When UCLA landed Chip Kelly as its had football coach in November of 2017, it was viewed as a major win for a sputtering program.
Kelly, who led Oregon to great success from 2009-12, was perhaps the biggest name among coaching free agents at the time and was also considered for the job at Florida.
Now three games into his second season with the Bruins, the shine has worn off and it’s fair to wonder if Kelly will ever get UCLA back on the winning track. The Bruins (0-3) are now 3-12 under Kelly’s watch and they’ve got a trip to No. 19 Washington State coming up on Saturday night.
UCLA is on its way to a fourth consecutive losing season, which hasn’t happened since six in a row from 1919-24 – the program’s first six seasons.
Kelly became a coaching star during his time at Oregon. He led the Ducks to a 46-7 record, three conference titles in four years and a spot in the 2010 BCS national championship game. Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota, Oregon’s spread offense was dynamic and nearly unstoppable.
The NFL took notice, and in 2013 he was hired as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. While he did take the Eagles to the playoffs in his first season and a 10-6 mark in his second, it’s been downhill ever since.
Kelly is 11-35 as a head coach since the start of 2015 and he’s been fired twice, by the Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.
This year, UCLA is the only winless team in the Pac-12 and the Bruins have scored a conference-worst 14.0 points per game.
“The real thing we need to strive for is consistency,” Kelly told reporters after practice on Monday, “because we’ve proven at times in every game that we can move the ball down the field. Then there are times when we shoot ourselves in the foot.”
For those waiting to see the Oregon offense develop at UCLA, Kelly bristled at that thought.
“Oregon was a long time ago, so it’s totally two different operations,” he said. “Another weird view that we’re going to run what we did at Oregon. That was 2012. Football evolves, things evolve. I never said when we came in here that we were going to run our offense that we ran when we were at Oregon. When we were at Oregon, we had really good players and Marcus Mariota was a Heisman Trophy winner, so there was a lot of things you tailored toward what Marcus did.”
Kelly is trying to tailor his offense to sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but added, “I don’t look back at our Oregon offense and study that tape and say, ‘Hey we should do that here.’ We’re always trying to figure out what our guys do well.”
So far, Kelly hasn’t figured that out. The Bruins are last in the Pac-12 in scoring and 10th in points allowed (31.7 per game).
Washington State head coach Mike Leach doesn’t expect the Bruins to stay down, though.
“I think they’re an extremely talented team,” Leach said. “I think they’re better than they’ve been playing, because I know a great deal about their players; we recruited a lot of them. I just don’t think they’re playing together as well as they’d like to right now, but that can happen at any time and it can happen overnight.
“As soon as they do, they’re an extremely dangerous team.”
UCLA fans are impatiently waiting for that breakthrough.
ASU, WSU in spotlight
A pair of Pac-12 teams will be featured on a new series on HBO this fall. The show, titled 24/7 College Football is a Hard Knocks-style series that give a behind-the-scenes view at four different teams as they prepare for a game.
The Pac-12’s Arizona State and Washington State will be on the show, along with Florida and Penn State. The four-part series will debut Oct. 2.
Episode 1, Oct. 2: Florida (preparation for game vs. Towson)
Episode 2, Oct. 9: Penn State (preparation for Purdue)
Episode 3, Oct. 16: Arizona State (preparation for Washington State)
Episode 4, Oct. 23: Washington State (preparation for Colorado)
No. 10 Utah (3-0) is a 4.5-point favorite at USC (2-1) on Friday, but the Utes have a tough challenge. They are 1-8 all-time against the Trojans in Los Angeles. The one victory came in 1916. … No. 23 California (3-0) and No. 22 Washington (2-1) have tough nonconference games this week. Cal visits Ole Miss, while Washington visits BYU, which is coming off back-to-back overtime wins against Tennessee and USC. … Struggling Stanford (1-2) hosts No. 16 Oregon (2-1) on Saturday and looks to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 2008. The Cardinal have won three in a row against the Ducks.