January 23, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Analysis: Chip Kelly needs to get it together at UCLA

During an introductory news conference that was all smiles and puffery — Troy Aikman hailing it as the greatest hire in UCLA history — Chip Kelly said his success would be centered on relationships, friendships and championships that were rooted in being open and honest in his communication.

In the spirit of transparency, there are some things Kelly needs to understand about keeping his job. His 10-21 record represents the Bruins’ worst three-year stretch since the early 1920s, when they were known as the Southern Branch Grizzlies.

Being close to good isn’t going to cut it. You don’t get credit for leading USC in the final minute or mounting a massive comeback against Stanford unless you win those games.

For someone who’s supposedly so meticulously detailed, the details certainly were screwed up at the end of those games. Don’t use the third-best running back in a critical situation. Stop calling runs up the middle on fourth and short. Double cover a receiver after he tops 150 yards.

And another thing: Stop throwing running backs coach DeShaun Foster under the bus. You’ve done it twice now, blaming him for Demetric Felton Jr.’s limited usage in a 2019 loss to Arizona and then again earlier this month when you said Foster’s rotations resulted in redshirt freshman Keegan Jones getting the carry on the failed fourth and one against USC.

Hey, Chip. You’re the head coach and the offensive coordinator. You call the plays. You dictate the personnel. You’re in charge. It’s all on you.

It was great to have the awareness to recognize the defense needed fixing. Bringing in defensive backs coach Brian Norwood and his 4-2-5 scheme helped solve this issue until the defense curiously reverted to its soft, passive form in the final minutes of those losses to the Trojans and Cardinal.

Regardless, it’s a big step forward from whatever scheme previously run under defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro. Now it’s time to thank Azzinaro for his years of service going back to your days together at Oregon, let him retire when his contract expires in February … or move him back to the defensive line and fully hand the defense over to Norwood.

Speaking of assistants, there’s a few other moves that need to be made. This staff needs to get younger and more dynamic, bringing renewed vigor to recruiting that relies too much on the energy of director of player personnel Ethan Young. Some assistants are exerting the required effort while others continue to lag behind, exhibiting inexcusable inertia on the verge of Year 4.

The Bruins were fun to watch for the first time under Chip Kelly in 2020, but still struggled to finish games.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

You’ve touted the transfer portal as a potential spigot of talent, but you need to remember that will work both ways. UCLA has already lost an embarrassingly high number of players with remaining eligibility since your arrival.

Yes, Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero might have written the equivalent of a blank check when he hired you, but successor Martin Jarmond will be authorized to stop payment and cover that $9-million buyout if necessary.

And it’s getting close. You can’t go 3-9, 4-8 and 3-4 to start a five-year contract and expect an extension unless you expect UCLA to change its motto to “Chumps made here.”

You can’t go 0-6 in nonconference games, including 0-4 against Group of Five opponents, and continue to feed the narrative, however misguided it might be, that you are workshopping early in the season and care only about the Pac-12 Conference schedule.

You said it yourself in September 2019, after your team became the first in UCLA history to lose to San Diego State: You are what your record says you are.

Sorry to be so blunt, but your record is pathetic.

Keep in mind that Jarmond fired Steve Addazio at Boston College after Addazio had gone 44-44, compiling winning records in five of seven seasons. The Eagles made it to six bowl games; you’re still seeking a first since the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, your final game at Oregon.

You’re not in Eugene anymore, are you?

UCLA was willing to dismiss the NFL failures because of your giddy success with the Ducks, that 46-7 record reverberating in everyone’s head and leading to visions of a packed Rose Bowl and Pac-12 championships. But you still haven’t articulated a vision for success with the Bruins or how to get there, other than saying you plan to have a really good Wednesday. Was that your pitch to chancellor Gene Block?

As with most struggling coaches, you’re probably getting a pandemic pardon amid the sorry finish to what had been a promising season. Your team was fun to watch for the first time, playing quality football and showing how it might contend for one of those championships you referenced — if it could avoid turnovers and finish games. What might be your best recruiting class is on the way to help in 2021.

If the pandemic fades into the background by next fall, your team will open with home games against Hawaii, Louisiana State and Fresno State. Fans presumably will be allowed back into the Rose Bowl should the COVID-19 vaccines prove effective, but how many will want to return given what’s transpired?

If it’s all about relationships, friendships and championships, consider those three more losses on your record. Start winning big now or it’s over.