The drama is over and people are getting back about their jobs in the UCLA athletic department. But, at least for a few days UCLA was a top story in the college football world. Introducing Chip Kelly Monday as the new head coach is the hope that they will be the talk of the college football world many more times over the years.
UCLA Football; A New Era Begins
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero introduced Kelly before a crowd of local and national sports reporters, as well as about 100 boosters/donors in a gathering at Pauley Pavilion. The mood in the room was unlike most in recent memory at UCLA. The Bruins got their guy, their first choice. Everyone associated with the hire, or the program was feeling pretty good about themselves.
Kelly, for his part, was typically brief with answers to questions, but also seemed to be soaking in a little of the atmosphere. At least as much as he ever does. He has signed a contract reportedly worth $23 million over five years with a $9 million reciprocal buyout. He is still collecting money from his San Francisco 49ers buyout. In all likelihood, his new UCLA contract will be smaller in the first two years to allow for the maximum amount from the 49ers. It would then escalate in years three-five.
How Kelly Got To UCLA
Kelly had been courted for three weeks by the Florida Gators. In that time they could not reach a deal. Yet, agreed to a deal with UCLA within 72 hours of the first contact with the Bruins. In hindsight, it seems clear the Gators chances with him were remote. Kelly emphasized he easily could have kept his ESPN analyst job for another year, but then the UCLA offer came about. “I spoke with (Duke football coach) David Cutcliffe about moving on to what was next. The right fit was most important,” Kelly told the audience. “To be aligned with the right people is most important.”
It did not take long for Kelly to win over the locals, as if he had not already. Invoking the name of John Wooden will do that at UCLA every time. “Any coach who has ever worked with young men and women, it goes to what they learned from Coach Wooden.” While bringing up Wooden’s pyramid of success several times, Kelly also said he has his own triangle of sorts. “Relationships and friendships equal championships.”
Where To Start
To that point, Kelly met with the team at 8:30 Monday morning. He also had met personally with all but two of the current staff. The other two were still out recruiting on UCLA’s behalf. Kelly, himself spent part of Sunday making local recruiting visits.
He was asked if the high-speed offense of his years at Oregon was what fans could expect at UCLA. “No. Those players have all graduated,” he quipped. Kelly said he was not going to be a coach who relied on getting “his players” in 2-3 years to get started on his plans. “I met with my guys today. Those are my guys.”
Kelly said his intent is to transform the offense and defense on a yearly basis based on the talent on the roster. He said he does not plan to squeeze players into a system that does not fit their skill sets. “We will tailor to the talent. Coaches are like professors and the games are the tests like every other student takes. The difference is most students don’t have 90,000 people watching them take their test.”
When asked how long it would take him to get his staff together, Kelly again when to the most notable Bruin for his answer. “Be quick but don’t hurry.”
The Here and Now
The December 20th early signing period for high school players certainly puts a premium on the timing of all things staff related. The current staff is still recruiting on UCLA’s behalf. Kelly said he also wanted to give Jedd Fisch the room needed to get the team ready for its December bowl game. He was complimentary of Fisch’s ability to take over the day Jim Mora was fired and turn the team around on a short week to get the win over Cal Friday night.
Former UCLA quarterbacks Cade McNown and Troy Aikman were also in attendance. Aikman was part of the four-person committee making the coaching hire. He has known Kelly for several years while Kelly coached in the NFL and Aikman worked for Fox NFL broadcasts. Aikman said conference championships are a good starting point for a goal, but this hire was about more than that. “Conference championships are good, but there is no reason UCLA should not be competing a national level on a regular basis.”
Associate athletic director Josh Rebholz, (also part of the committee), said he felt good about the potential to bring Kelly in, as soon as they wrapped up their Tuesday meeting in San Francisco. “Dan did a great job laying out what we were looking for. Troy was great at selling the school and the program. Casey (Wasserman) talked about the support and resources Chip would have. It all worked so well. When we left I felt like I knew it was done.”
Part of the sense of happiness in the room was that for the first time in at least 40 years, UCLA took a runner on its first choice and got the guy they wanted. Rebholz said it does not go without notice that they beat a legendary SEC team to do it either.
Kelly took note of the new Wasserman Center and upgraded football facilities, as well as the new convention center and hotel that was added as part of the renovation. “I have my office in the Wasserman center and it overlooks the practice fields. And to my left is Pauley Pavilion. And right across the way is the new Luskin Center with great hotel rooms. If Dan could just get me a room in the hotel to live in, I would never have to leave campus.”
As if all the glad handing in the room was not enough to convey the new mood on campus, there was “the plane.” The same folks who had paid for a plane to fly over the Rose Bowl prior to the Arizona State game had already scheduled a campus flyover for November 27th. The original intent had been to continue to call for the firing of Mora. The message on the banner, though, was definitively different than their original intent.