MUNCIE – Just about every football coach in the country aspires to reach the pinnacle of his profession, which is to serve as a head coach and lead a program. But for new Ball State defensive coordinator Kevin Kelly, he reached that point, stayed awhile, and then willingly walked away.
After serving as the head coach at Georgetown University for the past eight seasons, Kelly accepted a job offer from longtime colleague and friend Pete Lembo to lead the Cardinal defense.
“I just felt that it was time for me to make a career change,” Kelly said earlier this winter. “I wanted to get back to the FBS level. I love coaching defense. Eight years is a lot in coaching years and I thought it was time for Georgetown to have a new vision and a new energy. And the same thing for me.”
Kelly took over the Ball State defense earlier this week as spring practices got underway and according to Lembo, the veteran coach is as anxious as a graduate assistant on his first day on the job.
“Kevin Kelly is just so excited to hit the field and get back to his roots as a defensive coordinator,” Lembo said.
Where Lembo would venture in explaining how he landed Kelly, was where Kelly wouldn't. And that is to speak on the difficulty of coaching at Georgetown, which Lembo compared to “bringing a knife to a gun fight.”
“Georgetown is my alma mater, I love the place,” Lembo said. “My wife (Jen) and I stay very involved and care very deeply about the institution. But (the football job) can wear on you.”
It can “wear on you” because Georgetown hasn't committed to its football program to the same degree as the rest of the Patriot League from a budgetary or facility standpoint. So the fact that Kelly was able to do as well as he did (earning the league's Coach of the Year honor in 2011) is really quite impressive.
Kelly's first foray into this profession was three decades ago and it has led him to 11 different programs, a couple of them twice. What he has learned through all of that experience is that it's important not to screw up something that is working pretty well.
“(Former defensive coordinator) Jay Bateman did a terrific job here,” Kelly said. “And as far as scheme is involved, we're going to be similar.”
With the abundance of “spread” offenses to battle within the Mid-American Conference, Kelly plans on countering those with a “spread” defense.
“Everybody is calling it a spread offense,” Kelly explained, “so I'm going to call it a spread defense. What that means is that you have to be multiple, because you are going to see different variations of the definition of spread offense. There are a lot of definitions of that and we're going to see all different types. You've got to have three or four concepts, you've got to have 4-3 concepts, 3-4, 4-2-5, there's a lot of different things that kind of go into it.”
All of which sounds complicated to the general fan, but Kelly gave assurances that it won't be overly complex. In fact, it can't be.
“It's not going to be difficult (for the Ball State defenders),” Kelly said. “But hopefully it will be for the opponent. For our kids, I don't want them to be over thinking out there. I want them to be able to run around and make plays.”
Kelly is one of several new faces that joined the Cardinal coaching staff this off-season. Lembo has stressed continuity within his staff since he arrived in Muncie three-plus years ago, but with tremendous success came a raiding of the Cardinal coaching staff by other programs. And Lembo is taking a positive mindset to that dilemma.
“Bringing in new people, it makes you look at things from a different perspective,” Lembo said. “You go back and you revisit some of the things that you've done through the years and make sure that you are doing it as well as you possibly can.
“And in some cases, you say 'Hey, this isn't broken, so let's not fix it.' But taking a look at those things is always real important.”