Now that Chip Kelly has decided to continue his coaching career in the west by choosing UCLA over Florida, the defense’s of the Pac-12 have officially been put on notice. Trading the struggles of Jim Mora for Kelly’s experience is an instant upgrade for the Bruins. We’re almost a decade removed from the start of his time in Eugene and the faithful in Westwood believe Kelly can take another Pac-12 program to greatness.
Kelly brings a wealth of knowledge to Southern California that he’ll be able to translate into success recruiting with the resources at his disposal, including a brand new $65 million football complex.Kelly turned Oregon into a next-level program with a blueprint that put the Pac-12 into the national conversation year after year. Kelly took the Ducks to a National Championship and came within one play of beating Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers in 2011. In that game critics said the uptempo offense from the Pac-12 would be outmatched by the dominant defense of the SEC, and yet, Kelly came that close from pulling off the unthinkable.
Kelly’s role at UCLA as a brand ambassador will fire up recruiting efforts for the Bruins and will force a more competitive effort from the conference. As it stands now, USC’s the only direct rival on Kelly’s radar considering the rest of the Pac-12 South has toed the line of mediocrity in recent years.
Kelly will have an easier time selling the dreams of Los Angeles over the Nike style of Eugene, even though recruiting isn’t his style. Kelly once told the Philadelphia press he was adamant about the strain recruiting had on coaching and loathed putting teenage kids on a pedestal. Even though he’s good at evaluating talent with little to no regard for the appeal of star-ratings. It won’t be long before recruits will be asking for Kelly’s presence at in-home visits to personally give the Bruins’ best pitch.
The timing for Kelly to get back into coaching worked out in UCLA’s favor due to the state of the Pac-12 South. The fringe teams like Arizona, who have an ongoing love-hate relationship with Rich Rodriguez, and Arizona State, who fired Todd Graham after a 7-5 season, both have unknown futures at this point. Utah found themselves at the wrong end of several games this season and easily could’ve contended with USC at the top. Instead the Utes are settling for a six-win bowl appearance. Colorado’s rebuild is still a work-in-progress with an even deeper class of seniors exiting this year compared to last. For the Buffaloes, the program has been making progress but how big of a step back was this disappointing season?
UCLA sat right in the middle of the South standings, often times being semi-pedestrian under Mora the past two seasons. No doubt there’s room for improvement, it’s just a matter of how long that will take? Kelly needs to make an impact next season and can do so in the two-month span leading up to National Signing Day.
On paper, the UCLA’s future looks better with Kelly’s arrival. While at Oregon, he put up a 33-3 record in conference play along with winning three Pac-12 championships over six seasons. Kelly joins a program who last won a conference title in 1998.
Whether Kelly can work his system in UCLA or not, the jury is still out, but having him on campus forces other Pac-12 teams to adapt. The USC-UCLA two-team race to the top could become a annual season-ending headline, leaving the rest of the teams in the South guessing where they’ll end up when the dust settles.