May 25, 2024

Interpreting LSU coach Brian Kelly’s declaration that Tigers are ‘not in the market of buying players’

Brian Kelly is casting a contrarian vision for how LSU will construct its football teams in the NIL era. While acknowledging that NIL “is a part of this,” the Tigers’ third-year coach told WAFB that “we’re not in the market of buying players.” 

“Unfortunately, right now, that’s what some guys are looking for,” Kelly told WAFB. “They want to be bought.”

Instead, Kelly explained, the Tigers are pitching something other than just cash to potential additions as they seek to build off consecutive 10-win seasons entering the 12-team era of the College Football Playoff.

“If you like all the things that we do here in developing our players, bringing you in to a championship program, playing in front of the best fan base in America, playing for championships and having an opportunity for NIL, you should be a Tiger,” Kelly said. “But if you just want to get paid, this is not the place for you.”

Kelly’s comments on LSU’s roster building approach come after a spring transfer window in which the Tigers failed to land the potential high-impact additions they were looking to add to their defensive front via the portal. In a transfer class grades piece last week, CBS Sports gave LSU’s haul a C+

Defensive tackles were at a premium in the transfer portal and LSU was after two of the hottest commodities in Damonic Williams and Simeon Barrow. Williams committed to transfer to Oklahoma and Barrow is headed to Miami. 

“I think I made it clear in a number of the press conferences that I had that we were in the market in recruiting in the transfer portal looking for defensive linemen,” Kelly told WAFB. “It hasn’t fared very well quite frankly, because we’re selling something a little bit differently.”

Interpreting Brian Kelly’s comments

Kelly, 62, left Notre Dame after a successful 12-year run to take the LSU job, saying to the Associated Press that “I want to be in an environment where I have the resources to win a national championship.”

If LSU is struggling to produce the NIL resources needed for Kelly to attract top portal talent, it raises questions about whether a national title push is in the cards for the Tigers, who have struggled defensively in Kelly’s tenure.

However, given the relative scarcity of talent that was available during the spring portal window, it could simply be that Kelly didn’t want to overpay for transfers and upset the locker room when there is a precedent in place of talent mined from the high school ranks thriving at LSU even in the portal era.

“I think what Kelly is really saying in those remarks is that NIL can be one of many factors that makes LSU an appealing place to play but it won’t be the most important one,” said Glen West of Geaux247. “LSU is more than willing to play ball in the NIL space. Just look at its start to the 2025 high school recruiting class — LSU’s class ranks in the top 3 of most recruiting services with several five-star prospects already on board and there is real interest from other top players at their respective positions in the Tigers. Kelly wants to build this program through the high school ranks and the NIL opportunities are reflective in the current roster and freshman recruiting.”

West said LSU was aggressive in its pursuit of the aforementioned Williams and Barrow but and “put together strong pitches,” but noted Kelly’s comment that the Tigers weren’t interested in getting into high-priced bidding wars for spring transfers. 

LSU’s incoming 2024 high school recruiting class ranked No. 7 nationally in the 247Sports Team Rankings. But its transfer haul is just 42nd and noticeably lacking in star power. However, the Tigers clearly remain committed to a robust high school recruiting effort, as evidenced by the three top-10 classes landed by Kelly and his staff thus far and the strong start to their 2025 class, which already features 12 commitments.

“We will develop you, we will get you ready for the next step as we did with Jayden Daniels, as we did with Malik Nabers, as we did with Brian Thomas,” Kelly said. “We developed three defensive linemen that all got drafted this year. We’ll do that again. But if you’re just looking to get paid, you’re looking in the wrong place.”

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