Up the coaching ladder
Bolstered by what learned from Glatz and his teammates at the Prep, Kelly was determined to better himself at Assumption College. But it was a struggle. It was always a struggle. Assumption didn’t have a varsity football team when Kelly got there in 1979. It was a club team and the Greyhounds often got pounded. Kelly played linebacker and he, too, got pounded. He would take it and come back for more.
“His very first game at Assumption, I think the team lost, 38-0 or something like that,” said Cronin. “Brian comes back up to the dorm room and doesn’t say anything and on Monday he’s back at practice. He’s thinking about how he’ll get ready for the next one. He was just one of those diligent, organized guys. You can always find a place on the team for a guy like that. You want him as a teammate, a friend, a coworker. He’s a solid character guy.”
Sundays were a sacred day for Kelly and Cronin at Assumption. They’d postpone studying and cleaning their room (“a bloody pigsty,” said Cronin) in order to watch NFL games. That’s when Kelly started paying even more attention to how the game was played.
“We’d be watching the Patriots or whoever,” said Cronin, “and Brian would be drawing up plays on a napkin or a legal pad or whatever was around. You could tell he had a passion and fire for the game.”
Kelly stuck it out as a football assistant at Assumption from 1983-86 before landing a similar job at Division 2 Grand Valley State, located in Allendale, Mich., in 1987. He took over as head coach at Grand Valley in 1991 and was enormously successful there over a 13-year period, posting a 118-35-2 record and winning two national championships. Kelly finally got a shot at running his own program at a higher level when he was named head coach at Central Michigan in 2004, yet even that was low profile by Division 1 standards.