We know all about the quick-snap, no-huddle innovative spread offense that Kelly masterminded in leading the Oregon Ducks to two Rose Bowl Game appearances and a date with Auburn in a national championship matchup, has proven to be the stuff of legends.
We weren’t aware that Kelly has the potential of maybe supplanting Jimmy Kimmel as king on the late-night television circuit. During his introductory press conference as the Bruins next head coach, Kelly interjected a side of himself that had to be endearing to the UCLA faithful.
He was funny. He was witty. He delivered hilarious one-liners like he had been practicing a comedic routine for years. When asked a question about whether the same offense that he operated at Oregon could or would be installed at UCLA, Kelly scored a touchdown with his response about as fast as his offense executes his playbook.
“No, those players have all graduated,” Kelly quipped to a room full of laughter.
It was a wonderful way for Kelly to break the ice with his new Pac-12 Conference family as he takes over a program that has spun into mediocrity. His task is clear: put UCLA back into the national conversation as a football program again. Well, let’s re-frame that narrative. When Kelly accepted a reported five-year, $23 million deal to take over UCLA’s football program, the Bruins got a win-win scenario.
The Bruins are now expected to contend for a Pac-12 Conference South Division title and be in contention for a conference championship. Aspirations now are to dethrone USC as the city champ. There is hope that building a football team into a collegiate dynasty the way Kelly did at Oregon will now become the norm. A potential run at a national championship is not out of the question.
“The offense probably gets all the publicity, so to speak. It’s the sexy thing out there, but defense win championships,” Kelly said. “When we were successful at Oregon and we were winning Pac-12 championships, it was because of our defense. I don’t think they got enough credit…There were some great players on our defense at Oregon. Whether people chose to talk about them-one way or another-we can’t control that narrative. I know for this team to be successful we have to play great defense.”
Kelly posted a 46-7 record as the former head man at Oregon. That’ll get you more than a couple of major head coaching opportunities. Kelly’s impact on college football, however, goes well beyond the stat line. The college football landscape is different today than it was when Kelly’s Ducks were running opponents into the ground while leaving defenders gasping for their collective breaths.
As Kelly took his show to the NFL, beginning with a stint with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, after his four-year run with Oregon, just about every major football program caught wind of the magic of Kelly’s high-octane offense, and implemented this golden nugget into their offensive strategy.
University of Louisville star quarterback Lamar Jackson passed and ran his way to the 2016 Heisman Trophy, thanks to a sprinkling of what Kelly ran at Oregon. When you see what Oklahoma Sooners quarterback and 2017 Heisman trophy frontrunner Baker Mayfield is doing this season, you see that the Chip Kelly Effect is fully imprinted over the football universe.
“It really has changed in the last five years,” Kelly said. “It’s something I really think that there is a trickle up effect that’s going on in football. I even think that what’s happening on Sundays now has been affected by what high coaches are doing on Friday nights, college coaches are doing on Saturday, now NFL teams are doing on Sunday. I still think the game of football comes down to fundamentals. Can you block? Can you tackle? Can you catch? Can you make cuts? Can do that? There’s always going to be great schemes out there. I think it’s the coach’s responsibility to fit the scheme to the personnel he has. That’s always the challenge. I think that the coaches that are the best, really what they do is they make the simple seem complex to their opponent, but they make the complex seem really simple to their own teams.”
When UCLA Director of Athletics Dan Guerrero announced in a statement one week after Jim Mora had been dismissed, that Kelly would be the next head coach of the Bruins, the epicenter of the college football world tilted towards Westwood.
“When you look at recent hires here at UCLA, this was the first time in a long time, maybe the first time ever, that UCLA’s been able to land a head coach that everybody in the country wanted,” former UCLA star and NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman said. “I think that says a lot about our program. I think this was an important hire from that perspective, to be able to bring someone in that has such prominence and respect around the country. When you look at Florida and some of those other schools that had an interest in him, yet he chose UCLA…is significant.”
Any exuberance in relation to UCLA hiring Kelly is well justified besides being a down payment on a pretty good investment. Kelly’s projected contract over the five years might seem punitive when you compare those numbers to the pedigree and possibilities for the program that he is bringing to the table.
The measure of Kelly’s true influence will be felt on the football field, in local and national recruiting, in the enthusiasm of the student body and faculty, in the pride of alumni like Aikman, and in the marketing of the program. Kelly’s success at the college and professional level gives the Bruins national relevance instantaneously. The anticipation will be high when spring football roll around. The expectations will soar higher by the time training camp ends and the 2018 college football season get underway.
The Pac-12 Conference will now get the official 2.0 version of Chip Kelly, whose Ducks won three conference titles. Oh yeah, that city rivalry against USC, which has been one-sided the last three years in the Trojans’ favor, is about to get popping again. This should be some ride for the Bruins.
“There’s something special about this place,” said Kelly. “I had the opportunity when I was at Oregon to compete with this school and compete with all the schools in the Pac-12. The fact I get a chance to go back to the conference where I kind of learned to be a head coach sort of speak…there are so many coaches in this league, there are so many institutions in this conference, to part of it again is really truly special.”