As the UCLA Bruins play their siblings tonight in the California Golden Bears for the 2024 season finale, the dominant storyline for this Bruins team has been the job security of head coach Chip Kelly for the better part of the past month. Kelly looked all but toast after an inexplicable loss to Arizona State and now seems like a cat with nine lives after the ultimate triumph over the arch-rival USC Trojans. Assuming the Bruins win tonight, here’s why Chip Kelly returns in 2024.
A New UCLA Bruins Chancellor
Chancellor Gene Block will retire in June of 2024 after a decorated 17-year run spearheading the #1 public school in America. A new Chancellor will be named by July of 2024 and allowing that individual to establish their vision for athletics by determining who they want spearheading the football program is most appropriate.
Martin Jarmond’s Uncertain Future
Lost amidst all the Kelly hoopla are the rumblings of Athletic Director Martin Jarmond’s desire to return to his midwestern routes. As his mentor, Gene Smith, is retiring in the summer of 2024 as Athletic Director of Ohio State, the possibility of returning home and taking one of the most coveted jobs in college athletics is both tantalizing and real. Hard to imagine the Bruins would risk having to hire a new chancellor, AD, and coach in the same year.
Let’s not forget the catalyst for this Big-10 move in the first place was UCLA Athletics’ $51.7M debt problem, primarily driven by dead money buyouts to Steve Alford and Jim Mora. It has been a political struggle to get UCLA to move to the Big-10 with the UC Regents, Cal President, and California Governor all passionately involved. Kelly’s buyout goes to an approximately modest $4M after December 1st, but hard to imagine UCLA justifying the same fiscal behavior that led to its debt problem immediately after such a political battle.
Boost In Chip Kelly’s Approval Rating
For all the conversation around Kelly’s lack of engagement with Bruin boosters, the greatest booster of all, Casey Wasserman, came to Kelly’s aid last week, referencing Kelly’s firing rumors as “ridiculous.” Hard to go against the person who literally has his name on the wall of one of the most pristine football facilities west of the Mississippi.
I mentioned this in my piece last week about how seriously UCLA wants to take football moving forward in the greater landscape of NIL and media investment. If the goal is 8-10 wins a year, competitive games with USC annually, and a chance at a conference championship every 3-4 years, then Kelly is actually answering the mail.
Kelly is one of only three coaches in UCLA football history with a .500 or better record against USC and with a win against Cal, will have the fourth longest streak of consecutive 8+ wins seasons at UCLA with three, along with 25 wins in the past three years, just four shy of a school record over any three-year span.
But the question is, does the university have an appetite for more? All in all, a win on Saturday night should bring Kelly back for the 2024 season while they ponder that question.