The biggest name on the college coaching market picked UCLA, as the Bruins announced the hiring of Chip Kelly on Saturday, a day after a 30-27 win over California got them to six wins and bowl eligibility and six days after they fired Jim Mora.
UCLA said that Kelly agreed to a five-year, $23.3 million deal and will be introduced as head coach at a press conference on Monday.
What does the hire mean for UCLA, for Kelly and for college football?
Kelly makes his highly anticipated return to the college game.
Kelly enjoyed a rapid rise through the coaching ranks after Mike Bellotti hired him from New Hampshire to be Oregon's offensive coordinator in 2007. The Ducks went 19-7 in two years with Kelly as coordinator, and when Bellotti stepped down, Kelly stepped up and enjoyed spectacular success in four years as Oregon's head coach: a 46-7 record with three conference titles, four major bowl appearances, including two Rose Bowls and a national championship loss to Auburn, and three AP top-four finishes.
Speculation about when and if Kelly would return to college football began immediately after he left for the NFL. Kelly went 10-6 in each of his first two seasons with the Eagles but was fired during the 2015 season, then went just 2-14 in his only year with the 49ers. After Kelly initially took the NFL by storm with his up-tempo philosophy, personnel mistakes and opposing defenses catching up proved to be his undoing.
Kelly was a revolutionary figure at Oregon, both in terms of using tempo on the field and his sports science approach off the field, but in some respects the rest of college football has caught up now, too, making Kelly's second Pac-12 head coaching stint fascinating as we wait to see how he's evolved after being so far ahead of the curve at the beginning of this decade.
UCLA beats out Florida.
Most coaches would choose Florida over UCLA. UCLA is an attractive job, but Florida has won three national titles in the past quarter-century and is one of the premier jobs in all of college football. UCLA is the second-best job in the Los Angeles area.
For Kelly, however, spurning Florida for UCLA makes sense. It's easy to believe that he would succeed at Florida, but Kelly's guarded, private personality might have clashed with the Gators gig. He would have instantly become the most high-profile person in Gainesville and would have had to deal with the intensity of SEC recruiting and the 365-days-per-year politics associated with such a job. UCLA is high-profile too, of course, but UCLA football in Los Angeles is nothing like Florida football in Gainesville. Kelly has coached in the Pac-12, and he'll get to establish his own identity at UCLA rather than trying to recapture the past success of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer at Florida.
Kelly brings new life to USC-UCLA rivalry.
Kelly to UCLA is the worst-case scenario for USC. The Trojans have won 15 of the past 19 games in the rivalry. They've won seven conference championships since UCLA last won one. They've had eight AP top-five teams since UCLA last had one. UCLA won three straight in the crosstown rivalry from 2012-14, but the Trojans have won three in a row since then and continue to be the more powerful program.
Sam Darnold vs. Josh Rosen was expected to bring new life to the rivalry. Instead, it'll be the arrival of Kelly that makes things interesting as USC still figures out what its ceiling is under Clay Helton. Kelly is an established star as a college coach, one who brings rejuvenated attention and credibility to UCLA, making it a legitimate threat to USC's Pac-12 South supremacy.
Kelly is charged with unlocking the potential of UCLA football.
UCLA has won 17 conference championships, more than anybody in the Pac-12 but USC. But it hasn't won one since 1998, 13 years before the Pac-10 became the Pac-12, and it failed to truly take advantage of a chaotic few years at USC under Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. UCLA's only national title came in 1954, but it has had 17 AP top-10 teams and it has played in 14 Rose Bowls. It has a successful athletic department, and it's located in one of the most talent-rich areas of the country for recruiting.
The right coach can win at UCLA, and win big. By no means is Kelly guaranteed success, but the Bruins just landed someone who went 33-3 in Pac-12 play over four seasons and has never not led a team to a major bowl. That happened at Oregon, which made significant football investments but is not known for its historic success.
Kelly was the best move UCLA could have made to replace Mora, the right coach for the Bruins to try to shed their reputation as an underachiever and become a player on the national stage.