The jokes were too easy to make after Brian Kelly lost his LSU opener to Florida State, one day after Billy Napier debuted his Florida tenure by upsetting Utah.
Fairly or not, Kelly must exceed Napier’s performance in Florida, while Kelly will be a comparison point for Napier. They were the only SEC coaches hired the last offseason, and they’re at rival schools. That makes each a natural litmus test for the other. LSU could have hired Napier out of its backyard of Lafayette, Louisiana, but chose to hunt big game and uproot Kelly from Notre Dame.
Initial impressions of a new hire can prove capricious.
Fast forward to rivalry week, and LSU (9-2, 6-1 SEC) is in contention for the College Football Playoff, while Napier is answering for Florida (6-5, 3-5), losing to Vanderbilt.
This season is evidence of why LSU awarded Kelly a 10-year, $100 million contract. He ran toward LSU’s high demands and the SEC’s rugged rivalries, but if you had told Kelly before the season that he was expected to win the SEC West, he would have considered that unrealistic.
“You must look at the circumstances when you enter any business or organization. What’s organizational health? The organizational health was such that it needed to be rebooted,” said Kelly, whose Tigers will play at Texas A&M on Saturday (6 p.m. CT, ESPN). “That started with new coaches, new support staff. “There are some circumstances where there is a transition where (winning the SEC West) could be realistic (for a new coach). In this situation, that would not have been a realistic expectation.”