Who will replace Chip Kelly at UCLA? Bruce Feldman's candidates
Chip Kelly is leaving UCLA, but not the Big Ten, as he’s expected to make the move to Ohio State to become the Buckeyes offensive coordinator. He’ll go work for his protege, Ryan Day, as OSU works to try and reclaim the Big Ten.
Kelly leaves Westwood after going 35-34 in six seasons. It was a rough start for the former Oregon coach who won big with the Ducks but struggled getting UCLA turned around. He did lead the Bruins to a 9-4 record and finished the season ranked No. 21 in 2022, and they won eight games last season and whipped arch-rival USC, but things had become an uphill battle for him and the program on the recruiting front in the NIL era.
“It had become a pretty bad marriage,” one Bruins staffer said.
Bruins fans had been very frustrated for a while, as have boosters. Will the boosters become more engaged under a new coach? We’ll see. They were out on Kelly. Athletic director Martin Jarmond told the team it would have a new coach within 96 hours. That’s moving fast. Kelly did push for his assistant coaches to get new two-year deals this winter so a new coach likely will have to retain a lot of the staff.
Here’s how we expect the search to shape up.
Former Stanford coach David Shaw, whose son is a wide receiver on the team, knows the UCLA program pretty well. The 51-year-old from San Diego played and coached at Stanford, so he knows what it’s like to work in a high academic environment. Shaw is well respected and is a four-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. He had five seasons with at least 10 wins. But the program dropped off in his last four years there, going 14-28. Is he the right fit to replace Kelly and re-energize Bruins football?
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is high-energy. The 43-year-old knows the Big Ten. In 2019, he was the Big Ten Coach of the Year after leading the Gophers to an 11-2 season. He’s 50-34 in seven seasons, although only 29-32 in league play. He’s a good coach who took over a messy situation at Minnesota. He’s known for his Row The Boat mantra and the pep he brings. How well that might play in Los Angeles would be interesting, to say the least.
As for coaches without head coaching experience, former UCLA running backs coach DeShaun Foster, 44, just left to become the Raiders running backs coach. He’s loved by the players and also by folks around the program. Foster did a terrific job with his running backs and kept cranking out playmakers. He should merit some consideration for this job.
UCLA defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe is another coach players love. He did an outstanding job for the Bruins and has some strong recruiting ties on the West Coast and in Hawaii. He was also a top assistant at Washington.
Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford might get some consideration. He is another beloved assistant by his players and peers. Alford was a candidate at Colorado State a few years back. He overlapped a few years at OSU when he was Urban Meyer’s assistant head coach and Jarmond was a deputy AD there.
Nebraska DC Tony White played at UCLA and has proven to be a bright defensive mind. The 44-year-old White, a Rocky Long protege, had a good first season in Lincoln, turning what had been the Big Ten’s 13th-ranked run defense into the No. 2 unit this season. The Huskers have gone from No. 10 in sacks to No. 2.
A wildcard candidate is USC DC D’Anton Lynn, who just left to go across town to the Trojans. The 33-year-old former Penn State player and son of former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn impressed a lot of people inside the Bruins program. He’s young but is mature beyond his years. Lynn coached the Bruins to the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12 in his debut season. The Bruins finished eighth nationally in yards per play allowed (4.55) and 16th in scoring defense (18.1).
(Top photo of P.J. Fleck: Joseph Weiser / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)