In just two seasons, head coach Brian Kelly has rejuvenated the Central Michigan University football program.
The Chippewas enjoyed their most successful campaign of the decade in 2005, Kelly’s second year at the helm. CMU put together a four-game winning streak midway through the season en route to a 6-5 overall record and 5-3 mark in the Mid-American Conference. It marked the Chippewas’ first winning record since 1998 and most overall and conference wins since the same season.
“Brian Kelly is a motivated, talented leader who respects the traditions of Central Michigan University while building a future of academic distinction, athletic excellence, and national prominence” said CMU President Michael Rao. “He holds CMU’s student-athletes to high standards in the classroom with mandatory study tables, resulting in a number of players named to the Academic All-MAC team. Coach Kelly recruits outstanding student-athletes, energizes alumni and donor support, and elicits attention from national media. The success of his program reflects positively on the entire CMU community.”
The 2005 squad opened the conference schedule by winning at Miami, 38-37, and in October defeated Toledo at home, 21-17, to become the first MAC program to defeat both defending conference divisional champs in the following regular season. The victory over Toledo also was noteworthy, as it marked CMU’s first win over the Rockets since 1994.
The Chippewas also knocked off the 2005 conference champ, Akron, by rallying from a 17-7 halftime deficit to claim a 31-17 win in the Rubber Bowl on October 1. The victory was the first of four in a row in the month of October.
In two seasons under Kelly, the Chippewas have displayed significant improvement on both sides of the ball. Offensively, CMU displayed remarkable balance in 2005. The Chippewas ranked in the top four in the MAC in both rushing offense (158.8 ypg) and passing offense (260.1 ypg), the first time since 1996 that CMU finished in the top four in the conference in both categories in the same season. The Chippewas’ 418.9 yards per game of total offense was the highest since 1996; CMU’s yards of total offense per game has increased in each of the past two seasons.
The Chippewas’ most dramatic improvement defensively has come in the area of rush defense. The 2005 Chippewa defense led the Mid-American Conference in rushing defense, surrendering just 113.7 yards per game on the ground. In 2003, the year before Kelly took over, CMU ranked last in the MAC in that category, allowing 245.8 yards per game rushing.
CMU has improved its win total in each of Kelly’s first two seasons, and the Chippewas’ 10 wins over the past two seasons are the most in a two-year stretch since the 1998 and 1999 teams won a total of 10 games.
“The entire Central Michigan University family is excited about the direction in which our football program is headed,” said Director of Athletics Dave Heeke. “I am thrilled that Brian Kelly is our football coach. He provides outstanding leadership and has a track record of success. The future is very bright for our football program.”
Kelly took over a program prior to the 2004 season that had won three or fewer games in three of the four previous seasons. He guided the Chippewas to a 4-7 mark in 2004, with two losses coming by five points or less. Among the four wins were a 24-21 overtime win at home against rival Western Michigan and a 41-40 win over Ball State in the season finale, a game in which the Chippewas rallied from a 27-0 first-quarter deficit.
Three players from the Chippewas’ 2004 squad are currently on NFL rosters. Eric Ghiacuic and Adam Kieft were drafted in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, in 2005, while Tory Humphrey spent last season with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent. Humphrey was recently allocated to the Amsterdam Admirals for the 2006 NFL Europe season.
Three different players have garnered All-MAC first team honors under Kelly. Daniel Bazuin, the 2005 MAC Defensive Player of the Year, is a two-time first-team honoree.
Active on the national level, Kelly is a member of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Ethics Committee and is one of 62 Division I-A coaches to hold a vote in the USA Today Top 25.
Kelly arrived at CMU fresh off consecutive NCAA Division II national titles at Grand Valley State University. He was 118-35-2 in 13 seasons at Grand Valley, including 103-22-2 in Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
The Lakers were 41-2 in Kelly’s final three seasons, winning 32 consecutive games at one point, and claiming Division II national championships in 2002 (14-0) and 2003 (14-1). His 2001 squad finished 13-1 and advanced to the national championship game.
Kelly was named the AFCA Division II Coach of the Year twice (2002 and 2003) and led the Lakers to five conference titles and six Division II Playoff appearances in his 13 seasons at Grand Valley. The Lakers never finished lower than third in the GLIAC, a conference whose membership numbered between 11 and 14 teams, during Kelly’s tenure.
Kelly mentored a pair of finalists for the Harlon Hill Award, presented annually to the top player in Division II. Curt Anes won the award in 2002 after finishing runner-up in 2001, while Jeff Fox was third in the balloting in 1998. Both players were quarterbacks in Kelly’s system.
Kelly’s Grand Valley players earned 77 All-America awards, with four players moving on to the NFL and another three to the Canadian Football League. His 2001 national runner-up squad set 77 NCAA, GLIAC, and school records, including setting the all-time Division II scoring record by averaging 58.4 points per game. The 2001 team also became the first Division II unit in 53 years to average more than 600 yards per game in total offense (600.8 ypg in 14 games).
Grand Valley followed up its record-shattering 2001 season by averaging 497.5 ypg and 47.0 ppg during its undefeated 2002 national championship run. The 2003 team, meanwhile, was more noted for its defense. The Lakers defeated North Dakota, 10-3, in the 2003 national title game.
A native of Chelsea, Massachusetts, Kelly attended St. John’s Prep School in Danvers, Massachusetts. He was a four-year letterwinner at Assumption College (Massachusetts) as a linebacker. After graduating from Assumption in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, he served as linebackers coach, defensive coordinator, and softball coach from 1983-86 at Assumption.
Kelly joined the Grand Valley staff in 1987 as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach. He became the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator in 1989 and took over as head coach in 1991. His first team finished 9-3 and qualified for the NCAA Playoffs.
Brian and his wife, Paqui, have three children - Patrick Liam (9), Grace Marie (6), and Kenzel Michael (5). They reside in Mount Pleasant.