An agreement is likely to be finalized in the next 24 hours.
Kelly, in his 12th season at Notre Dame, will replace Ed Orgeron, whom LSU announced on Oct. 17 would not return as coach in 2022, less than two years removed from an undefeated season and a national championship.
Kelly, 60, became the winningest coach in Notre Dame history earlier this season, surpassing Knute Rockne. Kelly is 113-40 (including 21 victories from the 2012 and 2013 seasons that were vacated by the NCAA), guiding the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game in 2012 and to College Football Playoff appearances in 2018 and 2020.
Kelly was on the road recruiting for Notre Dame when the news broke he was leaving the school, a source told ESPN’s Chris Low. He sent a group text to the Notre Dame players late Monday night informing them he would be leaving and apologized that they found out “through social media or news reports.” Kelly told the players he would share more with them during a 7 a.m. team meeting on Tuesday, sources said.
Notre Dame, ranked No. 6 in the latest CFP rankings, completed an 11-1 season on Saturday, and it still is in contention to reach its third College Football Playoff in four years. The Fighting Irish suffered their only loss of the season on Oct. 2 to No. 4 Cincinnati.
No previous Notre Dame coach has ever left the Irish, winners of eight national championships as voted on by the AP, to take a job at another school.
Kelly’s departure comes as a major surprise to prominent Notre Dame sources who spoke to ESPN earlier Monday. Sources said LSU had approached Kelly earlier this fall, but he declined any interest in the job. LSU made another push over the weekend.
Kelly last week addressed the possibility of leaving Notre Dame for another job, telling reporters, “No. I mean, [Pittsburgh Steelers coach] Mike Tomlin had the best line, right? Unless that fairy godmother comes by with that $250 million check, my wife would want to take a look at it first. I’d have to run it by her.”
Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell will be a top target to replace Kelly at Notre Dame, sources told Low. The timing would be anything but ideal for Fickell, though. He has his undefeated Bearcats on the cusp of the College Football Playoff, if they can win their matchup against Houston on Saturday in the AAC championship game.
Fickell has drawn serious interest from several other big-name schools in recent years, but sources close to him said earlier this year the two jobs that would be most difficult for him to turn down would be Notre Dame and Ohio State, the latter being his alma mater.
Sources told ESPN that Notre Dame defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman also would receive serious consideration for the head-coaching job.
Kelly is 263-96-2 as a college coach, with two Division II national titles at Grand Valley State and 10 AP top-10 finishes. He came to Notre Dame from Cincinnati, where he went 34-6 with two New Year’s Six bowl appearances.
Kelly brought stability and success to Notre Dame unlike the program had in almost two decades.
He has not been able to add a national championship, but the Irish have been winning at a clip they haven’t reached since Lou Holtz led the program in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Holtz and the Irish won the national title in 1988.
Notre Dame ran through three coaches after Holtz, never coming close to sustained success.
Notre Dame hired Kelly away from Cincinnati to replace Charlie Weis after the 2009 season. It took a while for Kelly to find the right mix of coaching staff and recruiting strategy to turn the Irish into the consistent national contender. Since going 4-8 in 2016, the Irish are 54-9.
LSU finished a 6-6 regular season on Saturday, upsetting Texas A&M at home in what was Orgeron’s last game. He announced following the victory that he will not coach in LSU’s upcoming bowl game, with offensive line coach Brad Davis to act as the interim head coach for the game.
“Whoever the new coach is, I wish him all the luck in the world,” Orgeron said Saturday. “I’ll always be an LSU fan.”
Since winning the 2019 national title behind Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow, LSU has gone 11-11, and Orgeron was accused of improperly handling allegations of sexual misconduct by a player twice in the past year.
Orgeron was due to make an average of $7 million over the length of his contract but agreed to a $16.9 million buyout paid through 2025.
Kelly’s full salary at Notre Dame, a private school, is unknown, but it is believed to be north of $5 million per year.
LSU had been connected to various coaches, including Fisher, whom Orgeron beat on Saturday and who has vehemently denied that he is leaving Texas A&M for any job this offseason. Oklahoma‘s Lincoln Riley also shut down speculation over the weekend that he could be up for the LSU job, before accepting the position at USC on Sunday.
Yahoo! Sports first reported LSU’s expected hire of Kelly.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.