This past week, former Oregon Ducks coach Chip Kelly was the hottest commodity on the college coaching market. And both Florida and UCLA were trying to snag him. The 54-year-old turned down the Gators in favor of the Bruins.
UCLA fired coach Jim Mora after a 4-8 campaign. Mora had success in his first five seasons, but faltered this year.
Kelly compiled a 46-7 record at Oregon and took the Ducks to a BCS National Championship appearance in 2010. He also coached the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers, going 28-35 in four combined NFL seasons.
Kelly Brings His Genius to UCLA
While Jim Mora had solid teams in Westwood, UCLA never won the Pac-12 nor made a serious run at the College Football Playoff. This is where the Bruin faithful hope that Kelly can succeed where Mora failed.
Winning 11-12 games a year with the Ducks was an impressive accomplishment, given that they don’t have the national recruiting clout as traditional college powerhouses.
“I think it was one of the most profound changes in college football that’s happened in a long time,” said Cal offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, who spent four seasons coaching under Kelly.
“Early on, people didn’t know how to handle it. Defenses couldn’t get lined up. Adding the quarterback as part of the true run game without being an option team, being a zone team but having that element of the quarterback run and being able to spread the field and utilize all 53.5 yards of the field was pretty revolutionary. We really caught the defensive world of college football off-guard.”
Kelly’s teams took opponents by surprise and revolutionized how many programs ran their offense. These days, college defensive coordinators are much better at stopping the up-tempo spread. And officials give defenses a better chance to substitute defensive players to combat the up-tempo offense.
UCLA can Do Better in Recruiting
Chip Kelly has never been a huge fan of recruiting. He doesn’t like the time it demands, nor does he enjoy smooth-talking 17-year-olds to his program.
“Chip is very good at evaluating,” said Nick Aliotti, a Pac-12 Networks analyst who was Kelly’s defensive coordinator. “We spent a lot of time in evaluation. What Chip is not good at is the tweeting and the schmoozing. He can do a nice job on the home visit. That’s just his social makeup.”
Greatwood added, “He wasn’t the kind of guy who was just a bird dog on a recruit, calling a recruit all season long. I mean, you got him in front of people, he’s impressive, the way he carries himself.
“I think he didn’t like the whole process of taking a kid from early January and recruiting him all through the following February to signing date. I think that kind of took its toll on him.”
Kelly may not be the used car salesman of football recruiting, but he’s still really good at it. Case in point, he was able to sell plenty of solid recruits to Eugene. A great example of Kelly’s recruiting prowess is when he convinced running back De’Anthony Thomas to switch from USC to Oregon on signing day in 2011.
But the good news for Kelly is that he no longer has to sell elite players on coming to the Pacific Northwest. In fact, He’ll be running into four-star recruits on a regular basis in the Los Angeles area. Furthermore, he won’t need somebody like Willie Lyles, whose recruiting efforts put Oregon on probation.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Kelly does very well with California recruiting. 41 of his 93 signees came from the Golden State. It should be even easier for Chip to sell Californians on their home state.
UCLA is Attractive because Kelly can Blend In
Chip Kelly definitely isn’t somebody who seeks celebrity status. In fact, he’s an introvert who thinks that watching film footage is the most “fun part of the job.” This is one reason why he turned down the Florida job because he’d be the biggest celebrity in Gainesville.
Westwood, on the other hand, gives Kelly a chance to blend in with the famous crowd. He’s far from the biggest name in Hollywood, which suits him just fine.
This is especially the case when considering that Kelly struggled to deal with the media in Oregon. Now, that media attention will be spread out.
Another aspect to consider is that UCLA is a on a lower rung in the LA sports hierarchy. The LA Lakers command the most attention, followed by the LA Dodgers and LA Clippers. The Bruins aren’t even the most famous college team in their city because this honor belongs to USC.
Kelly will be just fine with this since he can work under the radar. And while he does have a high profile, he won’t be bothered with the same celebrity attention as if he lived in a smaller college town.
UCLA Outlook for 2018
The problem for Kelly is that he’s walking onto a team that just finished four games below .500. This is a different situation than when he took over an already successful Oregon program.
I could easily see Kelly going 5-7 or 6-7 in his first season. After all, there’s a lot to be repaired after a 4-8 campaign.
But on the flip side, Kelly could quickly catch fire on the recruiting scene thanks to his profile. Assuming he can get some five and four-star recruits to Westwood, then things could turn around for this Bruins team in a hurry.
A 10-win season may still be out of the question. But it wouldn’t be a shock to see Kelly and the Bruins finish somewhere around 8-5 if things go well.