When you hear Kelly talk about his "Next Man In" philosophy, many of those who hear it for the first time just take it with a grain of salt and words a head coach is throwing out to the wind. Not Kelly, in 2008 Kelly had to start the season without star defensive tackle Terrill Byrd for the season opener due to a suspension.
While that year's opening opponent was Eastern Kentucky, Kelly and the Bearcats didn't miss a beat as his defense only gave up 7 total points on the night.
That same season saw Kelly use the next man in for almost every game of the season as he took Cincinnati to an 11-2 record, Big East Championship, and trip to the Orange Bowl. Thirty-two different players earned starting assignments during the season including three different quarterbacks.
The 2009 season again saw Kelly use thirty-two different players in starting roles. While he only used two quarterbacks during a 12-0 season, the message was now clear Kelly expected every player on the roster to be ready to play no matter where they are asked to line up.
Kelly's biggest move in 2009 came in the Bearcats win against Fresno State where wide receiver Marcus Barnett earned the start. It would be Barnett's one and only start on defense and the following week against Miami Ohio, Barnett would earn his second starting assignment of the season as a wide receiver.
At Central Michigan, Kelly lost starting quarterback Brian Brunner with a concussion on the second play of the 2006 season opener. In stepped Dan LeFevour who guided the Chippewas to a MAC championship and Motor City Bowl victory. That season helped Kelly get the head-coaching job at Cincinnati.
In 2001, Kelly lost quarterback Curt Anes to a knee injury in the first round of the Division II playoffs. He then used Todd Wojciechowski when he wanted to throw the ball and wide receiver Ryan Brady when he wanted to run. Grand Valley won two more playoff games with the duo before losing in the championship game by three points to North Dakota.
How has Kelly been able to get such success out of players sitting and waiting their turns? He does it by making sure players are not only getting reps, but also taking mental reps during each and every practice.
With the many questions surrounding the health and durability of Dayne Crist, and Irish fans worried about who will be the second signal caller called upon if needed. Keep the following in mind. Kelly took Ben Mauk in one season and turned him into one of the top quarterbacks in college football.
Mauk had struggled at Wake Forest for three seasons with only 4 career touchdowns and Kelly made him into a super quarterback with 31 touchdowns and 3,121 yards passing. That is the magic of Brian Kelly's "Next Man In" style of coaching.