UCLA football coach Chip Kelly fielded an array of questions at Pac-12 Media Day on Wednesday and appeared to be comfortable as he settled back into his old conference.
Kelly had been out of the Pac-12 since leaving Oregon in 2013 to be the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, but returned in November by signing with UCLA. He also took a year off coaching altogether before accepting the job with the Bruins.
After being away from the conference of champions for the past five seasons, Kelly admitted that the game has changed, but said that his time away from the game in the past year gave him a good opportunity to study its evolution.
“I think the game itself has changed, so I think you have to change with it,” Kelly said. “I’ve had great experiences since I left Oregon from a football standpoint, so being in the NFL for four years, and then last year being out and getting a chance to study the game… I think will help me.”
In four years with Oregon, Kelly accumulated a 46-7 overall record and led the Ducks to a national title game in 2010. Oregon also finished top three in total offense in three of Kelly’s four seasons with the school.
The major key to Kelly’s success at Oregon was always the quarterback.
Kelly has a reputation of preferring dual-threat quarterbacks, but said Wednesday that he also values experience – something incoming freshman four-star recruit and dual-threat quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson does not have.
“It’s a wide-open deal right now,” Kelly said. “We had three quarterbacks compete for us in the spring, and we’ve added two more in the offseason, so we’ll see how that plays itself out.”
One of the two quarterbacks added since spring practice is grad-transfer Wilton Speight. Speight spent three years at Michigan, and Kelly said he is a fan of the reputation and resume the former Wolverine signal caller has built for himself.
“I think he’s a competitor. I talk to people around him and understand him,” Kelly said. “He also has 16 games’ experience at the college level and we do not have a lot of experience at the quarterback level right now.”
Speight only played in four games last season due to a back inury. He posted a 54.3 percent completion percentage to go along with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
However, no matter who the quarterback will be for the Sept. 1 season opener, Kelly and the Bruins will have their work cut out for them.
UCLA has 27 incoming recruits and Kelly will be forced to give those players significant opportunities due to a lack of experienced players on the roster. However, Kelly said he is excited to see his guys progress together.
“We have only eight seniors. So I think some people look at it as a negative. I see it as a positive. We have a lot of youth, and it will be fun to get them going in the right direction.
UCLA opens the season with a trio of tough out-of-conference matchups, including a trip to Oklahoma to take on the Sooners – who fell to Georgia in double-overtime during the College Football Playoff last season.
Despite the high profile three-game slate to open the season, Kelly said he prefers his non-conference schedule to be harder because he enjoys the competition.
“If you want to beat the best, you’ve got to be the best,” Kelly said. “So if they want to play us, I’ll play anybody.”