You kind of figured that someday Chip Kelly, former head coach at Oregon, would make his way back to college football. It was 2012 when Kelly left the Ducks and took his trade to the National Football League. In a matter of weeks, he will likely become a Football Bowl Subdivision head coach once again. The question is where.
Almost immediately following the announcements of the firings of Jim McElwain at Florida and Jim Mora at UCLA, Kelly’s name was linked to the newly created job openings. Chip Kelly has met with representatives of each school. It appears that the 53-year-old current ESPN analyst will decide between the two institutions.
Understanding Chip Kelly
For those who may not know Kelly’s entire background, it may be helpful in understanding where Kelly may ultimately end up. After a playing career at the University of New Hampshire (his home state), Kelly almost immediately went into coaching. Kelly got his start as a secondary coach at Columbia. Chip Kelly even spent a season at Johns Hopkins as a defensive coordinator. He did this before landing back at his alma mater in the mid-1990s as a running backs coach.
Kelly had the opportunity to help design an offense for RB Jerry Azumah at New Hampshire. Azumah, at the time, rushed for an FCS career record 6,193 yards. Eventually Kelly rose to the position of offensive coordinator at New Hampshire. It is then when he really laid the groundwork for what has become Kelly’s offensive system. His teams were known for their ridiculous total offense and scoring numbers. In 2006, his quarterback, Ricky Santos, was named the recipient of the Walter Payton Award. This is given annually to the best player in the FCS. To give you an idea of his accomplishments, Santos is one of only two players – Steve McNair is the other – at the FCS level who gained 3,000-plus yards of total offense in each of his four collegiate seasons.
The Up Tempo Spread
Mike Bellotti was the head coach at Oregon and was looking for a way to improve his offense. He had heard of a rising star in New Hampshire and hired Kelly to become the offensive coordinator for the Ducks in 2007. In his first season, Kelly’s offense led the Pac-10 in total offense (467.5 yards per game) and scoring (38.2). Oregon went 9-4 and just two years later, Kelly was named the school’s head coach after Bellotti became the Ducks’ athletic director.
What Kelly achieved in four years at Oregon is nothing short of amazing. Led by an almost unstoppable offense, the Ducks went 46-7, won two Pac-10 titles, and played for a national championship. Kelly’s accomplishments led him to the NFL where he enjoyed some early success with the Philadelphia Eagles but ended up being fired in 2015 after going 6-9 to start the season. He spent one rather lackluster year in San Francisco going 2-14 before being let go. The four years in the NFL may have convinced Kelly that his offense is best suited for the college game.
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Why Chip Kelly Takes UCLA Job
For starters, Kelly is much more familiar with the Pac-12. He is not what anyone would call a dynamic recruiter and has expressed his disdain for it, but Kelly does know the west coast and as long as he can get a handle on the talent in southern California he should do well at UCLA. The Bruins are also known to pull in talent from outside the state, but Kelly would not have to go far to find skilled players for his up-tempo offense.
Another consideration for Kelly is the investment by the university into the football program. The Bruins just opened the $65 million Wasserman Football Center prior to this season. The facility is a tremendous upgrade from what existed before. That, plus the school’s decision to pay $12 to buyout Mora, indicates that UCLA will spend the money to invest in someone who can rebuild the program into a Pac-12 power.
What may also eventually lead Kelly to Westwood is the ability for him to kind of disappear into the big pond. The Los Angeles area is home to eight major professional sports teams as well as numerous personalities in the entertainment business. Kelly, not a fan of the spotlight, would not be the guy getting hounded at the grocery store for autographs or conversations about how his offense can bring national championships to the Bruins.
Bumps in the Road
There could be a few things that get in the way of Kelly taking the job at UCLA. One is the other opportunities that are available to Kelly, specifically the job at Florida. The Gators’ program is one steeped in tradition. The Florida football program has won three national championships since 1996. The Bruins have one national title to their name and that was back in 1954. Since 1996, UCLA has had eight losing seasons and just one conference championship.
At Florida, Kelly would also have a talent pool that is seemingly endless. The state of Florida produces an amazing amount of talent and many of those young athletes would likely stay home for the chance to put up massive amounts of yards and points in Kelly’s offense. Florida is an elite program that despite its problems this season is still the two-time defending SEC East champion.
One of the bigger sticking points could be the Bruins’ football program’s association with UnderArmour. While at Oregon, Kelly, of course, had a very good long-term relationship with Nike and its co-founder and former CEO Phil Knight. UCLA entered into an agreement with UnderArmour just this year after concluding one with Adidas. It’s hard to believe, but Kelly taking the UCLA job could come down to his relationship with Nike. Also the Bruins’ willingness to make UnderArmour go away.
Kelly is expected to make a decision very quickly. It is believed he will be choosing between UCLA and Florida. Though some sources have mentioned Arizona State, a job that is not yet open. The Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham could be let go at the end of the season. It is believed that Chip Kelly is intrigued. Interested or not, if Kelly wants to be on a sideline next fall, he needs to make a decision soon. With his experience in the Pac-12 and not having to play Alabama, Georgia, and a host of other SEC titans every week, it appears that Kelly’s choice should be the Bruins regardless of apparel contracts.