In a shocking and unprecedented move in the history of college football given timing and circumstance, Chip Kelly announced his departure as head coach of UCLA football in favor of a demotion to offensive coordinator for Ohio State. In a Bruins offseason that has brought more drama than the most tantalizing Hollywood reality TV, this move is the checkmate. So much to unpack:
What Happened Since The Bowl Game?
Something has drastically changed within the UCLA athletic department over the past month. Kelly went from stubbornly self-assured of a return to the sidelines in 2024 given his end-of-year media interactions along with Martin Jarmond’s trepid endorsement for “continuity,” to a coach actively and aggressively looking for work. First, there was the link to Bill Belichick in Atlanta, followed by the connection to Dan Quinn in Washington, not to be outdone by multiple interviews with the Raiders and an urgent evening rendezvous with the Seattle Seahawks.
It seems that since Jarmond was passed on as Ohio State athletic director last month, there has either been a recommitment by him to be at UCLA long-term after many whispers around the program of his desire for another job, or there has been refreshed alignment with the boosters on a willingness to invest with more seriousness financially for success in 2024 and beyond.
Either way, it seemed Chip Kelly felt a new reality of being a lame duck going into the season, and that coupled with his personality shortcomings to recruit, fundraise, and engage with boosters accelerated his exit. But something within the organization tectonically shifted just recently, otherwise, one would think UCLA would have been much more aggressive in their pursuit of Jonathan Smith or Jedd Fisch.
Was This Personal?
It’s hard to think it wasn’t to some extent given the reported increasingly icy Kelly-Jarmond relationship over the past few months. Kelly leaving for an outright demotion within the conference in the middle of February to Jarmond’s dream school just seems too coincidental. Many within the university and athletic department have been quietly unhappy with Jarmond’s open lobbying for other athletic director jobs, and that lack of immersed commitment to UCLA has been palpable to insiders. Kelly leaving in this surgical manner with other prime coaching candidates conveniently off the board, seems Machiavellian at its essence.
Furthermore, Ohio State makes perfect sense as Ryan Day was an assistant under Chip Kelly in 2016, the two are very close friends who were golfing together when the UCLA Big-10 news broke, and Day needing a trusted assistant to take elite offensive play calling off his plate as he is feeling the siege of three consecutive losses to Michigan, is a match made in heaven.
With Chip Kelly Out, Which Bruins Would Enter the Transfer Portal?
Now that the program identity is unknown, three Bruins that would be prime portal entrants when the window opens again in April would be Ethan Garbers, TJ Harden, and J. Michael Sturdivant. Garbers has publicly demonstrated his affection for Kelly and shown true comfort for his system when healthy. Harden was primed to be the greatest beneficiary of the vaunted Chip Kelly zone-read running game, and Sturdivant finally seemed to break out in his rapport with Garbers in the LA Bowl, ideal momentum for a massive 2024 season given his prodigious NFL-caliber talent. The uncertainty now affects those three more than anyone.
Where Does UCLA Football Go From Here?
Given the timing, options are severely limited, but there are five possibilities the Bruins should focus their attention on.
David Shaw has demonstrated success in navigating football excellence amidst the academic rigors of powerhouse Stanford.
A Pete Carroll renaissance to Los Angeles to revive UCLA football would be the most tantalizing final chapter of his career and an instant infusion of booster engagement with program excitement.
Eric Bieniemy was a graduate assistant at UCLA and has the supreme credibility of coaching at the NFL’s newest dynasty the Kansas City Chiefs to the tune of two Super Bowls as offensive coordinator.
Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White architected the 11th-best total defense in 2023 and played at UCLA in the early 2000s.
Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck is a culture builder who epitomizes Bruin values with an intimate knowledge of Big-10 style, scheme, and recruiting. While Deshaun Foster and Jerry Neuheisel are rising star coaches who bleed UCLA.
Whatever happens from here, stay tuned to LA Football Network for all your Bruin saga needs.