complex.
This was significant. After all, Gilyard led the relentless attacks on Kelly last week after the coach did the right thing by leaving his 12-0 Bearcats before the Sugar Bowl to follow his dream in South Bend. The coach announced his decision to his players inside of a back room at a downtown hotel after their season-ending banquet.
Many were not amused. In fact, moments into Kelly sharing his news, a seething Gilyard bolted with several of his teammates.
Among other things, Gilyard told those waiting nearby with cameras that Kelly "went for the money." Then Gilyard blasted Kelly's integrity by saying, "I feel there was a little lying in the thing. I feel like he'd known this the whole time. Everybody knows Notre Dame's got the money. I kind of had a gut feeling he was going to stay just because he told me he was going to be here."
That was then.
As for now, Gilyard shakes his shaggy head over his Kelly tirade. He said he cringed as soon as he flipped on his television that night and saw a 6-foot-1, 187-pound guy in dreadlocks ripping away at somebody who spurred greatness for the Bearcats overall and for the guy in dreadlocks in particular.
"I was cooled down by the time I got to my house, and I kept looking at that interview I did over and over again, and I was kicking myself and asking, 'Mardy, man. How could you do Boss Man like that?' " Gilyard said, referring to Kelly, who helped Gilyard through his inspiring journey at Cincinnati. Gilyard went from homeless while on campus as a freshman after losing his scholarship over academic issues to finishing his senior season as a likely first-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
There was Kelly's emphasis on the total person that spurred Gilyard off the field, where he stayed academically focused in search of a sociology degree. He also joined his teammates in Kelly-ordered acts of community service. Then there was Gilyard on the field, where he exploded in Kelly's fast-pace offense as a clutch receiver when he wasn't scaring opponents on kick returns.
This is the same Kelly who led the historically mediocre Bearcats to 10-3, 11-3 and 12-0 seasons during his only time as their head coach. He also used his overwhelming charisma to pull a rarity at Cincinnati over the past eight decades or so. He enticed folks to pack ancient Nippert Stadium more often than not.
Kelly, Kelly, Kelly.
He was the man.
He was Cincinnati's Boss Man, and Gilyard ripped him.
"I was so disrespectful to him," said Gilyard, easing into a soft voice, while studying a spot on the ground. Then he lifted his head, adding, "Me, personally, I want to put it out there that I neglected to give Boss Man credit. You have to give credit where credit is due, and he spring-boarded us to where we needed to be, where we wanted to be, where we trained to be as kids, and we thank him for that."
To translate, all of that previous outrage over Kelly involving Gilyard and others was exactly what we thought it was: The stuff of jilted lovers. Gilyard nodded, saying, "I know I still have to try to embrace the idea of him not being around anymore. He's been such a great leader to us, and he's been such a great figure to us that, for him to leave, it was just a hard pill for us to swallow."
It's just that Kelly had no other choice.
That is, to leave for Notre Dame, to announce his decision when he did, and to not coach the Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl.
About Kelly taking the Notre Dame job: Said this week's Gilyard, who continued to sound like the bizarro version of last week's Gilyard, "Even beyond Coach Kelly, I know Notre Dame is a dream job for most coaches. There's such a strong tradition at that school and so on and so forth." Consider, too, that the 48-year-old Kelly cherished Notre Dame as an Irish Catholic growing up outside of Boston .
About Kelly's timing: Bearcats athletics director Mike Thomas told FanHouse that Notre Dame officials contacted Cincinnati officials "through a third party that they were interested in Brian the week of the Pitt game." That was before Cincinnati's last game of the regular season. Added Thomas, "I truly don't think Brian was having discussions with them at that point. Certainly I wasn't having discussions. Our condition of having any kind of discussions would have to take place after our regular season was over, which was Saturday, December 5, at the conclusion of the Pitt game.
"I do think -- at least I would hope and I believe -- that those conditions were met, and it didn't happen until after that game was complete."
Still, rumors were everywhere that Notre Dame and Kelly were one, long before it happened. Their marriage also became official in news reports before most of the Cincinnati players arrived at their banquet.
"There's no grudges back here with Coach Kelly. I'm planning to get in touch with him, because I love Boss Man, and I respect his decision."
- Mardy Gilyard Thus the knee-jerk anger from Gilyard and others, but Kelly wasn't at fault. I mean, if he would have spoke earlier about his Notre Dame interest, he would be accused of coaching malpractice. Not only were his Bearcats still playing, but they were doing so in the midst of an undefeated season along the way to a BCS game.
About skipping the Sugar Bowl: Kelly had no choice.
"I've been through this a few times, and I think, in some ways, this is difficult for these kids to understand," said Thomas, in his fifth year at Cincinnati after serving as an assistant, associate or head man in the athletic departments at Iowa, Denver, Virginia and Akron during the past 25 years.
Added Thomas, "I'm not saying it makes it OK (for coaches to leave teams stranded in these situations). It doesn't. I would hope that in the future, some kind of process or protocol would really be put in place so that these types of changes and coaching changes would happen after the bowl games. But I know for that to be a reality, you'd have to change the schedule as to the way it relates to recruiting calendars and spring ball and everything else.
"I think it puts us in a bad situation. And you know what? In this particular case, it puts Central Michigan in a bad situation."
That's because Cincinnati hired Kelly protégé Butch Jones, who was preparing Central Michigan to play in the GMAC Bowl. Now Jones will watch from afar as long-time Kelly assistant Jeff Quinn leads Cincinnati against Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and Gilyard said the Bearcats have accepted their fate.
"There's no grudges back here with Coach Kelly," said Gilyard, adding that he has yet to talk with Kelly since his outburst. "I'm planning to get in touch with him, because I love Boss Man, and I respect his decision. I wish him the best of luck going over to South Bend, as he probably wishes us the best of luck going down to New Orleans .
"Life is good around here."
Well, now it is -- at least for Gilyard.