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Kelly follows unusual path to lead Irish to top

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly appears to be the coach with all the right answers.

Nearly every decision he's made this season has seemed to work out, from picking Everett Golson as starting quarterback to having Tommy Rees replace him at key times. Kelly has led Notre Dame from unranked to the brink of what could be one of the best chapters in the storied program's history as the top-ranked Irish (11-0) prepare to face Southern California (7-4) on Saturday.

Those who know Kelly say that all he has been through during his coaching career has led him to this moment. Kelly took an unusual path to Notre Dame.

He played football at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., when it was a club sport, and planned a life in politics. But his love of football was too great.

So he took a steep pay cut to become a graduate assistant. That set him on the road to becoming the head coach who may be on the verge of proving himself a worthy successor to Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz.

"I'm not surprised at all by what he's done," said Curt Anes, who played quarterback for Kelly when Grand Valley State won the Division II national championship in 2002. "It's the nature of who he is. He's such a leader. He's tenacious in what he does. He's just really doggone good at it."

Kelly always dreamed big. He remembers applying for a graduate assistant job at Southern Connecticut State and being asked during the interview where he saw himself in five years. He said he wanted to be a head coach.