Ever since Chip Kelly was officially announced as UCLA’s head coach on November 25th (though he originally signed a Memorandum of Agreement a day earlier), and from his opening press conference, our attention has turned to the rest of his coaching staff. Would Kelly keep anyone? Who would he bring in? How long would it take him to jettison Tom Bradley?
After the reveal of Dana Bible being hired as quarterback coach, Chip Kelly’s first staff as the leader of the UCLA Bruins football team is officially set. So let’s break down this group.
Dana Bible, Quarterback Coach
Background: Bible has been coaching since 1976, and has overall been coaching for 35 years, mostly in college as a QB/OC at a variety of spots. As the introductory press release noted, he has coached current NFL QBs Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson at separate stints at Boston College and North Carolina State. He also has West Coast experience, having served as Stanford’s OC/QB coach from 1995-1997, and at San Diego State as the OC/QB/WR coach from 1986-1988.
Strengths: Bible’s biggest strength appears to be his wealth of experience and respect he has garnered from others. Again, 35 years of coaching will do that, but you also don’t stick around that long if you aren’t good at your job, and Bible is very good when it comes to coaching. Along those same lines, he already has his quarterback committed for the next few years in DTR, and you have to imagine QB recruiting stays good going forward regardless of who the QB coach is.
Weaknesses: This is unfair, but we have to talk about Dana Bible’s health. In 2009 Bible was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. He continued to coach after the diagnosis, only leaving NC State in 2012 when they brought a new coaching staff is, having been made interim HC right before the season ended. He stayed out of coaching for a few years before popping up again on Chip Kelly’s San Francisco staff as an Offensive Analyst. I think, all things considered, this won’t be a huge factor, but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.
Overall: Even before Bible was hired, Chip Kelly appeared to be taking a committee approach to QB coaching, with the hiring of former QBs Jerry Neuheisel and Nate Costa as offensive grad assistants. So, along that train of thought, hiring a well-respected, older coach like Bible makes complete sense, especially if you like the idea that Kelly and Bible are grooming one of those GAs to take over as QB coach in a few years. Plus, the hiring of Bible gives Chip Kelly another coach on staff that he really respects and can bounce offensive ideas off of. That’s not nothing, especially if Kelly is going to retain offensive play calling and coordinating responsibilities.
DeShaun Foster, Running Backs Coach
Background: DeShaun Foster is a familiar name for Bruin fans, not just because he served as the running backs coach last year under Jim Mora. Foster is 5th all-time in rushing yards in UCLA history, after which he played 6 seasons in the NFL. He started his coaching career in 2013 as a volunteer assistant, then moved up to a grad assistant the next year. In 2016, Foster got his first big-time coaching gig when he became the running backs coach at Texas Tech. Last year, Foster came home to take over as the running backs coach at UCLA, and Chip Kelly decided to retain him when he took over.
Strengths: It’s hard not to say that the running game improved last year for the Bruins. UCLA’s rushing attack ranked 64th in the country by S&P, compared to 126 in 2016, so that’s a clear upgrade. In addition, it appears that Foster has a great connection with the RB group, and the players did seem to have a better understanding of what was being asked of them.
Weaknesses: Just as it’s hard not to say that the running game improved under Foster, it’s hard to say how much of that was him specifically and how much of that was due to a complete scheme change away from whatever it was that Kennedy Polamalu was trying to do. It also is a question of the effects of Hank Fraley taking over as offensive line coach. Basically, too early to tell on that front (and it’s going to again be difficult to tell once Chip Kelly installs his offense). That makes Foster’s job as a recruiter even more important, and on that front he’s been....not great. Kazemir Allen is obviously a gem to get, but that’s really it at this point, and you’d think it’d be easier to recruit running backs to Chip Kelly’s offense. Next year may be more telling on this front, though.
Overall: With Foster, this seems to be something of a fit issue than anything else. Chip Kelly obviously felt comfortable enough with the progress of the running backs under Foster, and the hope here is that will continue going forward. We shall see.
Hank Fraley, Offensive Line Coach
Background: Hank Fraley is a standard bearer for overachievement. After playing college ball at Robert Morris, Fraley entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent; he ended up carving out a 10 year career, starting for most of those years for the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns. Over his NFL career, Fraley started 123 games, which is pretty damn good for an undrafted lineman. He started his coaching career at San Diego University as their offensive line coach, before moving to San Jose State to do the same job. In 2014, he left for the Minnesota Vikings to be their assistant offensive line coach, before returning to college last year with UCLA.
Strengths: As mentioned in Foster’s section, UCLA drastically improved their rushing attack last season, but equally impressive was the job in pass blocking. Routinely this year, I was able to mention that the Bruins did a great job in pass protection, giving Josh Rosen plenty of time to make plays (the comeback against Texas A&M remains a highlight here). Fraley appears to be an excellent teacher of technique, which is definitely helpful considering the woeful state the offensive line was left in by previous coach Adrian Klemm.
Weaknesses: Hank Fraley’s biggest weakness at this point is easily his recruiting ability. You have to give him a pass for 2016 as he joined the staff in January and had to scramble just to get any recruits after the sorry state Klemm had left OL recruiting, but this year’s class has been suspect at best. UCLA needs bodies, especially after losing Kolton Miller, Scott Quessenberry, and Kenny Lacy to the draft/graduation. And as of this moment, UCLA only possesses two commitments from offensive linemen. The good news is that Chris Murray is the type of commit that looks like he can compete for a starting job as a true freshman, but you’d really like to see recruiting pick up.
Overall: Hank Fraley definitely sits on the teacher end of the teacher/recruiter spectrum, which isn’t a bad thing. UCLA has seen the results of a line coach who was a better recruiter than teacher, and the hope is that line recruiting can pick up if the Bruins start winning. But you do have to like the progress the line made this year just with a change of perspective.
Jimmie Dougherty, Wide Receivers Coach/Passing Game Coordinator
Background: Jimmie Dougherty is one of the younger, hot-shot coaches on staff. Starting his coaching career at San Diego, Dougherty worked in Washington for a few years as wide receiver coach before joining San Jose State’s staff as their offensive coordinator and QB coach. Dougherty almost joined Jim Harbaugh’s initial Michigan staff, but did eventually join after Harbaugh’s first season. He initially joined Oregon’s staff late in 2016 before leaving a month later to join his former Michigan coworker Jedd Fisch at UCLA, where he spent the past year as the WR coach.
Strengths: Confession: I think Dougherty is great as a coach. He came in and immediately understood what he needed to do to help make UCLA’s passing attack more successful. He shortened the WR rotation, and consistently got the most talented WRs on the field (#FREETHEO). This also helped corral the drop issue that plagued UCLA in past seasons, and Bruin receivers as a group just played much better this past year. Beyond that, he’s a dynamite recruiter, as evidenced by his current class which includes 247Sports #1 Athlete Bryan Addison and 4-star WRs Chase Cota and Kyle Phillips. Simply put, keeping Dougherty had to be considered THE priority from my perspective.
Weaknesses: If I’m honest, the biggest weakness for Dougherty is that he appears to be a coach on the rise who could be gone in a few years. My personal hypothesis is that Dougherty could be in line to take over as OC for the Bruins in a few years, or some similar upgrade in title to keep him around. There is also the question of an incident that occurred during his brief stay at Oregon involving a DUI, but Dougherty was just a passenger in the car and was not charged with a crime, so the most you can say is that he made a poor decision to get in a car with a drunk driver.
Overall: Of all the returning coaches, Dougherty was my pick for guy I most-wanted to stick around. He’s just so dynamic as a recruiter while also managing to improve wide receiver play that it would have been hard to see him leave. So yeah, big keep for the Bruins here.
Angus McClure, Tight Ends Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Background: The old hand of this coaching staff. Angus McClure is entering his 11th season as a UCLA coach, and has managed to survive 3 regime changes. Originally hired to UCLA as a tight ends coach under Karl Dorrell in 2007, McClure has held a variety of positions on the UCLA staff over the years, including offensive line, defensive line, and special teams. In addition, he has acted as recruiting coordinator since at least 2012. Prior to his long UCLA stint, he has worked on staffs at Nebraska and Buffalo.
Strengths: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. Angus McClure is so pivotal to UCLA’s recruiting capabilities, not just because of his track record in bringing in top talent to UCLA (like Eddie Vanderdoes, Jaelan Phillips, and Takkarist McKinley). McClure is also really adept at navigating UCLA’s admissions process, and has more-than-once been able to get guys admitted that may not have been admitted prior. That’s an important skill to keep around for a staff that is not necessarily familiar with the academic challenges that being at UCLA provide.
Weaknesses: I think it’s fair to say McClure may not be the best of teachers on the staff. After all, the fact that he’s coaches 3 different positions (along with special teams) over his time at UCLA speaks to something of a “jack of all trades, master of none” situation. Which also explains why putting him at tight ends coach makes a ton of sense.
Overall: This is another real obvious keep from the prior staff, especially with the change from 9 to 10 assistants allowing for teams to more easily hide strong recruiters who are weaker recruiters. McClure as the tight ends coach is able to cover a lot of the recruiting weaknesses from some of his other colleagues, and is especially big when it comes to offensive line recruiting since he is a former offensive line coach. And, as a tight ends coach, you can cover any deficiencies thanks to good teachers at both blocking (Fraley) and catching (Dougherty). So, in essence, McClure is the key that unlocks the offensive coaching staff to be even better.
Overall As a Coaching Unit
If I had to describe this coaching unit, I think it’d be easiest to look at it like a machine. By that, I mean you have a host of different parts that, by themselves, are useful, but put together can do some amazing things. You have great coaches in Dana Bible and Hank Fraley, a fantastic recruiter in Angus McClure, and an all-around dynamo in Jimmie Dougherty. If anything, Foster as of now sticks out like a sore thumb, but it’s easier to see how things have been out of his hands up to this point, and thus easier to give him a pass.
But more importantly, I think it’s important to note that none of the coaches listed here are the offensive coordinator. Chip Kelly is following the path of some recent top NFL coaches and retaining play calling on the side of the ball he excels at, which is offense. You can question that, but there are few offensive minds I’d trust more than Chip Kelly, and the offensive coaching staff in general seems to have been built with a mindset that if each position group can be coached to excellence, then success will come. It’s a gamble, but one that doesn’t seem that crazy, all things considered.
If you want to be wary, you could point out that only 2 of the 5 offensive coaches appear to be good recruiters, but this also ties back to that machine analogy. Angus McClure can cover for some of the other deficiencies on the staff, and these coaches get to sell a Chip Kelly offense to recruits. If you want to argue that today’s kids remember the failed NFL stint, that’s fine, but many of them also remember the Oregon days, and UCLA should be able to bring in a high talent level to exceed those just based on proximity to talent alone. Thus, I’d say a focus on great teachers makes sense, and you just assume McClure can cover for any other recruiting deficiencies.
Jerry Azzinaro, Defensive Coordinator
Background: OK, Coach Azzinaro (who, sorry guys, we will not be abbreviating to Azz, as much as you might enjoy it) really is the old man of the coaching staff, as he has over 35 years of coaching experience to draw from. Just to hit the highlights, though, he has coached with Chip Kelly in the past, acting as his defensive line coach while he was at Oregon and following him to the same position in the NFL at Philadelphia and San Francisco. He also has defensive coordinator experience, having performed the job at UMass and Duke. Last year, he served as UC Berkeley’s defensive line coach, and was part of the effort that helped turn around that entire defense.
Strengths: Azzinaro’s big strength is that he’s real smart and a tireless worker, which is a winning combination when it comes to things like breaking down film, teaching technique, and scheming against opponents. Cal’s defensive line play was notably improved this season, and Azzinaro himself has had 4 of his defensive linemen end up as 1st round draft picks in the NFL draft (Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dwight Freeney, and Dion Jordan), so I would not be worried about UCLA’s line play on that side, especially since Azzinaro will share coaching duties here as well.
Weaknesses: Despite a 36-year coaching career, Jerry Azzinaro has only spent 10 of those as a defensive coordinator, and of those 10 only 3 came at a Power 5 level. That’s something of a red flag, though at least he actually has some experience there, and UCLA has hired a few other coaches with defensive coordinator experience to help share the load. In addition, since Chip Kelly is an offensive coach by trade, that puts even more of a burden on Azzinaro’s unit holding up its end.
Overall: On a pure fit level, Jerry Azzinaro is everything Tom Bradley was not. He’s a tireless worker, adaptive in strategy, and a great teacher. The downside is that lack of experience. Fortunately for Azzinaro, there’s nowhere to go but up for the defense, so he’ll have time to build the unit back up.
Vince Oghobaase, Defensive Line Coach
Background: The young gun of the coaching staff, Vince Oghobaase is 30 years old, and he started his career as a graduate assistant at Duke in 2011. From there he went to Ohio State to work as a graduate assistant from 2013-2015, then spent the last few years as the assistant defensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers, where he worked with both Chip Kelly and Jerry Azzinaro.
Strengths: Oghobaase seems to be likable enough, and I’m seeing enough scattered snippets on him being an up-and-coming coach, so that’s good to see. Plus he’s young, which usually helps when it comes to recruiting, especially having spent some time at a recruiting factory like Ohio State.
Weaknesses: Well, this is the first time that Vince Oghobaase will be in charge of a unit, which is a frightening prospect.
Overall: The fact that there isn’t a ton to go off of, good or bad, probably speaks to this being a move to bring in someone both Azzinaro and Kelly were familiar with. Since Azzinaro is a Defensive Line coach by trade, and a damn good one at that, that should mitigate any coaching issues that may come up, and Oghobaase is young enough that you have to assume he can do well on the recruiting trail going forward. Still, this is maybe the biggest puzzler on the staff, so we’re in wait-and-see mode here.
Don Pellum, Linebackers Coach
Background: The Sharpest Dressed Man in College Sports has a long history with Chip Kelly, having been his linebacker coach when Kelly was the head man at Oregon. Don Pellum is a former Oregon Duck linebacker and 23 of his 27 years of coaching was spent at his alma mater, mostly as linebackers coach. He did have a brief stint taking over for Nick Aliotti as Oregon’s defensive coordinator following Aliotti’s retirement, but was demoted after two seasons (though, to be fair, it’s hard to say the unit got better after his demotion). Pellum spent last year taking a sabbatical, which made it easier to name him as one of the first new hires of Chip Kelly’s staff.
Strengths: Don Pellum is a fantastic recruiter, consistently being the guy to bring in top prospects to Oregon - he is the one who snagged 5-star De’Anthony Thomas out from under USC. Already, he was behind the flip of Bo Calvert from USC, and his connections are giving the Bruins a fighting chance with top linebacker prospect Solomon Tuliaupupu from Mater Dei. He is also a guy who puts the team first. Consider how he handled his demotion at Oregon - instead of quitting or undermining the team, Pellum personally helped recruit his replacement, and went above and beyond to make the team as good as possible.
Weaknesses: His dry cleaning bills are going to be more expensive in LA.
Overall: It’s hard not to like everything about this choice. Not only is Pellum a great recruiter, he’s also a great coach, consistently churning out top-end talent like Kiko Alonso, Dion Jordan, and Michael Clay. This is basically a home run hire.
Paul Rhoads, Defensive Backs Coach
Background: Paul Rhoads is going to be best known for his time as head coach at Iowa State, where he went 32-55 over 7 seasons, but also taking the Cyclones to 3 bowl games. More important to us at this moment, Rhoads has extensive background as a defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach. He has 10 years of experience as a coordinator between stints at Pitt (2000-2007), Auburn (2008), and last year at Arkansas, and over that time period his defenses finished in the top 30 of scoring defense 6 times, and 3 times finished in the top 12 when it comes to the fewest yards allowed.
Strengths: I left out some of the defensive back coaching up there, because it is clearly his strength as a teacher. Some of Rhoads former players include Jerraud Powers, Shawntae Spencer, and Darrelle Revis. Rhoads defenders are known for their great technique, which is something UCLA fans have felt has been lacking in recent years.
Weaknesses: Rhoads’ career path underlies his biggest issue: recruiting. Rhoads has only spent 1 year at a school with a big recruiting footprint (Auburn). Rhoads excels at making players better, but he will be expected to bring in a higher caliber of recruit than he has at all of his other spots. The fact that he was able to keep Stephan Blaylock’s commitment is a good sign.
Overall: There’s plenty of reason to like the Rhoads hiring. He fits into the great teacher archetype that seems to be a prevalent theme on this staff, and his wealth of DC experience should be helpful for Jerry Azzinaro. You’d probably like to see a better recruiter, but, between Pellum and the next coach, that might not be as big of an issue.
Roy Manning, Outside Linebackers and Special Teams Coach
Background: The hype man himself, Roy Manning is on the younger side of the coaches on staff, having only held a coaching position for 9 years prior to joining the UCLA staff. Manning spent the first 4 years bouncing between Cincinatti, where he broke in to coaching, and Michigan, his alma mater, before joining Mike Leach’s Washington State staff in 2015 as outside linebacker coach. He has also coached running backs and cornerbacks in his brief coaching career. According to Bruce Feldman, Manning was in high demand in the Pac 12 before ultimately joining Chip Kelly’s staff. Reportedly, Manning will also spend time with the defense (specifically outside linebackers) so he’s being listed here.
Strengths: Check out this piece by the Spokane Review regarding Manning’s departure if you want to get hype. Manning is an effective recruiter, and better coach who was one of the keys to Washington State’s turnaround on defense. Bruin fans will probably love how disruptive Manning’s players were in getting to the backfield and making TFLs and sacks (Washington State was 9th last year with 7.9 TFLs per game).
Weaknesses: Manning doesn’t have any experience as a dedicated special teams coach, but considering Chip Kelly’s past staffs have taken more of a committee approach to ST, that’s probably what will happen here, with Manning given the ST job title while mostly acting as another defensive coach.
Overall: I think you could quibble about Manning’s lack-of experience as a ST coach, but that’s not why he’s on staff. He’s here because he’s a great defensive coach and tireless recruiter. Again, another solid choice for this staff.
Overall as a Coaching Unit
When I talked about the offensive coaching staff, I mentioned that the staff seemed to work like a complex machine, with all the pieces fitting together to form one fully-formed unit. On defense, that doesn’t seem to be the case, as instead (most of) the coaches on this side are incredibly strong at one half of the teacher/recruiter dichotomy, while being at least decent at the other. There are, of course, questions, especially around Vince Oghobaase’s first major assignment and Paul Rhoads’s recruiting, but there are built-in protections to both of these. For Oghobaase, he gets help from one of the better defensive line coaches in the nation in defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, while Rhoads recruiting can be blunted by major recruiting powerhouses in Don Pellum and Roy Manning.
But I think my main takeaway from this group out of the blocks is how smart and talented they are as coaches. Again, taking away the younger Oghobaase, who still gets high praise from multiple sources, you still end up with fantastic teachers at all 3 levels of the defense. I can’t remember the last time a UCLA defense could boast that kind of coaching strength. Past coaching staffs would sacrifice one half of the college coaching dichotomy for others at different levels of the defense, but never really had great teachers at all the levels. Just compare this group to last year’s coaching staff:
DC: Azzinaro > Bradley (would have been hard to be less tbh)
DLine: Oghobaase = McClure (though if you factor in Azzinaro this is a win for the new staff)
LB: Pellum > White
DB: Rhoads > Martin
And you have a floater in Manning who can provide solid coaching support at all 3 levels.
Though, here is where I throw a bit of cold water on the proceedings. First of all, it would have been impossible for this staff to be worse than last year’s, and that performance alone is going to give this group some leeway for this first year. But also, this defense will be given more leeway just due to playing opposite Chip Kelly’s turbo offense. We don’t know how the defensive coaching staff will approach things from a tactical standpoint yet, beyond a general belief that the Bruins will switch to a 3-4 alignment. So this whole thing is really up in the air, but at least the early returns are promising.
Frank Wintrich, Director of Football Performance (Strength and Conditioning)
Quick breakdown: I’m never the most comfortable when it comes to breaking down strength and conditioning programs, if in part because it’s hard to get a great read on things unless you exist in that world. But from what I’ve read on Wintrich from multiple places, this seems like a solid hire. Certainly Virginia’s team has been much improved in the S&C department these past few years, and if you want a breakdown, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has an overview of Virginia’s routine under Wintrich. Personally, I really liked when Wintrich pointed out how a gradual program works better for the students then trying to build mass all at once, and I like his focus on technique.
More importantly, there have been reports here and there of current players raving about the new strength and conditioning program, and recruits seem to be mentioning it repeatedly when recapping their official visits. What shocked me the most was learning that having individualized plans for each position group was apparently a new direction for the program, as that just seemed like common sense. So there is a lot to like with Wintrich’s hiring and new S&C program.
Geoff Martzen, Director of Player Personnel
Quick Breakdown: Part of the announcement of Martzen’s hiring came with the report that Kelly was not planning on keeping anyone from former Director of Player Personnel Matt Bernstein’s staff, so this appears to be part of a whole department slate-wiping. Martzen seems to have good reports from people in the industry, but there’s a steep learning curve from being the DPP at BYU and Colorado State, and taking over one of the major jobs in the Pac-12.
Jerry Neuheisel, Offensive Grad Assistant (QB)
Quick Breakdown: It’s nice to have Jerry home where he belongs, and my personal theory is that Kelly is grooming him to eventually take over as QB Coach. This theory says that Dana Bible leaves after a few years, Dougherty is promoted to OC to keep him around, and Jerry slides into the now-open QB slot. It wouldn’t be bad by any stretch.