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Recent departures leave UCLA football with moving parts ahead of LA Bowl

UCLA football redshirt senior defensive back Kenny Churchwell III attempts to tackle USC wide receiver Duce Robinson. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Jack Nelson

Dec. 13, 2023 12:57 p.m.

Patchwork has become a necessary craft for Chip Kelly by no choice of his own.

The coach has dealt with departures in a regular basis the past three weeks, from colleagues working along side him to players taking the field.

Since UCLA football dropped its regular-season finale to California, three assistant coaches have accepted positions elsewhere, while eight players have entered the transfer portal. Kelly is left to arrange the remaining parts of his team into a winning formula, with a fourth shot at the program’s first bowl win since the 2014 season looming Saturday.

“All of them (departing coaches and players), I’m not maligning them, and I’m sure they would all want to be with their teams to finish off,” Kelly said. “But based upon the schedule that we set, it just doesn’t happen that way. We’re in the solution business.”

The latest blow to the Bruins came with the loss of senior defensive back John Humphrey to the transfer portal Monday, punctuating the team’s hardest-hit position group with regard to outgoing talent. Redshirt freshman Kamari Ramsey and senior William Nimmo Jr. preceded Humphrey’s portal entrance.

On the defensive side of the ball, exclusively members of the secondary have opted to leave the program ahead of the LA Bowl against Boise State. All three announced their exits in the wake of first-year defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn’s hiring by USC.

The Bruins’ stopgap solution to Lynn’s departure is defensive backs and outside linebackers coach Ikaika Malloe, who will call plays against the Broncos. One of his remaining players – redshirt senior defensive back Kenny Churchwell III – said he has strong faith Malloe will thrive with the promotion.

“125,000%, I love him – he’s a great coach, he’s a powerful spirit guy,” Churchwell said. “Sometimes he makes me want to run through a brick wall, but, you know, can’t do that.”

And when it comes to Kelly’s handling of the transition period, his eyes are already on the horizon.

The Bruins secured their first two transfer acquisitions of the 2024 recruiting cycle Tuesday – a pair of defensive backs in San Diego State freshman Marcus Ratcliffe and Oregon senior Bryan Addison. Ratcliffe, a former three-star recruit, finished fourth in total tackles in 12 games for the Aztecs, while Addison saw action in four contests for the Ducks in 2023 before stepping away from the team for personal reasons.

“You can’t wait, the transfer portal is kind of like speed dating,” Kelly said. “If you think you’re going to take four or five days sometimes for some kids to make a decision, ‘Hey, he already committed to another school before we even got a chance.’”

After all, the carousel only continues to spin.

Tight ends coach Jeff Faris was hired as Austin Peay’s next head coach last Saturday – another domino falling just days after Oregon State poached quarterbacks coach Ryan Gunderson to be its offensive coordinator. Director of leadership Ken Niumatalolo will take to the SoFi Stadium sidelines Saturday to act in Faris’ place while Kelly takes up Gunderson’s duties.

But it’s on offense where the turnover is most profound.

Freshman quarterback Dante Moore headlines a group of five offensive contributors that UCLA will not have at its disposal Saturday. All five – along with the three defensive transfers – have not practiced this week, despite Kelly’s prior offer for them to remain with the team until finding their new homes.

Also absent from Monday and Tuesday’s training sessions – and yet to announce his plans for next season – was junior running back Carson Steele, who led the Bruins in 2023 both in rushing attempts and yards with 167 and 847, respectively.

Senior offensive lineman Josh Carlin is one player moving forward against the backdrop of transfers. Despite the noise surrounding the program, Carlin elected to use his sixth year of eligibility and return for 2024.

And compounded with the return of offensive line coach Tim Drevno, he’s staying precisely because Kelly is.

“I may have stuck around for the winter to see how it is, but it would’ve been tough,” Carlin said. “But they’re staying, so I’m staying.”

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Jack Nelson | Sports senior staff
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
Nelson is currently a Sports senior staff writer. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the softball, men's tennis and women's tennis beats and a contributor on the men's tennis and women's tennis beats.
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