Kelly says he’s staying at Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — Coach Brian Kelly tried to end speculation Tuesday that he’s leaving No. 13 Cincinnati, saying that he’s happy with the football program’s development and he plans to stay.

He was upbeat Tuesday following a meeting with the school’s president, AD and the head of its board of trustees to get an update on plans to expand the Bearcats’ small football stadium and to improve their practice fields.

Kelly acknowledged that other schools had expressed an interest in him, but said he’s not interested in leaving.

“All I can say is that with all the speculation and all the jobs that have been out there, sooner or later ‘no’ means ‘no,”’ Kelly said. “Again, no one can ever speak in terms of forever and ever, but what I can tell you is there’s been a lot of interest in my services, and I want to be here at the University of Cincinnati.”

The Bearcats (10-2) won the Big East title this season, sending them to the first BCS bowl in school history. A win Saturday at Hawaii would set a school record for victories in a season.

Kelly has been mentioned for other coaching jobs since late last season, when he revived Cincinnati’s moribund program. He led the Bearcats to 10 wins, matching the school record, and a No. 17 final ranking that was their highest for the end of a season.

Despite losing his two experienced quarterbacks to injuries, Kelly led the Bearcats to another breakthrough season this year. Their current No. 13 ranking matches their best ever — they also made it that high in 1954.

Recently, Kelly’s name has been mentioned for numerous openings, including those at Tennessee and Washington. Tennessee filled its job by hiring Lane Kiffin on Monday.

With its basketball program still trying to recover from the fallout of coach Bob Huggins’ ouster, the university has made it a priority to keep Kelly, who set a Big East title as his goal when he arrived on Dec. 4, 2006, and was able to deliver one within two years. He got a new contract after his first year, paying him a guaranteed $1.2 million this season. Bonuses for winning the Big East, boosting attendance and other accomplishments will push his total pay to around $1.5 million. His deal runs through 2012.

The Bearcats play and practice at on-campus Nippert Stadium, which holds 35,000 — by far the conference’s smallest — and lacks modern amenities such as luxury boxes. When his contract was renegotiated a year ago, Kelly made upgrading the facilities one of the deal’s terms.

The school is obligated to build a covered practice field — the Cincinnati Bengals don’t have one of those — by next December. If it fails to do so, Kelly’s contract buyout is reduced by half.

“As you know, I have some contractual stipulations relative to those facilities,” Kelly said. “Right now, we feel pretty good that we’re on schedule for it.”

Mike Thomas, the school’s athletic director, also told Kelly on Tuesday that the school also will raise money to upgrade Nippert Stadium. Architects are looking into options for renovation and expansion. There is no estimate yet about how many fans it will seat, how much the project will cost or when it will be completed.

“Coach Kelly and the success he’s had here has really put things on the fast track for us,” Thomas said. “The things that are important to Brian are absolutely important to me, things that were really on the agenda before Brian Kelly arrived here. But success breeds these kinds of opportunities.”

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