In vacillating coaching landscape, UCLA’s Chip Kelly stays put with contract extension

In vacillating coaching landscape, UCLA’s Chip Kelly stays put with contract extension

Two days before it could have been off the hook for Chip Kelly‘s $9-million buyout, UCLA is latching on more firmly to its football coach.

The Bruins have agreed to give Kelly a four-year extension on the contract that was set to expire after next season, providing him a chance to continue the upward trajectory that culminated in UCLA’s best season in six years.

The move also served as a de facto vote of confidence from athletic director Martin Jarmond that Kelly can keep pace with the coaching upgrades made elsewhere in the Pac-12 Conference.

Kelly’s $9-million buyout would have expired Sunday, meaning UCLA could have fired him without paying that amount. Conversely, Kelly could have taken another job on that date without his new employer having to pay the buyout to UCLA.

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Before recommitting to the Bruins, Kelly, 58, entertained overtures from the school that made him famous. Intrigued by the possibility of Chip Kelly 2.0, Oregon probed his interest in returning to the place where he went 46-7 from 2009-12 before hiring Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.

Kelly stayed put in hopes of recapturing his glory years … in Westwood. His Bruins (8-4 overall, 6-3 Pac-12 Conference) closed the season with three consecutive wins, including a historic beatdown of rival USC in which they scored a record 62 points, before withdrawing from the Holiday Bowl because of COVID-19 issues. The winning streak matched Kelly’s best stretch at UCLA after he also won three consecutive games during the middle of the 2019 season.

No one is comparing Kelly’s tenure to those of Terry Donahue, Red Sanders or even Jim Mora. His 18-25 record is the worst for any coach who lasted four seasons at the school, edging the inglorious 21-29 mark Rick Neuheisel compiled from 2008-11. The Bruins also have never seriously contended for a Pac-12 South title under Kelly, finishing tied for second place with Arizona State this season after essentially being eliminated from contention before Halloween.

Kelly’s detractors are quick to point out that his team did not beat an opponent with a winning record in 2021 and has done so only twice in four seasons.

Nevertheless, no one has to squint to see progress. Kelly’s record has improved in each season, from 3-9 in 2018 to 4-8 in 2019 to 3-4 in 2020 to 8-4 in 2021.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly stands next to quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson during a game against Fresno State.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly stands next to quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson during a game against Fresno State on Sept. 18 at the Rose Bowl.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Kelly’s UCLA teams have been characterized by prolific offenses and mediocre defenses. The Bruins averaged 36.5 points per game this season, leading the Pac-12 and ranking No. 16 nationally. Their struggles came largely because of a defense that gave up 26.8 points, ranking No. 75 nationally.

UCLA’s defense has been a sore spot under Kelly after giving up an average of 34.1 points in 2018, 34.8 points in 2019 and 30.7 points in 2020. Defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro resigned earlier this week, ending a longtime partnership with Kelly that started in 2009 when Azzinaro was the defensive line coach at Oregon before following Kelly to NFL stops with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.

The Bruins also have an opening for an offensive line coach after Justin Frye left earlier this week for Ohio State and are seeking a tight ends coach after Derek Sage departed for Nevada.

Other changes to the staff include the addition of Ikaika Malloe as outside linebackers coach and Chad Kauha’aha’a as defensive line coach after Johnny Nansen departed to become Arizona’s defensive coordinator and Jason Kaufusi followed Nansen to Tucson.

UCLA’s roster for 2022 is starting to take shape. While left tackle Sean Rhyan, slot receiver Kyle Philips, tight end Greg Dulcich, safety Quentin Lake, defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia and right tackle Alec Anderson have announced they will leave for the NFL, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, running back Zach Charbonnet and defensive linemen Martin Andrus Jr. and Tyler Manoa intend to return.

Among other top players, edge rusher Mitchell Agude has not stated his intentions. The deadline for players to declare for the NFL draft is Monday.

The team is assured of losing running back Brittain Brown, offensive lineman Paul Grattan Jr., linebacker Jordan Genmark Heath and defensive backs Qwuantrezz Knight and Cam Johnson, among others whose eligibility has expired.

UCLA head coach Chip Kelly during an NCAA football game against Hawaii

Chip Kelly coaches the Bruins during a game against Hawaii on Aug. 28 at the Rose Bowl.

(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Twelve players have entered the transfer portal since the end of the season, although all were backups except for punter Luke Akers. The others likely headed elsewhere are quarterbacks Parker McQuarrie and Kajiya Hollawayne; wide receiver Keontez Lewis; linebackers Myles Jackson and AJ Campbell; safety DJ Warnell; defensive back Shamar Martin; defensive linemen Tiaoalii Savea, Tyler Kiehne and John Ward; and offensive lineman Beau Taylor.

The Bruins’ 2022 recruiting class, which includes five four-star players, is ranked No. 4 in the Pac-12 by 247 Sports, and the team has already dipped into the transfer portal to secure commitments from Duke wide receiver Jake Bobo, Central Florida wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala, Hawaii linebacker Darius Muasau and Washington linebacker Laiafu Latu.

Kelly is tied with Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith and Arizona’s Herm Edwards for the fourth-longest tenure in the Pac-12, trailing Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, Stanford’s David Shaw and California’s Justin Wilcox. The Pac-12 coaching landscape has shifted dramatically over the last month with USC’s surprise hiring of Lincoln Riley, Washington’s hiring of Kalen DeBoer and Oregon’s hiring of Lanning.

Meanwhile, the Bruins are forging ahead with more of the same, hoping Kelly’s best days lie ahead.

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