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Commentary: DeShaun Foster’s passion signals new era of UCLA football after Chip Kelly

New UCLA football coach DeShaun Foster (left) smiles and dabs his eyes at his introductory press conference Tuesday while athletic director Martin Jarmond (right) gestures toward Foster. (Felicia Keller/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Joseph Crosby

Feb. 15, 2024 10:30 a.m.

This post was updated Feb. 15 at 8:52 p.m.

DeShaun Foster made it clear he wanted to be a Bruin before even taking the stage Tuesday morning.

Commencing his introductory press conference in the Pavilion Club with a video featuring highlights of his playing career and a voiceover from the man of the hour, Foster had already made half his sales pitch to the Bruin faithful.

“I guarantee I’m a Bruin,” Foster narrated in the prerecorded video. “This is for life.”

Foster’s words have been true for much of his career. He spent four years with UCLA as a player, went to the NFL, then began a decade of coaching with the Bruins – only interrupted by a quick stint with Texas Tech before racing back to Westwood.

After just 10 days with the Las Vegas Raiders, UCLA called on Foster once more to lead its program.

Foster’s nine words concluded the video and set the stage for athletic director Martin Jarmond to introduce his newest head coaching hire.

Fewer than 60 seconds spanned from the moment Foster sat down on the dais of the Pavilion Club until tears started flowing.

“I was trying not to cry. I was overcome by emotions, you know,” Foster said to open his remarks. “This is a dream come true. … I’ve always dreamed about being a head coach and being at UCLA. And being the head coach here at UCLA, you guys have no idea, just –”

Before he could finish his final sentence, the emotions once more overtook Foster. At that moment, his pitch was all but finished.

DeShaun Foster had sold himself as UCLA football’s next head coach.

Foster lacks experience at the coordinator or head coaching level. The closest he’s been was one year as an associate head coach – a nebulous title under former coach Chip Kelly that likely had more to do with team management and recruiting than scheming and playcalling.

But his enthusiasm and love for UCLA are undeniable.

In those ways, Foster is every bit Kelly’s opposite.

Where Kelly was stoic, Foster is energized. Where Kelly flew under the radar, Foster exudes passion.

He’s no guru known for high-powered offenses that trounce opponents. But it’s quickly become clear how much love and appreciation he has for the program – something reciprocated by players, both current and former.

“It’s fired me up because I feel like as a UCLA alum, they got it right. They got a coach who went here, who played in the league, who has the ultimate credibility,” said Joshua Kelley, former UCLA and current NFL running back. “I feel like they got it right.”

Even before he was hired, when his name was firmly at the back of a lot of people’s minds – or not there at all – behind Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White or Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, UCLA players posted on social media to call for Foster as their next leader.

https://x.com/TomarionHarden/status/1756029554903404588?s=20

Foster said the public backing came out of left field.

“I didn’t expect that from the players,” Foster said. “I knew I had relationships with guys, but I didn’t know that they would take that step. Players have voices, and I’m glad Martin was listening to them, and they were heard, but I was just excited to see that some of my guys were really making it known who they wanted to be their coach.”

When the team found out about his hiring Monday morning, it was nothing short of pandemonium in the meeting room.

https://x.com/UCLAFootball/status/1757135040100897046?s=20

“You saw the videos, I was the first one down the stairs,” said senior linebacker Kain Medrano. “I was just filled with joy and a relief at the same time.”

Players swarmed their former running back coach, excited to see a familiar face. They took to social media once more, this time in celebration of the face they knew and loved.

https://x.com/ethan_garbers3/status/1757144798874808475?s=20

As of Wednesday, no player has entered the transfer portal. Redshirt junior quarterback Ethan Garbers said no one plans to. Foster brings continuity to the program that will aid the team ahead of next season, especially considering UCLA’s conference-worst recruiting class.

He has a daunting challenge ahead.

One of the toughest schedules in the nation looms ahead. Foster must shepherd a program that, by most accounts, lags behind its Big Ten peers – all without the experience his counterparts carry.

But there’s no denying what the players he leads think of him. The passion and drive Foster possesses isn’t something that can be taught, and it certainly couldn’t have been found this quickly if UCLA hired someone else.

Foster has heart.

And at the crossroads the Bruins face right now, that might just be exactly what they need.

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Joseph Crosby | Sports editor
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
Crosby is the 2023-2024 Sports editor on the football, men's basketball and NIL beats. He was previously an assistant Sports editor on the baseball, women's golf, men's water polo and women's water polo beats and a contributor on the baseball and women's golf beats. He is also a fourth-year statistics student.
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