Chip Kelly departs UCLA: Candidates to replace longtime head coach of the Bruins
Chip Kelly is leaving his post as the head coach of an incoming Big Ten team to take the offensive coordinator job at another Big Ten school.
The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad offseason for UCLA reached a strange new juncture on Friday with reports that Kelly, coach of the Bruins since 2018, is leaving to take the open offensive coordinator position at Ohio State.
Kelly previously interviewed with multiple NFL organizations about open coordinator positions. Because Jeff Hafley left Boston College to take the defensive coordinator job with the Green Bay Packers, Bill O’Brien left Ohio State weeks after he was hired to fill Hafley’s position, and now Kelly is leaving UCLA weeks before the start of spring ball to fill O’Brien’s position.
The run of musical chairs leaves UCLA in a precarious spot.
When speculation about Kelly’s job security ramped up late in the 2023 season, then-Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith and then-Arizona coach Jedd Fisch were viewed as potential successors. Then-San Jose State coach Brent Brennan was also a name tossed around. Even then-UCLA defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn was an option in the minds of some vocal UCLA fans.
Smith left Oregon State to take the Michigan State coaching job. Fisch left Arizona to take the Washington coaching job. Brennan took Fisch’s spot at Arizona. Lynn left UCLA to join USC as Lincoln Riley’s newest defensive coordinator.
(UCLA will have to face Washington in 2024, then play at Michigan State and at Ohio State in 2025.)
So who is in line to get the UCLA job?
This deep into the offseason, UCLA’s options figure to be limited. Major coaches will have already moved or be hunkered down preparing for the 2024 season. National Signing Day was earlier this week; signing classes are locked in.
The Winter 2024 quarter began on Jan. 3 and ends on March 22. UCLA won’t start spring ball until April.
The Bruins could look to the NFL ranks and attempt to poach an assistant coach.
According to The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch, emergency replacement candidates could include Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White, former Washington Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and former Stanford coach David Shaw.
White played linebacker at UCLA. Bieniemy was UCLA’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator from 2003-05. Shaw, of course, has a strong reputation in the area after coaching Stanford from 2011-22. His son, Carter, will also be a sophomore wide receiver on the team next season.
The Action Network’s Brett McMurphy also reported that Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck could be near the top of UCLA’s list.
UCLA could also turn in-house and elevate an assistant on Kelly’s staff to the role of interim head coach, play out the 2024 season, and get a head start on a national coaching search to have a candidate in place by the end of the calendar year. One option might be Jerry Neuheisel, son of former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel.
Lynn theoretically remains an option for UCLA. USC will reportedly pay Lynn $2 million per year across three years; Kelly made just shy of $6 million in 2023. While UCLA wasn’t in the same ballpark when it came to paying Lynn as a coordinator, it could make him an attractive offer as a head coach.
It’s worth noting that the school is also currently searching for its next chancellor. Gene Block is set to step down on July 31. It’s possible a new chancellor might want to see a new athletic director in place, as Martin Jarmond’s approval rating has taken a serious hit since the end of the 2023 regular season.
Kelly had been at UCLA since 2018, where he compiled a 35-34 record across six seasons. UCLA missed a bowl in each of its first three seasons under Kelly. They made the Holiday Bowl in 2021 but pulled out hours before kickoff due to COVID issues within the program. A LA Bowl victory to close out the 2023 campaign was Kelly’s first bowl win as the school’s head coach.
And it came at a pivotal time. Prior to the Bruins’ 38-20 win over USC on Nov. 18, reports emerged that Kelly was “likely” to be fired by UCLA. After beating the Trojans, Kelly said he wasn’t concerned for his job security and revealed he was told by UCLA’s administration that reports about his job were inaccurate and inappropriate.
A week later, UCLA lost to Cal 33-7 to close out the regular season.
Kelly had reportedly grown estranged from key donors tied to UCLA’s program. Recruiting high school talent was a major issue during his tenure — the Bruins’ 2024 class ranked 87th in the 247 Composite. But Jarmond defended the decision to retain Kelly in an interview after the season, saying he liked the trajectory the program was on.
“You look at a body of work, you look at trajectory, you look at improvement, that’s how I evaluate programs,” Jarmond told The Times’ Bill Plaschke. “I’m excited, I think there’s so many positives with the program … we all understand we’ve got to do better, and we will do better. … I’m confident Chip and the staff are going to work together to tackle those areas we need to improve and get better.”
Now, Jarmond has to find someone new to do it.