Joseph’s Diagnosis: UCLA football stood by Chip Kelly for far too long – and is now paying the price
Former UCLA football coach Chip Kelly (left) claps his hands. Athletic director Martin Jarmond (right) stands on the field at the Rose Bowl. (Jeremy Chen/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Feb. 10, 2024 12:06 p.m.
This post was updated Feb. 11 at 11:06 p.m.
A large countdown clock hangs on a wall in the J.D. Morgan Center, home of UCLA Athletics, tracking how many days until the Bruins officially join the Big Ten.
“We’re going to the Big Ten in 174 days,” athletic director Martin Jarmond said Friday after reports of UCLA football coach Chip Kelly departing Westwood to become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator.
Now another clock of Jarmond’s making is ticking – one that started at approximately midday Friday.
“Timeline, hopefully 96 hours, that’s what I told the team, to give us 96 hours – could be sooner, could be later,” Jarmond said.
Four days, more or less, to find a new head coach who can steward UCLA football to success.
But the clock Jarmond should have cared about the most, the one to fire Chip Kelly and hire a new coach, expired months ago. The mismanagement since has left UCLA in perhaps the worst position of any Power Five school in the country. Prime replacements for Kelly have already been hired. Nearly all recruits in the 2024 class are signed. The transfer portal is closed for just about everyone except, ironically enough, the Bruins’ own players.
Jarmond could have changed the team’s fate by firing Kelly after downright embarrassing home losses to Arizona State and California, yet didn’t.
Whether it was donor pressure, budgetary concerns or trust in Kelly that would have left him in charge for a seventh season, the reality now is the same.
UCLA stands disbanded, dismantled, disjointed and disaster-stricken.
Now, Jarmond and the Bruins must embark on a head coaching search well after the typical hiring cycle, with limited options internally or externally. Former defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn has gone crosstown to USC, while former associate head coach and running backs coach DeShaun Foster – a 2022 nominee for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s best assistant coach – has moved on to the NFL.
Neither Lynn nor Foster moved on from Westwood until after the completion of the regular season and easily could have been top options had Kelly been fired after the loss to the Sun Devils or Golden Bears.
And even if UCLA manages to find a diamond in the rough, the situation it would enter is rather grim.
Senior defensive lineman Laiatu Latu, who won the Ted Hendricks Award for best college football defensive end, is all but guaranteed to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. Redshirt junior defensive linemen Gabriel and Grayson Murphy, who had the second- and third-most sacks of any Bruin this season, respectively, are entering the Draft as well.
Former five-star recruit freshman quarterback Dante Moore is long gone to Oregon. Top defensive backs redshirt freshman Kamari Ramsey and senior John Humphrey followed Lynn to USC.
Six top players are gone, not to mention the rest of the crop of graduating seniors with expiring eligibility.
The reinforcements are grim.
Of 11 transfers UCLA is bringing in, just one is a four-star – freshman wide receiver Rico Flores Jr., who hauled in 27 catches for 392 yards and a touchdown with Notre Dame in 2023.
And the recruiting class is even worse.
Ranked No. 87 in the nation by 247Sports – the worst of any Big Ten program – the Bruins’ class of 2024 features only 10 commitments, comprised of two four-stars and eight three-stars. All but five Big Ten programs have 20 or more commits, and the next fewest is a tie between Washington, Northwestern and Indiana at 17.
To top it all off, with Kelly’s departure, the transfer portal has now reopened for UCLA players, giving them 30 days to search for new homes should they choose to.
The six-year coach has moved on to greener pastures, leaving the Bruins by the wayside. A deeply unpopular coach who finished his sixth regular season with a 34-34 overall record, including two inexcusable losses in his final three regular-season games, should have been one of the easiest firings of Jarmond’s career.
Instead, commitment to Kelly has left the Bruins in shambles. The now-expired clock that could have saved the 2024 season was left ignored, and UCLA must scramble to pick up the pieces.
Jarmond could listen to some of his players, who took to social media to express their support for Foster or new defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe as the team’s next head coach.
But at this stage, hiring a team favorite wouldn’t make a difference. Fall 2024 already has disaster written all over it.
Maybe the next countdown clock should strike zero on Dec. 1, the day after UCLA’s final regular-season game next year.