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Sport: Jets' Robert Saleh says he feels 'awful' about how viral story painted Brian Kelly

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College football has seen plenty of messy coaching exits, but few can match what Brian Kelly hath wrought in his move from Notre Dame to LSU.

Kelly reportedly allowed news to break of his decision to leave one of the biggest programs in the sport without informing any of his assistant coaches, many of whom were on the recruiting trail. Then he sent out a group text to his stunned players confirming the news, followed by a 7 a.m. address the following morning in which he spoke for less than four minutes and left without taking any questions. And now it looks like his exit alone may prevent the Irish from making the College Football Playoff.

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It goes without saying Notre Dame fans, including football alumni, are upset. So upset that past tales of Kelly, such as his similarly quick exit from Cincinnati, have begun to resurface. Including one that goes all the way back to when he was head coach at Central Michigan.

The Brian Kelly graduate assistant story

The story came from a two-year-old profile by ESPN's Rob Demovsky on Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. At the time, LaFleur and New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh were both lowly graduate assistants under Kelly.

As Saleh told it to Demovsky, Kelly invited him and LaFleur to a party at his house. When the pair arrived, they learned they were not there as guests, but to work. So the two reportedly spent the night shoveling snow and parking cars. The experience apparently led to a mutual promise that they would never treat people the way they were treated by Kelly that night, as Saleh explained.

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Here's one tweet with a screengrab of the story, which went viral on Tuesday:


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It goes without saying that most people are going to read that story and see Kelly in a bad light, a man who squeezed hours of free labor out of two of his least powerful subordinates.

Saleh, however, claimed to reporters on Wednesday that the story was meant to be less a complaint about Kelly's party planning and more a lighthearted story about paying your dues as a young coach.

Saleh's full explanation:

"I feel terrible because that whole thing was taken out of context. When you're coming up in this profession, part of that article was to tell a funny story of Matt and I as GAs. Every single coach in this profession, there is a right of passage when you’re a GA and a [quality control coach]. That was a funny story and not an indictment on how Brian treated us.

"Brian is a phenomenal man. He really is. It was just one of those deals that was supposed to be a funny story that people took in a negative light. Maybe shame on me, I should have worded it better.

"There's a reason why Matt went back and worked for him, there's a reason why I tried to go back and work for him. He’s a really good man. He treats people the right way. I know people are probably upset with him now. There’s never a right way to do things of that nature ... I’m always one of his biggest fans. I feel awful that it was taken in that light."

While Saleh conceded he should have worded the story better, Demovsky took issue with the idea that the whole thing was taken out of context.

Saleh is currently in his first year as Jets head coach after more than a decade in the NFL as a defensive assistant coach. He spent one season with Central Michigan in 2004 before taking a job at Georgia. LaFleur spent another season with Kelly before moving onto Northern Michigan and Ashland, then the NFL.

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