Chip Kelly – The Best “Books & Ball” Coach In America

It’s time to reframe Chip Kelly’s tenure at UCLA. A recently published data visualization below by management consultant and sports analytics content creator, TJ Altimore, displayed admissions competitiveness of universities relative to their athletic conference affiliations:

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From this visualization, UCLA is the 5th hardest university to gain admission of any that plays Division I football. The following are the records of each of these five universities over the past six years since Chip Kelly began his UCLA tenure:

  • UCLA = 35-34
  • Stanford = 26-41
  • Vanderbilt = 18-52
  • Duke = 34-39
  • Northwestern = 30-41

The data doesn’t lie – Chip Kelly is the most successful “books and ball” coach in America as it relates to the five most selective universities that play major college football. When we extend this analysis to the 10 most selective universities, we add Cal, Georgia Tech, and Boston College into the fold. Their record for the past six years:

  • Cal = 31-35
  • Georgia Tech = 27-44 
  • Boston College = 34-38

Chip Kelly’s record still stands above the rest. The only two universities in the top 10 that outperform the Bruins on the gridiron since Kelly’s arrival are Notre Dame (62-14) and USC (40-29). There are two fundamental reasons why, both of which are out of Chip Kelly’s control.

Two Factors Out Of Chip Kelly’s Control

The first being Notre Dame and USC CAN modify their admissions criteria significantly for football recruits. Being private institutions, both have total autonomy and privacy over their strategic operations. Both universities can not only modify admissions policies significantly for football players and make it drastically easier for top recruits to get in the door, but they can do so under a veil of privacy without needing to report those policies or statistics to any external body.

This is an impossibility for institutions like UCLA or Cal, both of whom are public and thus must disclose all procedural items to the public and their oversight body, the UC Regents. That transparency, along with the vast diversity of political opinion about the importance placed on football that comes with it, make it nearly impossible for either school to radically change admissions policies for a significant number of elite athletes necessary to field a championship roster.

The second is Notre Dame and USC DO modify their admissions criteria for football recruits, in a manner unlike schools such as Stanford, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt. The reason being that both universities were “blue blood” football programs from the period of inception, modernization, and nationalization of college football in the 1920s.

Notre Dame won three national championships in the 1920s and 1930s, while USC won four during those formative years. Football became an embedded part of each university’s fabric, culture, and ethos that enabled such prioritization for the sport to transfer from generation to generation across university leadership and alumni. Furthermore, It led to renaissance periods for at least one of the two schools in every decade since.

Conversely, UCLA’s 25-year conference championship drought and 38-year Rose Bowl title absence, coupled with university priorities in other areas such as academics, research, and service, has eroded that same level of football urgency from its alumni, administration, and boosters. 

As money and optionality only grow exponentially in college football with mechanisms such as NIL, Wall Street-fueled financial partnerships (see Florida State’s JP Morgan discussions), and the revised transfer portal, Bruin fans have two choices: accept this reality and reframe expectations of success, or radically infuse the football program with resources by orders of magnitude to overcome those inherent procedural and historical barriers.

Right now, through the lens of whatever is under Chip Kelly’s control, he’s statistically the best “books & ball” coach in America, but with enough resources from Bruin fans, boosters, administration, and alumni, he could simply be one of the best coaches in America again.