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UCLA Football: More Bang For Your Buck?

With a significantly higher salary coming his way than his predecessor, will Chip Kelly have the impact that football fans are looking for?

NCAA Football: UCLA-Head Coach Chip Kelly Press Conference Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

You might be thinking that this article is coming out of left field—why are we talking salaries on June 1? Well, if you’re a season ticket holder and you opted for deferred billing, today’s the day we pay up. While we’re bound to pay the price at some point through higher ticket prices, will the cost be worth it? Will the money pouring out of our pockets at each home game be offset by the experience of actually winning games?

Right now, raw numbers show that Chip Kelly’s 2018 $4.66 million salary exceeds former head coach Jim Mora’s annual salary by about $1.2 million (Mora’s last year was $3.45 million, with bonuses for performance), and it also makes him one of the top paid coaches in the NCAA. When he was at Oregon, Kelly had a six-year, $20.5 million contract, and racked up the accolades to support the paycheck. He coached the Oregon Ducks to a BCS bowl game each of his four years there, was a two-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year, and did something that no UCLA Bruins coach has ever done—he won the Pac-12. Twice.

He then became one of the highest paid head coaches in the NFL when he coached the Philadelphia Eagles, at $6.4 million per year (in 2012, only six known coaches had made more). He took the NFC East Division title with the Eagles in 2013, and was also the Maxwell Club NFL Coach of the Year. The Eagles, however, were not his last stop in the NFL. When Kelly parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers after just one season (and not much success), he was owed about $14 million, and about half of that will come from UCLA over the next two years. Looks like so far the only team getting a bargain is the 49ers.

But, according to a 2016 article on CBS Sports, Oregon was prepared to offer Kelly $10 million a year to come back to college football—something, it seemed, he wasn’t interested in doing. Mark Helfrich had his struggles in the beginning and the glory days of Chip Kelly and Oregon football looked to be fading. So, if you look at it from Oregon’s standpoint, the money is well worth it. Kelly’s performance on the field, at least at the college level, has paid dividends.

His success in the NFL wasn’t nearly as great as the NCAA, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Just ask Nick Saban. His overall win percentage with college teams is about 87%, and his NFL win percentage is almost half that at about 44%. Could this be indicative of the fact that what Kelly has been doing lately isn’t nearly as innovative as is once was? Was it more of a human resources issue—was Kelly just not a good fit for the NFL?

So here we are, over $23 million in the hole, praying it pans out. If you remember ticket prices during the Dorrell and Neuheisel years, they were cheaper, depending on who was on the non-conference schedule. You could get a general admission seat for about $99, and now we’re paying just over $285 per ticket. Is the nearly tripling of ticket prices going to be worth it in the end? At first, when ticket prices doubled under Mora, we thought we could justify paying significantly more. Until 4-8. Of course, you have to take inflation into account, but it’s pretty obvious that increased coaching salaries are being passed on to the fans. Which I’m totally OK with—if we win.

Go Bruins!