August 2, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

UCLA’s Martin Jarmond remains a big believer in Chip Kelly

If UCLA football were headed for an initial public offering in 2021, Martin Jarmond would be poised to pounce, hoarding what he considered blue-Chip stock.

The Bruins athletic director Tuesday lauded the team’s upward trajectory under coach Chip Kelly, saying it was on the rise despite a 3-4 record last season that resulted largely from a handful of agonizing finishes.

“I liked the energy with the team and the fight,” Jarmond told The Times in a wide-ranging interview regarding the state of a football program that recently completed its first season under his watch. “They competed at a high level every game.”

Jarmond noted that the team statistically improved in dramatic fashion from 2019, Kelly’s second season. The Bruins finished No. 23 nationally in total offense (up from No. 65 the previous season) and No. 71 in total defense (up from No. 113). Their four losses came by a combined 15 points, leaving them just a handful of plays from going 5-2 or 6-1.

But they ultimately didn’t make those plays, resulting in a fifth consecutive losing season and third in a row under Kelly, who has gone 10-21 after signing a school-record $23.3-million contract in November 2017. It’s the worst start for any coach at UCLA since James Cline went 2-10-3 in 1923-24, leading to his departure after two seasons.

“Obviously, we want to win more games than we lose — Chip and I both share that — and that’s one thing I’m excited about for next year is, sometimes the ball bounces the other way,” Jarmond said. “We want to finish, we need to finish, and that’s something that’s important and I’m looking forward to that.”

Kelly has two years remaining on a contract that includes a $9-million buyout expiring Jan. 15, 2022, terms that would make it difficult to dismiss the coach at a time while other top candidates were available without absorbing that massive payout. Jarmond wouldn’t comment on possible extension talks with Kelly that could include a revision of his buyout clause except to say he had “no news to report on that front.”

History says that Jarmond doesn’t settle for sustained mediocrity. At Boston College, Jarmond dismissed coach Steve Addazio after Addazio posted a .500 record, the Eagles going to six bowl games in seven seasons. Reminded of that decision, Jarmond said it had no bearing on his evaluation of Kelly.

“Every school is different, every situation is different,” Jarmond said. “I look at situations singularly.”

As far as Kelly’s staff is concerned, Jarmond said he is involved in decisions, providing support and feedback. A handful of assistants, including defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, have drawn widespread criticism and the team could have to fill openings if other coaches are lured away.

“Chip is in his evaluation process and that’s ongoing and I just shared with him to keep me posted,” Jarmond said. “We’ll discuss those as different situations present themselves based on personnel.”

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly reacts during the second half against Stanford.

(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

While Kelly has never articulated a vision for success beyond saying he sought “relationships, friendships and championships” at his introductory news conference, Jarmond said he wanted to develop young men into positive role models and citizens while “competing at the highest level.”

“Part of having a great experience is winning, being successful,” Jarmond said, “and I want to win and that’s important to me and that’s what my vision is, to win the right way, develop and make this an ideal environment for them to grow and say that those are the best three, four or five years of my life at UCLA.”

The return of a slew of players, including quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and graduate transfers Brittain Brown, Qwuantrezz Knight and Paul Grattan Jr., amid a pandemic is a sign to Jarmond that Kelly has built an enticing environment.

“For these kinds of guys to come back and return and want to represent UCLA and have a feeling of, let’s run it back, that’s important,” Jarmond said. “That shows to me the level of commitment and the energy and enthusiasm they have for wanting to win and compete and be successful.”

The Bruins’ recent recruiting efforts under Kelly have also pleased Jarmond, particularly given their ability to bring two high school prospects who briefly decommitted back into the fold.

“That usually does not happen and that was positive to see,” Jarmond said, “because that shows that they want to be a part of something that they feel is successful.”

Jarmond also praised Kelly for guiding the Bruins through the pandemic. UCLA and Oregon State were the only Pac-12 Conference teams to play every weekend, and the Bruins have sustained only a handful of positive COVID-19 cases since players returned to campus in late June.

The Bruins’ strong academic performance under Kelly — posting program bests for the number of Director’s Honor Roll recipients three times since his arrival — as well as their enhanced community involvement are two other ways in which Jarmond feels they have excelled.

Success has been more elusive on the field, Kelly still seeking his first winning record since 2014 with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

“I want to win,” Jarmond said. “Winning is important for our young people and our fans and our alumni and I want to win just as much as anyone else and the reality is, there’s a lot of teams that are working hard every day to try to win and you don’t win every game.

“I focus on, I want to win more than we lose and what are the things that we need to do to put us in those situations to be successful?”

Given Jarmond’s support, it appears that bringing back Kelly is part of that formula.