CINCINNATI — Of all the Cincinnati Bearcats affected by the departure of coach Brian Kelly – and they’ll all feel some impact, as they’ll be trying to preserve their perfect record with an untested coach – no one will absorb a harder blow than quarterback Zach Collaros.
Under Kelly’s direction, Collaros developed from a barely recruited high schooler into a collegian with an off-the-charts passer rating, a 5-0 mark when quarterbacking at least half the game and a combined 14 touchdowns running or passing.
Collaros produced a .750 completion percentage and 1,434 passing yards this season. He is in line to inherit the starting QB job from senior star Tony Pike next year, and Kelly was to be his coach. But as Collaros prepared to enter the banquet celebrating the spectacular success of Cincinnati’s 2009 season, he recognized he’d have a different coach in 2010.
“I just found out in the car on the way down here, on the radio. It kind of just hit us there,” Collaros said. “We kind of knew it was coming, I think. He’s just doing what’s best for him.
“We were all paying attention these past couple of days. None of us really blame him for the decision he apparently has made.”
There was some bitterness, according to star senior wideout Mardy Gilyard, the Big East’s special teams player of the year. Gilyard said he is old enough to understand the business side of Kelly’s decision, but he worries about the team’s underclassmen.
“Young guys, they come to me. And I have to answer those questions,” Gilyard said. “They’re (ticked). Our young guys are (ticked). They feel like they bought into a situation they felt they were going to be in for the long haul. Now, the general just kind of let the reins go.
“If it was me being in their position, the younger guys, I’d probably be bummed out about it. I wouldn’t be the leader I am if I wasn’t worried about those younger guys.”
As head coach, Kelly was in charge of all the Bearcats, but he had a special touch with quarterbacks. He is such a masterful teacher of QBs he was able to win games with four different starters in three years.