Chip Kelly, UCLA agree to 4-year contract extension
Chip Kelly agreed to a new contract Friday afternoon to remain UCLA’s head coach. The four-year deal has been in the works since just after the Bruins finished 8-4 — their best season since 2014. Word out of Westwood is UCLA brass feels like the new deal with Kelly keeps —and builds on — the upward trajectory that the football program is on.
The Bruins finished the season on a three-game winning streak by an average margin of 27 points. Among those victories was a 62-33 win over arch-rival USC in the Coliseum. UCLA led the Pac-12 in scoring after finishing No. 2 in 2020, up from No. 8 in 2019 and No. 11 in the league in 2018, Kelly’s debut season.
The Bruins are expected to return their top two offensive players, QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson and RB Zach Charbonnet, who both this week announced their plans to forego the 2022 NFL Draft and instead return to UCLA.
This was Kelly’s first winning season in four years at UCLA. His mark with the Bruins is 18-25. Prior to taking over a rebuilding UCLA program, Kelly went 46-7 as the head coach at Oregon, including a 33-3 record in conference play. In his final three seasons with the Ducks, his teams finished No. 3, No. 4 and No. 2 in the country before he was hired to coach the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kelly’s initial contract with UCLA was set to expire after 2022 but as part of that deal, his $9 million buyout would drop to $0 as of Sunday morning.
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
What’s worked for Kelly at UCLA?
Bruce Feldman, national college football writer: It’s been a slow build for Kelly that started in his first spring when he overhauled a roster that had a scholarship number in the mid-50s and a single-digit number of O-linemen. Kelly’s offense back at Oregon had been known for it’s frenetic pace and lethal option running attack. At UCLA, it’s been a more physical style that has rattled defenses with unbalanced formations and multiple tight end sets employing a lot of pre-snap motion and shifts to get defenses guessing.
The Bruins have gotten better in each of Kelly’s four years. A big key has been how he’s been able to use the transfer portal. Former Maryland/Kent State transfer Qwuantrezz Knight, essentially a 5-11, 200-pound nickel/edge rusher, led a very aggressive defense that blitzed more than anyone in the Pac-12.
Most of UCLA’s starting defense in 2021 were transfers as was star running back Zach Charbonnet, who returned home to Southern California from Michigan to team with Duke transfer Britain Brown to form a potent 1-2 punch. UCLA has been active again in the portal this winter.
What’s the Bruins’ ceiling over the next 4 years?
Feldman: Kelly and UCLA finally have some momentum. People around college football now get what he’s trying to build in Westwood. Bruin fans have been frustrated that Kelly and his staff weren’t quick to offer recruits or chase stars. Instead, he’s preached development and also mined the transfer portal well.
With Thompson-Robinson and Charbonnet back, the Bruins feel like they have a top 25 team set for year five. But now that Lincoln Riley has moved across town to USC, it will make the Trojans a lot more formidable than they have been. It figures to only make landing top talent in Southern California that much harder —although rarely have the schools competed for many of the same players over the past few years.
A big key for Kelly to take UCLA from a top 25 team to a top 10 squad will be whether the defense can take a big step forward. DC Jerry Azzinaro, who has been with Kelly since he came to Westwood, is not expected back. In 2021, the Bruins ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in fewest yards per play allowed. They’ll need to improve on that quite a bit if they’re to take another step up.