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Sunday Morning Quarterback: How Does Chip Kelly Fix the Mess That Is UCLA Football?

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The Bruins are a fundamentally bad football team. What can be done to right the ship?

NCAA Football: UCLA at Oregon Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

After watching yesterday’s UCLA Bruins football game against the Oregon Ducks, I’m at a complete loss. The past two games have been two of the worst UCLA games I’ve seen in my thirty years of watching Bruin football.

There are just three games left in the season and there appears to be little hope of winning any of them, given how the team has been so fundamentally bad the past two games.

Unfortunately, any Bruin fan who thinks Chip Kelly is going anywhere after this season is living in Fantasyland. There’s just no way that Dan Guerrero will fire Kelly after this season.

So, what can be done to fix Bruin football?

Well, when the head coach is safe and a team has a horrifically bad season, it generally means that the assistant coaches aren’t necessarily safe.

So, let’s dive in and see where Chip Kelly might need to consider making some changes.

I’m going to start on the defensive side of the ball because that’s where most of UCLA problems seem to be at the moment.

I’ve pretty much lost all confidence in Jerry Azzinaro. The defense came out strong against Cincinnati by putting pressure on the quarterback and the defense actually looked good against the Bearcats. Since that game, the defense seems to be playing a lot less agressively than they did in Week 1.

Now, I get it. Chip and Jerry have been working together everywhere Chip has coached since Oregon, but I don’t think Chip can be stubborn here. Should he fire Azzinaro? I’m not sure about that. Maybe he should consider just demoting him to defensive line coach and bringing in a new defensive coordinator. That assumes one thing. It assumes that Coach Azz can actually teach the defensive line how to actually tackle. If he can’t do that, then he probably needs to go.

Of course, a demotion would leave Vince Oghobaase without a job, but, even if Azzinaro isn’t demoted, it’s hard to argue that Oghobaase should keep his job when the tackling on the defensive line has been as bad as it’s been.

Moving to linebackers, the Bruins have Don Pellum coaching inside linebackers and Roy Manning coaching outside linebackers, but linebacker play isn’t going to be the deciding factor here. Pellum gets a pass because the inside linebackers have been extremely thin since Josh Woods went down. Manning would potentially get a pass because the outside backers have been much better than the inside linebackers.

But, outside linebackers is not Manning’s only responsibility. As UCLA’s special teams coordinator, he’s also responsible for special teams. After watching the special teams cost UCLA a win yesterday and factoring in how things went against Utah, Manning needs to go and a dedicated special teams coach needs to be brought in. Pellum’s duties can be expanded to cover the outside linebackers too.

I think it’s reasonable to say that the defensive backs have improved as the season has gone along. They actually started turning the ball over lately, even if last night was an exception. As a result, Paul Rhoads gets another year as defensive backs coach.

Moving to the offensive side of the ball, I think there are two guys who actually deserve a raise. The first is offensive line coach Justin Frye and the other is running backs coach DeShaun Foster.

Coming into this season, the offensive line and the running game, in general, were two of the biggest concerns with this team. While I think it’s really important to build for the future by bringing in a bunch of offensive linemen, I think Frye has done the job of a miracle worker. After all, the fact that Joshua Kelley has run for more than 100 yards in five of his last six games should tell you that the offensive line is getting better. It should also tell you that Coach Foster needs to stay put, too.

As for receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, I think he can fix the recent issues with Bruin receivers suddenly dropping passes thrown there way, but if things don’t improve soon, he may find his name on the list of coaches who need to be replaced as well and the same thing holds true for tight ends coach Derek Sage.

That leaves only quarterbacks coach Dana Bible. Personally, I think we’ve seen enough growth and development from Dorian Thompson-Robinson over the course of the season. I also think that his performance has been more due to the fact that he’s a true freshman who didn’t start working with Bible until the start of Fall Camp. That’s not Bible’s fault. So, he can stay for now.

Now, how likely are we to actually see any changes after the season is completed?

I’m not sure. It may come down to Chip Kelly’s ability to find someone who can step in at defensive coordinator and make an impact.

Should there be some changes made to the coaching staff for next season? Definitely. UCLA isn’t about to just give up on Chip Kelly after a 5-7 or even a 2-10 season, but I think that there are probably some ways to get better that will improve the fundamentals displayed by next year’s team and that likely involves some personnel changes on the coaching staff.


Go Bruins.