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Burnt ends and blowing smoke: Brian Kelly at Vancouver home of Notre Dame recruit Merriweather when news of LSU departure broke

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 3, 2021, 4:39pm
2 Photos
Dom Merriweather, from left, looks on as his son, Tobias Merriweather, an incoming senior at Union High School, announces he will play college football at Notre Dame while joined by Tobias' mother, Beverly Merriweather, at Union High School on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 4, 2021.
Dom Merriweather, from left, looks on as his son, Tobias Merriweather, an incoming senior at Union High School, announces he will play college football at Notre Dame while joined by Tobias' mother, Beverly Merriweather, at Union High School on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 4, 2021. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Notre Dame football recruit Tobias Merriweather and his family had a front-row seat Monday to the college football craziness surrounding Brian Kelly.

That is, it didn’t turn crazy for the Merriweathers until moments after Kelly and three Notre Dame assistant coaches departed Vancouver, Wash., and the home of one of their Class of 2022 prized recruits. Only then did the Merriweathers realize Kelly would be departing as Notre Dame’s football coach, too.

Days later, it’s still hard for Dom Merriweather, Tobias Merriweather’s father, to wrap his head around the events of Monday when news broke that Kelly was leaving Notre Dame after 12 seasons for LSU.

It’s especially hard for Dom Merriweather to fathom since Kelly spent more than two hours inside his home Monday afternoon, ate several helpings of home-cooked barbecue, and talked about everything related to Notre Dame football with his son and other family members.

Kelly met with Notre Dame players Tuesday. He was formally introduced as LSU’s head coach at a press conference Wednesday after signing a 10-year, $95 million deal.

Looking back, a series of events — Kelly and staff’s early arrival, a private phone call taken by Kelly during the visit, and a “bull (expletive)” response shortly after their departure — dampened what otherwise was a memorable visit, Dom Merriweather told The Columbian.

“This was my only experience with an official in-home visit,” said Dom Merriweather, also a father of two current Division I track and field athletes at Oklahoma, “and it was great until 5:01 p.m.”

According to Dom Merriweather, the family hosted Kelly, associate head coach and special teams coordinator Brian Polian, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, and wide receivers coach Del Alexander — starting around 2:30 p.m. Monday. Their arrival came an hour earlier than originally expected.

The visit lasted about two and a half hours. Football conversation included all the logistics to “seal the deal.” Union High School’s graduation ceremony June 10 comes after when Kelly said recruits are scheduled to report to campus, but insisted Tobias Merriweather walk with his classmates.

Talks also drifted toward the current landscape of college football, including Lincoln Riley’s sudden departure to USC from Oklahoma on Sunday. Ironically, Kelly’s departure 12 years ago to Notre Dame from Cincinnati also came up.

At no point during the visit did Kelly hint or suggest he’d be leaving Notre Dame. Nor were the Merriweathers aware of any rumors swirling; family members weren’t on their cell phones while entertaining the coaches.

But during the visit, according to Dom Merriweather, Kelly stepped out for a 15-minute phone call. Soon after he returned, the coaches and family members sat down for a home-cooked meal featuring deviled eggs, barbecued shrimp and brisket burnt ends. The visit continued for another 90 minutes.

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“He came back in, sat down, and acted like it was nothing,” Merriweather said of the phone call. “He was cool as a cucumber.”

About those burnt ends, though: “(Kelly) had three servings,” Merriweather said.

That’s why the Merriweathers were “shocked” just minutes after Kelly and his assistant coaches left the house at 5 p.m. to see reports of Kelly heading to LSU. Screenshots from social media were immediately sent by Tobias Merriweather to Notre Dame assistant coaches for clarification. They had just left in a luxury SUV.

A reply came immediately.

“They weren’t more than half a mile from our house,” Dom Merriweather said, when he texted back “I showed this to Coach Kelly, and he says, ‘That’s bull (expletive).’

“I bet they weren’t even on 18th Street and 187th Avenue (in Vancouver) before he said that.”

Tobias Merriweather is a 6-foot-4 wide receiver who committed to Notre Dame on Aug. 4. He planned to sign his national letter of intent during the early signing period Dec. 15, according to his father. At the time of his verbal commitment, 247Sports ranked Merriweather No. 75 in the country, and the 11th-best wide receiver. This fall, Merriweather helped lead Class 4A Union to a 6-3 record.

Tobias Merriweather still remains verbally committed to Notre Dame, his father said, although Michigan, UCLA and a host of other programs reached out after Monday’s news. On Friday, Notre Dame elevated defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to be its 30th head coach in program history. While the Merriweathers have been in contact with Notre Dame’s assistant coaches, they never heard from Kelly after he left their home Monday afternoon.

A high-profile college football coach leaving for another job isn’t what surprised and disappoints Dom Merriweather most; rather, how Monday unfolded in front of them — an unintended front-row seat of a soon-to-be head-coaching departure.

Nonetheless, Dom Merriweather still finds some humor in it all.

“I guess he wanted the burnt ends,” he said.