The college coaching carousel has been as crazy as we’ve seen up to this point.
A number of high profile jobs have opened over the last two weeks. As a result, a domino effect has completely changed the landscape of the sport. We’ve seen major programs (Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Florida, Arizona State, Arkansas) create vacancies. There’s a real possibility that two more (Florida State, Oregon) open within the next few days as well.
While the aforementioned jobs hold plenty of interest and intrigue, it was UCLA grabbing the biggest headlines. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was hired as the head coach in Westwood this past Monday. UCLA inked Kelly to a 5-year/$23.3 million deal.
This decision came on the heels of UCLA firing Jim Mora — despite owing him a $12 million buyout.
It was surprising given the timing of the event. Occurring before the regular season even finished, there was evidently a plan in place. Kelly was aggressively identified as the No. 1 target — and thus was pursued in an effective and efficient manner. Unlike other programs attempting to hire a head coach (Tennessee), UCLA failed to posture in any way.
As a result, landing Kelly has unequivocally been the biggest boon of any coaching move. Florida, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Nebraska had reportedly all had interest — with the most competition emanating from the program down in Gainesville. Alas, Kelly opted to return to a conference in which he dominated for multiple years.
During his time as the head coach in Oregon, Kelly led the Ducks to a 46-7 record — including a 33-3 mark in conference play. He led Oregon to four-straight BCS Bowl games. In comparison, UCLA hasn’t played in a BCS Bowl since 1999.
One has to give UCLA a lot of credit. The decision to fire Mora was a very un-UCLA thing to do. The program isn’t known for spending a ton of money. It would’ve been easy to see Mora come back for one more year until the buyout fell south of $10 million. Instead, the athletic department wasted no time in jettisoning Mora after a loss to crosstown rival USC.
There’s been a renewed sense of urgency in attempting to get the program back to where it was in the past. Kelly perfectly fits the bill as an innovative coach. It’s a far cry from the conservative nature of the last three men in charge of the football team (Mora, Rick Neuheisel, Karl Dorrell). Kelly also represents a change from someone rooted in the professional game. He knows what it takes to win at the highest level — and has proven so previously.
Kelly is a bit of a prickly character. Though fiercely loyal to his players and coaching staff, he tends to be very minimalist with the media. Kelly’s quirkiness may not lend himself to being a outwardly gregarious individual — though he has been known as quite the charmer once in the living room of potential recruits. Kelly likes to employ somewhat unconventional methods of player training. His staff monitors the sleep cycles of his athletes. The daily routines of each individual player are tailored to fit their needs.
One can bet that Kelly will institute a full overhaul of the entire training process upon being thrust into the position on a daily basis. From a scheme standpoint, the Kelly-led Oregon teams were exceptionally lethal. There was an impetus placed upon running as many plays as possible. This not only leads to a highly-conditioned football team, but also hinders the opponents’ respective energy levels. Kelly’s offenses would routinely wear out the opposition with the high-octane nature of his playcalling.
In practice, Kelly operates with shorter practices — though they’re run at game-like speed. This helps to simulate the tempo with which the team plays on Saturdays. These types of conditions also aid in creating a strong cardiovascular endurance akin to what they’ll experience in competition. This is said to be more effective when compared to simply running sprints across a field.
When speaking about his scheme, Kelly had this to say from his opening press conference:
“Make the simple seem complex to opponents but make the complex seem simple to your own team.”
Kelly’s playbook isn’t overly dense. On the contrary, it’s effectively a handful of plays ran from varying formations. These formations are often signaled in correspondence with what is shown from the opposition. Unlike the West Coast offense, this one is rather easy and straight-forward to digest. It should be a seamless transition of instruction for the personnel currently on the roster.
Not only that, but it’s a fun offense to play in. Kelly’s prolific accolades from his time in Eugene have already resonated with recruits and high school coaches. In fact, UCLA recently received the verbal commitment from rising senior running back Kazmeir Allen. The speedster from Northern California set a state record with 70 touchdowns this past season.
Allen also registered a 10.4 time in the 100-meter dash during last year’s California state finals. His speed should pair perfectly with Kelly’s uptempo style of play.
UCLA made a significant statement with the appointment of Kelly as the program’s head coach. For one, Kelly was unequivocally the most sought-after head coach on the market during this current cycle. He was also the best coach available — both from a success and a cutting-edge standpoint.
UCLA is one of the rare institutions with the ability to recruit itself. There’s never been a problem in accumulating talent. The coaching aspect of the job has seemingly been the most severe issue. With Kelly in the fold, that likely won’t be the case anymore.
Without question, this hiring will have a ripple effect throughout the Pac-12 Conference. For one, there’s not a dominant team currently operating within the landscape of the region. USC has yet to fully bounce back from the prior sanctions. Washington is still wading through the waters of building a program under Chris Petersen. Washington State, Utah, and Stanford are all immensely solid — though the respective ceilings for each institution might not be that of a National Championship program.
The conference is truly wide-open at this point. As such, it could signal that the sleeping giant residing in Los Angeles may finally wake from its long-endured slumber.
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