Let the Chip Kelly Watch begin.
On Sunday, the day after a rivalry loss to USC, UCLA announced that it has relieved head football coach Jim Mora of his duties near the end of his sixth season.
"Making a coaching change is never easy, but it's an especially difficult decision when you know that a coach has given his all to our university," athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement released by the university. "Jim helped reestablish our football program and was instrumental in so many ways in moving the program forward. While his first four seasons at UCLA were very successful, the past two seasons have not met expectations. We thank Jim and his family for his service to our school and his unquestionable commitment to our student-athletes."
The Bruins lost at USC 28-23 on Saturday night, their third straight loss in the rivalry. The defeat dropped their 2017 record to 5-6, meaning they'll have to beat California at home on Friday to avoid a second straight season without a bowl trip. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch will serve as interim head coach.
Mora went 9-5 in his debut in 2012, then 10-3 with top-25 finishes in both 2013 and '14. Given that UCLA had only one top-25 finish between 1999 and 2012, Mora appeared to have the Bruins on the right track, especially with the arrival of five-star quarterback prospect Josh Rosen to replace Brett Hundley in 2015.
However, the team never quite found its groove around Rosen. The Bruins went 8-5 in his freshman season, then fell to 4-8 in 2016. They struggled to run the ball and protect Rosen last year, and he ended up missing the final six games with a shoulder injury. Rosen has returned strong from shoulder surgery this fall, even leading the second-biggest comeback in college football history, when UCLA erased a 34-point deficit to beat Texas A&M in Week 1. However, the Bruins lost at Memphis a couple weeks later and haven't really recovered since then, with four double-digit losses and especially glaring issues in run defense. Rosen's 350 passing yards per game haven't been enough.
Rosen has been anointed as a potential No. 1 pick since he arrived on campus, but even though he continues to look like a budding pro star, UCLA has gone 17-19 in the past three seasons, losing to USC each year. The puts the record of Mora -- who previously coached the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks -- at 46-30 overall and 28-26 since taking over the Bruins.
Mora's successor will be charged with a few goals: keeping pace with USC and leading the Bruins to their first Pac-12 championship since 1998.
The best candidate to do that is the most obvious one, Chip Kelly, the former Oregon, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers head coach who has been mentioned anytime a job has come open in the past year. Although Kelly could be in the mix at Florida, it's questionable how well he'd fit in at an SEC job, where there can be obsessive attention and scrutiny on the job 365 days a year. Kelly broke out as a coaching star on the West Coast in the Pac-12, introducing Oregon's up-tempo revolution on offense. After a couple successful years as offensive coordinator, Kelly went 46-7 in four seasons as the Ducks' head coach with three conference titles and an appearance in the national championship game.
It's hard to imagine that Kelly won't be at or near the top of UCLA's list. A Kelly protégé, UCF head coach Scott Frost, has also been mentioned for every major opening, but Florida or Nebraska may be more likely. Although there have been a million Kelly rumors, a UCLA opening has felt both like a realistic option and one of the best possible fits.
We're about to find out just how realistic it is.