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UCLA Football: A Look at the Pros and Cons of Chip Kelly

Let’s break down whether a potential Chip Kelly hire makes sense for UCLA.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Kansas State Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The biggest name currently tied to the vacant UCLA head coaching position is former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. Late Sunday, rumors began to swirl that Kelly had taken the Florida job, only for reports to come out that Kelly was waiting to hear UCLA’s offer.

With that said, there has been vigorous debate over whether Chip Kelly is the right hire for UCLA. So, in an attempt to answer that, I’m going to take a look at both sides of this debate, and do it the only way I know how: with a fake debate between the two opposing viewpoints.

Pro Chip Kelly: Well, I hope this can be a pleasant and respectful debate between the two of us.


PC: o-...oh....

AC: Hahaha, I’m just kidding. How are you doing?

PC: Well, to be honest, I’m a bit excited. The Chip Kelly to UCLA rumors have been running rampant since at least October, if not earlier, and it’s still a bit of a shock to me that UCLA still has a shot at getting a top-tier head coach. And I know that this has happened before (hello Chris Petersen and Brad Stevens rumors), but this one feels much more plausible.

AC: Well, let’s maybe pump the breaks on that top-tier coach talk.

PC: Are you doing a bit right now?

AC: Not at all! I just don’t think Chip Kelly is that great of a coach.

PC: Ok, you need to explain yourself now.

AC: Certainly! I can’t deny that Chip Kelly did a great job at Oregon, but that was his only head coaching job in college, and his NFL career proved that that success was a bit of a fluke.

PC: Going to a BCS Championship game wasn’t the result of a fluke performance. In total, Kelly posted a 44-5 regular season record at Oregon, and won a Rose Bowl and a Fiesta Bowl during his time at the school. No matter what, that’s a pretty damn impressive track record for one guy to have. As for the NFL stuff, Chip Kelly wouldn’t be the first successful college coach to struggle in the NFL (like, for example, Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier), so it’s hard to hold that against him.

AC: That’s fair, though I still think the NFL tenure should be a huge red flag. Kelly was given control of personnel during his time at Philadelphia, and the results were not good in the slightest. I’m a bit more willing to forgive the 49ers tenure because that team really didn’t have any talent to work with, but it still wasn’t good.

But let me get to what I really want to talk about: the NCAA “show cause” penalty.

PC: Oh, here we go.

AC: In April of 2013, months after Chip Kelly left for Philly, Oregon announced that they had put themselves on a 2 year probation after it was discovered that the Oregon program had been funneling money (alleged to be about $25000 dollars) to a scouting service. This is maybe a bigger issue than before in light of the FBI investigation into college basketball, revealed this past October, that features a similar situation.

PC: I do think it’s important to note that the NCAA decided that Chip Kelly was unaware that the situation was taking place, but his show cause was for a failure to monitor. Essentially, Chip Kelly set the precedent that eventually led to Rick Pitino’s ouster at Louisville.

AC: It’s still not a great look, and especially in the aftermath of the China incident, UCLA may be looking to stay away from anyone with any previous problems.

PC: Well, it’s a good thing no UCLA coach has ever had issues with recruiting. Oh wait.

AC: That’s a low blow.

PC: But not an unfair one. Fact is UCLA has had coaches in the recent past that skirted the rules, yet for some reason Chip Kelly should be disqualified despite, as the NCAA pointed out, not having any direct knowledge of the illegal activities. It seems like people just saw the words “show cause” and abandoned ship.

AC: That’s not an unreasonable stance to take, though. Just because Kelly didn’t know what was going on this time, that doesn’t mean the situation can’t occur again at UCLA, especially with the amount of talent in the surrounding area. And then you’re stuck with UCLA holding the sanctions bag.

PC: I do think it’s a bit of a scared position to take. For all of his faults as athletic director, a commitment to ethics and running a clean ship is not one that Dan Guerrero possesses, and I don’t doubt that that culture can continue under a potential Chip Kelly regime.

AC: I thought we weren’t going to resort to name-calling.

PC: I didn’t.

AC: Well, we’ve talked about some of the reasons I don’t want to hire Kelly. Maybe we should talk about why you actually want to hire him.

PC: I think it really comes down to a simple fact: by actually hiring Chip Kelly, UCLA would finally be showing an actual commitment to being a competitive football program. Everything else ties into that fact.

AC: Alright, now it’s really your turn to explain yourself.

PC: Gladly! I don’t think I’m being crazy when I state that UCLA’s last 3 hires were not received well upon being hired, in part because they were so uninspired. And while the Jim Mora hire at least worked out for his first 3 years, the fact is that none of those names, when hired, signaled that UCLA was fully committed to being a winning football program.

AC: I agree so far.

PC: Now, while the Jim Mora era did not end as well as we all hoped, we do have to acknowledge that Mora did help change the culture around UCLA, from his push for upgraded facilities, to a belief that UCLA can and should compete on a national stage. In many respects, Mora was a victim of that change in culture that he helped bring in.

AC: I’m still following along.

PC: So here’s the kicker - even if Mora helped to bring these changes along, that culture change doesn’t stick if you don’t make a great hire to follow. Hiring a big name like Chip Kelly shows that UCLA is tired of being second-tier, and that they’re ready to play big boy football. It would send a message to the rest of the Pac-12 that UCLA is ready to take the next step and dominate a Pac-12 that is still ripe for the taking.

AC: Ok, now you’ve lost me. UCLA could accomplish the same thing by hiring Scott Frost or Mike Norvell.

PC: I don’t believe so, for a few reasons. The first being that there’s no way Frost chooses UCLA over a potential opening at his alma mater Nebraska, so we can stop with that pipe dream. But beyond that, Chip Kelly is really the only name that would actually scare other teams in the conference, specifically because they remember how good his Oregon teams were. Kelly not only has more experience than any of these other guys, he has experience winning and winning big in a Power 5 conference (let alone that that conference is the Pac-12 and at a non-traditional conference power in Oregon). With younger up-and-comers, the risk you run is those guys don’t translate their success at a smaller school on a bigger stage, and in this new college sports environment, a bad hire can really cost you. Remember Al Golden?

AC: I do. I also remember Jim Harbaugh.

PC: Let me be upfront: I’m not against hiring a young up-and-comer by any means. But a potential Chip Kelly hire should take precedence over that option.

AC: Are there any other points we’re missing here?

PC: If I’m being fair, I’ll admit that a Chip Kelly hiring wouldn’t create a huge surge in recruiting, but that’s because I don’t know if any hiring outside of Nick Saban would cause that. Fact is, UCLA recruits itself pretty well already thanks to its natural advantage of sitting in a recruiting hotbed. I’m intrigued by what Kelly could do with access to a higher-quality of recruit than he had at Oregon, but on the recruiting front a Chip Kelly doesn’t make or break this next recruiting class.

AC: Do you want to talk about the defense? Because defense wasn’t the biggest concern of Chip Kelly during his time in Oregon, and I don’t know if you noticed this, but UCLA’s defense hasn’t been very good this year.

PC: I think that’s a fair question to have, but I will say that Oregon’s defensive philosophy in the Chip Kelly era was to be as hyper-aggressive as possible. Create negative plays, force turnovers, and maximize the amount of times your very-good offense has the ball. Essentially, the same strategies UCLA should have switched to this year once it became obvious that the conservative bend-don’t-break defense wasn’t going to cut it. Kelly seemed to be making a bet that an aggressive defense could force enough mistakes from college football players to give him an edge, and it worked out more often than not.

AC: Alright, I think we’re done here. Still not convinced Kelly is the answer, if I’m being honest.

PC: That’s ok, you’re entitled to your opinion, even if that opinion is completely wrong and you’re a dumb dumb for thinking it.

AC: And you were so close to making it through this without resorting to name-calling.