UCLA Football Hires Bill McGovern As Defensive Coordinator
Chip Kelly has been a polarizing figure in Westwood, but one thing that fans and critics of his alike have agreed on is that Jerry Azzinaro, former defensive coordinator for the UCLA Bruins, had to be replaced. Azzinaro–Kelly’s former colleague in both Oregon and Philadelphia–had been in Westwood for all four years of Chip’s tenure, and the results hadn’t been kind. Azzinaro’s defenses tended to be in the average to the below-average range, but at times even those numbers were bolstered by his above-average run defenses. When you look at just the pass, his defensive numbers were even worse. That makes the running numbers somewhat moot because if a defense is that bad in the passing game, the opposing team isn’t going to even try to run it.
Case in point: Out of 130 FBS teams, Azzinaro’s four defenses ranked (via teamrankings.com) 86th, 129th(!!), 113th, and 103rd in opponent passing yards per game. In the Pac-12, Azzinaro’s defenses ranked, out of 12 teams, (via espn.com) 8th, 12th, 12th, and 11th in total passing yards given up. In scoring defense in the Pac-12, they ranked 11th, 11th, 11th, and 8th.
UCLA fans appear to have gotten their wish as Azzinaro has apparently retired. In to replace him is Bill McGovern. But does this hire inspire confidence, or should UCLA fans expect more of the same futility on this side of the ball?
Let me start off by telling you who Bill McGovern is not. He is not the once failed Democratic Presidential candidate who lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon in 1972. That was George McGovern. But I’ll forgive you for making the same mistake I did.
No, Bill McGovern was a former record-setting defensive back who played at Holy Cross before becoming a long-time coach on the defensive side of the ball. For better or for worse, McGovern is connected to Azzinaro, as the two worked together at Boston College, UMass, and eventually in Philadelphia with Chip Kelly. It is likely that McGovern was introduced to Chip Kelly through Azzinaro.
McGovern’s last stint as a defensive coordinator was at Boston College from 2009-2012. His defenses started off well his first two years before eventually falling off. After joining Chip Kelly in Philly in 2013, McGovern would stay in the NFL for all but a one-year stint at Nebraska as a defensive assistant in 2020. In his entire year as a coach, starting in 1985 when he graduated from Holy Cross, McGovern was only a full-fledged defensive coordinator for 5 years: 4 years at BC, and one year at UMass in 1993. He’s been around the block, mostly coaching defensive backs or linebackers, but he spent the most years at BC.
I can’t tell you whether or not McGovern’s defenses will be good, because there’s not a lot to judge it on. His last job as a defensive coordinator at any level was a decade ago, and he’s been mostly an NFL coach since then.
But I can say that as much as UCLA fans wanted a change on that side of the ball, it’s not clear they’re getting much of one with McGovern’s hiring. Jerry Azzinaro was an old coach (63 years old), without much of a recent track record as a defensive coordinator, who seemed to be getting the job because he had connections with Chip Kelly. Bill McGovern is an old coach (61 years old), without much of a recent track record as a defensive coordinator, who seems to be getting the job because he has connections with Kelly and Azzinaro. I don’t know if UCLA could have gotten anyone better. But I do know that Kelly is an offensive coach who has never been known for his defensive prowess. And because coaching defense is not something natural for Kelly, a successful change would have most likely required him to make an out-of-the-box hire. This is not that kind of hire.
Let’s not forget that McGovern has his work cut out for him, as the Bruins are currently replacing several starters on the defensive side of the ball. That includes Mitchell Agude, the Bruins’ best pass rusher, who just entered the transfer portal.
Ultimately, McGovern could be a great defensive coordinator, so I don’t mean in any way to write him off pre-emptively. But I was skeptical that simply firing Azzinaro would massively change this program, and with McGovern taking his place, don’t be surprised if we see more of the same on that side of the ball. If first impressions are anything, this hire just seems like a change in name only.