Scott Rabalais: Brian Kelly grew up in the LSU football room at LSU

Scott Rabalais: Brian Kelly grew up in the LSU football room at LSU

Why has this been a successful first season for LSU football under Brian Kelly?

How the Tigers tripped over themselves and their own mistakes cost them in September in the Florida State game that made them look so outclassed against Tennessee in October, peeling off an impressive streak of three straight wins capped at 32-32 on Saturday night. Will Alabama start overtime in November for 31 overtime wins?

For insight into that question, you have to leave the coach on the LSU sideline Saturday — Kelly in his purple pullover and headset — and go back to the man in a suit and purple-striped tie standing at a podium during his Dec. 1 introductory news conference.

Kelly was asked the question that day in the Lawton Room of Tiger Stadium – had Kelly set foot inside Tiger Stadium at that time? – Discipline was about the foundation of a successful football team and how he wanted to find it.

“Our discipline will be self-discipline,” Kelly said. “Our players will be self-organized and that will be the backbone of this program. They will be held accountable. The players will hold each other to a high standard and that will permeate the program.”

Then Kelly said something that in hindsight looks quite prescient.

“If I can take them by the hand and lead them around every day, we’re going to have good days and we’re going to have bad days, and that’s going to happen a little bit as we get here,” he said. “This football team is going to have self-discipline and they’re going to have accountability, they’re going to have trust in each other, and you’re going to see that from this football team as we continue to build.”

Accountability, discipline and trust. Kelly is right that it has to come from within a group, but it has to come from someone who needs it first.

Kelly is that person. In the same mold Nick Saban and Bill Arnsperger, his most similar and authoritarian predecessors, returned to the Tigers coaching era.

Throw away the accent people were laughing at that first night at an LSU men’s basketball game. Don’t focus on him dancing with recruiters in harmless little videos. Have fun if you want, but the counter-argument can be made that no publicity is bad publicity.

Take all that away, and you have a guy who grew up in the room that was LSU football, an authority figure who came in and said, “I know the path to success, but you’re going to decide to travel down it.”

It took a while. Good days and bad days, as Kelly said about a year ago. But with the game on the line against Bama on Saturday night and Tiger Stadium on fire, Kelly didn’t have to consult a chart to decide whether to go for two. He went with an instinct that told him he could trust a transfer quarterback in Jayden Daniels, a true freshman in Mason Taylor and nine other players on the field to do their jobs and make winning plays.

It looked and felt like turning a corner. Kelly epitomized what he was talking about on his first day.

“The biggest thing this year is that they jumped into the deep end and didn’t really know how to swim, but they’re not going to drown,” Kelly said, standing on the same stage in the Lawton Room for his weekly Monday. Press conference. “They were going to find a way to stay above water and kick and do whatever it took. That’s what built this fight in them, this toughness in them. They’re not perfect, and of course we’re not there yet, but they have pride in LSU. .

“When we first met, we said, ‘Look, we finished last, and this is not standard. You have a choice to do something about it. You can be worse. You can be average. You can be good, which is good for everyone in this room. Or you can be elite.’

“And they’ve made great choices along the way, so I’m really proud of them.”

Players, especially college players, want to lead. Give them a taste of success, and it will — as the late Baton Rouge outdoors writer Bob Sears used to say — set the hook tight.

Is there any guarantee that LSU will win at Arkansas on Saturday, or win the SEC West? No, but LSU’s chances to win the West have gone from 4% to 84% since the preseason, according to ESPN.

Guided, the Tigers went down a winning streak more than anyone could have imagined in their first year under Kelly — home grown.

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