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College Football Insider

Brian Kelly's NFL flirtation sparks debate about leverage plays

When a big-time college coach interviews for an NFL job these days, these two words might be found somewhere in the sports media Twittersphere:

Leverage play.

Maybe not in the case of Oregon's Chip Kelly, who made his NFL intrigue clear, but with Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly, the questions are asked:

Are these guys carpet bagging for more money? Or is their interest genuine?

In the case of O'Brien, the process from which he interviewed for the Browns' job and "maintained his commitment" to Penn State was a mere few hours.

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I approached some people in the college football hiring world for their thoughts on this topic. Two agents with at least one BCS-level head coach as a client agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, and UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham also lent his thoughts.

"It seems to me we have more and more of [these examples] than we've ever had," said Cunningham about the leverage game.

Apparently there are a few guidelines to this process:

* If you interview elsewhere, you'd better be prepared to leave:

Agent No. 1: "If I've got somebody and we're going after the job, you have to be ready to leave before you go do that. Let's say [Kelly] goes and gets an NFL offer and brings it to Notre Dame. They can say, 'Fine. Go.' That's some very serious negotiating that you're doing. That's a done deal, and you've lost your job. You better be ready to go take a job.

"If a guy wants it, we go after the job."

* Every case is different, but leverage plays are indeed prevalent

With Kelly, it's questionable whether he needed leverage since Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick was already planning to open the vault after Kelly's national title run.

Agent No. 2: "I don't think you can lump in every college coach that does that as trying to get leverage. But I think history would show that that's what happens.

"I always say, 'No one knows anything until you appear out of Door No. 1.' If you do it the other way, it really messes everyone up. You're hurting the school; you're hurting the coach.

"The Notre Dame guy, he gets absolutely annihilated publicly. And now, you do all of this recruiting, and then you're out offering for a job openly? That just can't be a good thing. Do it behind closed doors. But when you make it a public announcement, I don't know how that helps anybody."

* A lot of people would like the job you're currently in

Cunningham was Tulsa's AD when Todd Graham, a well-documented bolter, left for Pitt. He replaced Graham with Bill Blankenship.

Though a small-school jump is different than Kelly's situation, there are similarities.

"There are an awful lot of good coaches out there at every level," Cunningham said. "I want people to be comfortable looking. If they find something more appealing, I want them to be happy. But it's also important to remember that a lot of coaches would like to be in the position they are in.

"I think three's some genuine interest from coaches looking. I also think some of that is a negotiating position now, too."

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