Former Dayton head football coach Mike Kelly honored for contributions to college athletics

Former University of Dayton head football coach Mike Kelly will be honored Saturday when the Knoxville Quarterback Club names him the 2024 recipient of its General Robert R. Neyland Trophy.

The award’s namesake is a former Army player, coach and officer who rose to the rank of brigadier general before making coaching his profession. Tennessee’s all-time winningest coach and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame is regarded as one of the best, if not the best defensive coaches of all time. Nearly two-thirds of his wins (112 of 173) were shutouts.

This award, announced Thursday night, is given annually by the Club to a man who has contributed greatly to intercollegiate athletics. The permanent trophy is displayed in the Tennessee Hall of Fame Exhibit in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center on the University of Tennessee campus.

Kelly is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame with his induction in 2011. He is Dayton’s winningest coach, (246-51-1 from 1981-2007). He coached the Flyers to the 1989 NCAA Division III national championship and 2007 Division I-AA Mid-Major national championship. He was an assistant on another Flyer D-III title team in 1980. He won eight Pioneer Football League crowns.

His winning percentage of .819 ranks in the top five all-time for coaches with at least a 25-year tenure.

“Gen. Robert Neyland was a giant in our profession,” Kelly said. “I’m very humbled and honored, and sincerely thank the Knoxville Quarterback Club for this recognition.”

Kelly said he “gets goosebumps” when he thinks about sharing the award with previous winners such as Woody Hayes (Ohio State), Darrel Royal (Texas), John McKay Southern California), Phillip Fulmer (Tennessee), Johnny Majors (Tennessee), Bobby Bowden (Florida State), Bear Bryant (Kentucky and Alabama), Eddie Robinson (Grambling) and Gene Stallings (Alabama) to name a few.

Kelly said when he went from being an assistant to a head coach, he called three people on the Neyland list of winners – Hayes, Bryant and Lou Holtz.

“Being a defensive coach, I asked if I need to move to offense because most head coaches are on offense,’’ Kelly said. ``They all three said the same thing: Put yourself where you’ll be comfortable because as a head coach, you have other responsibilities. So I stayed on defense, as, I think Gen. Neyland did as well (at Tennessee).”

Kelly will be honored at the East Tennessee Chapter of the National Football Foundation Awards Luncheon.