In years past, Spring Football practice hasn’t started until after college basketball season was officially over. While some might argue that yesterday’s loss to Colorado will keep UCLA out of the NCAA Tournament, the Bruins have at least two games left.
Yet, at the same time, we’re just eight days away from the start of Spring Practice. Next Tuesday, March 6th, UCLA Football will open Spring Practice with a 7:15 am session.
So, we’re going to spend the next eight days previewing this year’s Spring Practice. Today, I’m going to discuss the coaching staff.
If one thing is certain, this Spring will be a season of change for the Bruins. That’s because the Jim Mora era is finally over and the Chip Kelly era has begun. Coach Kelly and his coaching staff have already made an imprint on UCLA Football just by going through the recruiting cycle.
The new staff basically tore down the recruiting class to its very core and built it back up in just two months. If you look at where the recruiting class was a different stages of the process, it was like tearing down a structure and constructing a new building in its place.
There were times when I wasn’t quite sure that UCLA would end up with as many recruits as they did. And, to make it even more remarkable, I learned over the weekend that Coach Kelly feels that he has an obligation to visit the homes of every player he recruits.
I love that. I think it’s very respectful of both the recruits and their families. I also think it goes back to at least one of the three things Coach Kelly said football was about during his introductory press conference. As you’ll recall, Kelly said, “I believe football is about three things...relationships, friendships, and championships.” Visiting the home of every player he’s recruiting is certainly about building relationships with the recruits and it may also be about building friendships and, obviously, it also has to do with winning championships.
Oh, my gosh...where to start?
Almost the entire coaching staff is brand new to UCLA. Of the eleven on-field coaches, nine of them will be new and the two holdovers from Jim Mora’s staff have only been in their positions for one season. So, to some extent, even they still feel brand new.
Here’s a look at the new staff:
2018 UCLA Football Coaching Staff
|Passing Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers
|Outside Linebackers/Special Teams
|Director of Football Performance
Offensively, there are four new coaches. The first is, obviously, Chip Kelly himself who will probably call offensive plays himself, especially considering that UCLA technically has no offensive coordinator on this staff.
Dana Bible is the Bruins’ new quarterback coach. He comes to Westwood with more than 30 years of experience coaching quarterbacks, having coached quarterbacks at both the college and NFL levels.
According to Derek Sage’s Twitter account, he is the new tight ends coach, replacing Angus McClure who left last week to join the Nevada staff. Sage has coached receivers almost his entire career, going all the way back to his second year as a graduate assistant, ironically, at Nevada. Sage worked with Coach Kelly for two years when Kelly was the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire. Since then, Sage has worked at Wyoming, Toledo and, most recently, Washington State. He was hired by Mike Leach last January to coach inside receivers, but switched to outside receivers before the start of the 2017 season.
While there has been plenty of speculation and some reports have even implied that Justin Frye will be UCLA’s next offensive line coach, neither UCLA, nor Boston College, nor Frye himself have made his hiring official at this point. As I wrote the other day, I think Frye’s history of success coaching the offensive line at Temple and Boston College make him an ideal candidate to join Coach Kelly’s staff, but, again, officially, the new offensive line coach is to be determined.
The entire defensive coaching staff is brand new to UCLA.
UCLA’s new defensive coordinator is Jerry Azzinaro. While Azzinaro spent last season as the defensive line coach at UC Berkeley, he spent the previous eight years working with Coach Kelly at Oregon, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The big concern that has been expressed is that, while Azzinaro has plenty of experience coaching the defensive line, his previous experience as defensive coordinator includes two one-year stints at UMass, not exactly an FBS powerhouse, and a three-year stint at Duke, also not particularly inspiring. But, it’s clear that Chip Kelly trusts Azzinaro because of their long working relationship.
After Azzinaro was hired, many thought he would also coach the defensive line in addition to being the defensive coordinator, but Vince Oghobbaase was brought over from the 49ers where he spent two seasons, including one under Chip Kelly and Jerry Azzinaro, as the team’s assistant defensive line coach. Before joining the Niners, Oghobaase spent a total of five years as a graduate assistant including 3 years at Ohio State and 2 years at Duke.
The Bruin linebackers will certainly grow from having Don Pellum as the Bruin linebackers coach. Pellum comes to Westwood with more than 25 years of coaching experience and almost all of it was at Oregon, his alma mater, and most of his experience is in coaching linebackers. Judging from what I’ve seen of Pellum on social media, he looks like he is probably the coach with the biggest personality.
Pellum will be joined by Roy Manning, who will coach outside linebackers as well as special teams. Manning comes to Westwood after three seasons at Washington State, two seasons at Michigan and one season at Cincinnati. Four of his six years experience is coaching outside linebackers, which is the position Manning played at Michigan and over the course of the three seasons he spent in the NFL. He has not coached special teams before, but will do so for the first time this year.
The final new defensive coach is Paul Rhoads, who joins UCLA from Arkansas where he coached defensive backs for the last two years and added the title of defensive coordinator this past season. Prior to joining Arkansas he spent seven seasons as the head coach of the Iowa State Cylcones. His record at Iowa State was pretty awful. He went 32-55 there, but a lot of guys who aren’t successful head coaches are very good coordinators or position coaches. Rhoads has more than ten years’ experience coaching defensive backs and nine years’ experience as a defensive coordinator.
The one other newcomer worth noting and that’s Director of Football Performance Frank Wintrich, who joins UCLA from the University of Virginia. He replaces Sal Alosi, who just about everyone had felt had overstayed his welcome in Westwood. While Wintrich is not one of the on-field coaches, he may just have the most important job of anyone in the program whose last name is not Kelly as there has been a feeling that UCLA’s players have not been receiving the conditioning necessary to keep them healthy.
With so many new coaches, it’s easy to forget about returning coaches, especially now that that number is down to just two following the late departures of Hank Fraley and Angus McClure.
The first returning coach has been called one of the brightest in the game. He also proved to be a very strong recruiter this past offseason and that’s wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Jimmie Dougherty. In addition to pulling in some very key receiving recruits this year, Dougherty also improved the play of the receivers who were in the program last season. While the receivers seemed to slip back into some bad habits towards the end of the season, Dougherty oversaw a significant improvement of the unit last season.
The other returning coach is Bruin legend DeShaun Foster. Foster oversaw a much improved running back unit last season, but, with that said, there is still plenty of room for improvement among the backs. That should be helped by the anticipated development Justin Frye will bring to the offensive line, but, again, Frye hasn’t officially gotten the job yet.
There is a really good mixture of experience and young blood on this staff. Chip Kelly has done a good job of putting together a group of teachers who can effectively teach the game of football to UCLA’s players.
The key thing, though, heading into Spring Practice is that there will be a lot of teaching going on on both sides of the ball as the coaching staff installs and implements Kelly’s offense and Azzinaro’s defense.
The fact that players will have a break in between the first few weeks of Spring Practice and the final few weeks is probably a genius move on Kelly’s part as it will give players an opportunity to have a break for finals as well as some time to review on their own what was covered during the first two weeks of Spring Practice. It should result in a much crisper second half of the Spring.
UPDATE (5:45 pm): Less than a hour after this article was published, UCLA officially announced the hiring of both Derek Sage and Justin Frye, completing the coaching staff.