Brian Howell / BuffZone.comUCLA head football coach Chip Kelly is interviewed during Pac-12 media day in Hollywood, Calif., on Wednesday.
Brian Howell, Buffzone.com
Brian Howell, Buffzone.com
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Los Angeles is known as the city of stars, and it’s certainly adding to its reputation this year.
LeBron James has signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. Manny Machado has been traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers. And Chip Kelly is coaching the UCLA Bruins.
“Oh no, let’s slow down there,” Kelly said with a laugh during Pac-12 media day Wednesday when mentioned in the same sentence as James and Machado. “Me and Bron? Let’s not. I think the cool thing about L.A. is that there are so many cool people here that everybody kind of fits in.”
While Kelly may not match James’ star status, there’s no question he’s a bright new star in the Pac-12. The former Oregon coach is back in the league after spending four seasons in the NFL and last year doing some work in broadcasting.
One of five new coaches in the league this year, Kelly is also one of several high profile newcomers. Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin and Arizona State’s Herm Edwards also add some intrigue to the conference this season.
While there will be some national attention on that trio — and they were popular at media day — their peers view them simply as adding to the coaching talent in the Pac-12.
“Yeah, there are some good coaches that came into the South,” CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “There were some good coaches that left the South. So, I think we’ve always had excellent coaches in our league.”
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham said he’s impressed with all five new coaches — including Oregon’s Mario Cristobal and Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith — but that’s not his main focus.
“It still boils down to players,” Whittingham said. “I’m more interested in what players are on which teams rather than who is coaching them.”
As good as Kelly was at Oregon — a 46-7 record in four years — he’s not going to compare this Bruins team to his former Ducks teams.
“I think that’s not fair to anybody, to be honest with you,” he said. “Every team has a different dynamic, and I think it’s based upon what your personnel is. We only have eight seniors.
“Exactly how it’s going to look, I’m not sure how it’s going to look.”
Nobody’s really sure what Arizona State will look like as Edwards returns to coaching for the first time since he led the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in 2008. It’s been nearly 30 years since Edwards worked in college football and his hire has been met with plenty of skepticism. Not that Edwards cares what others think.
“I’ve always been involved in football — playing football, coaching football, talk about football,” he said. “That’s what I’ve done. That’s what I do. It’s not like it’s something new to me.
“I think sometimes when you step away from it, people think, ‘Well, he’s out of football.’ Out of football maybe on the sidelines, but mentally you’re never out of football. When you step away from it, it’s not like, well, he’s out of football. He’s out of coaching, he’s not on the grass, all right, but you’re still learning football, watching football. That’s what you do.”
Of the three big-name coaches, Sumlin might be the most ready to win. Arizona features Heisman Trophy candidate Khalil Tate at quarterback and a roster loaded with young players who got playing time last year as freshmen.
Sumlin, who averaged 8.6 wins per year at Houston and Texas A&M the past 10 years, is quick to point out that Arizona is a work in progress, but he brings a track record of winning.
“I set the bar high for our program. I set the bar high for our players,” he said. “That’s the way I’ve always done things.”
Cristobal and Smith don’t have the same track records as the other three, but add some intrigue to the league, as well.
Cristobal, 27-47 as the head coach at Florida International from 2007-12, takes over an Oregon team that could challenge for the North division title behind quarterback Justin Herbert.
Smith, a first-year head coach, has been a part of winning teams at Boise State and Washington in recent years and quarterbacked OSU to its best season ever in 2000, going 11-1 and being named MVP of the Fiesta Bowl.
“It’s super competitive,” Cristobal said of the Pac-12 going into the season with five new coaches. “Football is cyclical. Sometimes conferences run into that when you have a good number of coaches that are new in the conference. I look at the level and their pedigree and where they’ve been and what they’ve done. You’re looking at competitive guys that know how to bring it and want to establish championship programs. So we look forward to that challenge.”