Chip Kelly is the new football coach of the Bruins. That might or might not be a good thing for UCLA. That, in and of itself, is a questionable hire, and one can already foresee what the folks in Westwood are thinking next season when he runs out of the Rose Bowl tunnel to make his coaching debut in the home opener.
It was never a question for a guy best known as one of the most innovative coaches in the game that he wouldn’t wind up coaching a top program in the nation. It was never a doubt for a smart, gritty football mind that he wouldn’t take the right coaching job that opened up.
Kelly, the leading candidate at UCLA, rose to the top of the Bruins’ list, in the midst of a national search for a coach. The hottest coaching name on the market was the best fit for the long haul. As you know his cutthroat competitive nature, his sneaky and conniving behavior was rooted in persistent success. Unlike most coaches, Kelly pioneered the fast-paced, spread offense that has incredibly revolutionized the college game.
The fact that the parties agreed to a five-year, $23.3 million contract with a $9 million reciprocal buyout within days suggested that Kelly was the leading candidate a day after the firing of his predecessor Jim Mora. Now the Bruins have a proven college coach in Kelly. But anything less than a playoff, and we can be certain that he won’t last long at UCLA.
It was the kind of return Kelly had envisioned — the way he always saw it. Like many college coaches whose transition to the pros are cut short, Kelly failed the NFL test after two tries. With the Eagles —as was the case with the 49ers —a tumultuous two-year tenure was marred by his questionable decisions, and his unorthodox approach and the inability to build a team. The normally unconventional Kelly was embroiled in a rule-breaking scandal that had thrown Oregon into turmoil.
As the questions came, Kelly was unaware a Texas-based scout funneled players to Oregon. His reputation certainly didn’t take a hit for his failure to monitor the program’s activities with reference to a $25,000 payment made to a scouting service. In the midst of an NCAA investigation, he sincerely apologized and accepted his share of the responsibility for the violations. He was then slapped with an 18-month show-cause penalty, which meant he was essentially banned from coaching in college through the end of 2014.
Lost in the drama of the NCAA infractions, the Ducks went a whopping 46-7 during Kelly’s four seasons, with each of the final three finishing ranked in the top five nationally. This is a guy who walked away from school to become an NFL coach in two cities for two franchises he couldn’t revitalize with his brilliance. This is a guy who went 9-26 with his teams during his woeful stint as an NFL coach. So now, after a four-year absence and after being fired from two NFL jobs in two seasons, Kelly is back in college.
This is the benefit of being the obvious choice for a school with unfulfilled desire or need to win a significant amount of games and, more importantly, beat USC in its annual crosstown rivalry showdown. By ending a coaching search quickly, it only suggests that the Bruins trust in Kelly. Acting promptly himself, he confidently is certain he has found the right fit. He made a commitment to coach a needy and well-known football program. It seems to be the right job for Kelly, but is he the right guy for the Bruins?
Let’s just say the program has manufactured some momentum with athletic director Dan Guerrero’s decision on handing Kelly the playbook. It wasn’t only Guerrero conducting the coaching search, though. He was aided by Troy Aikman, the UCLA alumni and former Bruins quarterback, and Casey Wasserman had some input as well.
There wasn’t much deliberation or decisive action in hiring a coach. Sure, it was a roll of the dice, a desperate and timely roll, one that likely feels right after it was reported that Florida was no longer pursuing Kelly. It appears he’s even more worthy of the administrators’ trust at UCLA.
After he was busted by the NCAA, Kelly left Oregon, which now serves as a cautionary tale for the Bruins, yet the school wasn’t hesitant to bring him on board, maybe because he’s a flashy name to outrival the other school in town.
This is, however, a fresh new start. Either Kelly will make or break UCLA. With that said, it’s a gamble that will either make or break the Bruins.