Remember when UCLA hired Chip Kelly?
Remember when Dan Guerrero, he who hired Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel, conducted the coaching carousel’s most efficient search by contacting, negotiating with and signing one of college football’s most elite coaches in the span of a week?
Given what transpired at Tennessee, Arizona State, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Florida, Oregon and elsewhere, it feels like Chip Kelly has been UCLA’s head coach for 3 years instead of just 3 weeks. UCLA dominated the news cycle on a Saturday morning for a hot minute.
But there has been a lot going on in Westwood since Kelly took over, and it doesn’t even account for UCLA’s acceptance of a bid to the Cactus Bowl to take on Kansas State in Phoenix on December 26th. The game against Cal feels like it happened eons ago.
So an inventory of what has and has not taken place is in order. Let’s recap the news from the coaching front you might have missed and look forward to the Cactus Bowl and beyond as the Chip Kelly era settles into place in Westwood.
Here is what we know thus far about the coaching staff that will take over after the bowl game.
Cal defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro was brought on by Kelly to be the Bruins’ defensive coordinator. Azzinaro and Kelly go back to Kelly’s time at Oregon, and Azzinaro followed Kelly to his stops with the Eagles and 49ers in the NFL. It is still TBD as to what to expect from UCLA’s defensive scheme, but you can’t say Azzinaro won’t bring fire and energy. Observe his righteous New York accent yelling “HOW VIOLENT CAN YOU BE” from a 2010 video.
Another holdover from Oregon, Don Pellum, was brought to Westwood to coach linebackers like he did for 20 years in Eugene. Pellum is an ace recruiter, and while his stint as defensive coordinator in 2015 was a disaster, he is a fine position coach and the best dressed coach in college football.
Look at this fire fit from Dapper Don.
OFFICIAL:#UCLA Football HC Chip Kelly hires Don Pellum, his former assistant, as the new LB coach. #8CLAP pic.twitter.com/veHWhXSxfH— UCLA Recruiting (@UCLA_Recruiting) December 2, 2017
Kelly’s latest hire came Sunday, as he tabbed Arkansas defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Paul Rhoads as the next defensive backs coach in Westwood. Rhoads is well overqualfied for the role - he was head coach of Iowa State for 7 years and has a long history of coaching defense.
Meanwhile, three coaches, receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, offensive line coach Hank Fraley and running backs coach DeShaun Foster, will be kept from the current coaching staff. While those moves have yet to be formally announced, it has been widely reported for close to two weeks. It also helps since those three have been out visibly recruiting over the past week or so with the early signing period looming from December 20th to the 23rd.
Counting Kelly, that leaves 7 of 9 coaching slots filled, with a 10th to be added via a new NCAA rule in January. Slowly but surely, UCLA’s coaching ranks are being filled.
As with any coaching change, turnover is inevitable. It is widely expected that Jedd Fisch will not continue as UCLA’s offensive coordinator after the Cactus Bowl, and the same goes for Rip Scherer as tight ends coach and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Fisch should be in line for any number of offensive coordinator positions that might come open, and he should be a choice candidate as a head coach in 2019. Scherer and Bradley are both older coaches, so it remains to be seen if they will continue coaching into 2018; Scherer was an administrator at UCLA before being brought down to the field this past season.
Defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin and linebackers/special teams coach Scott White will also not be retained by Kelly with the hires of Rhoads and Pellum to take their positions. Martin and White are two of UCLA’s best recruiters, and a raft of recent decommitments by 2018 recruits can be directly tied to Martin’s and White’s departures. In fact, Bruin Report Online reported last night that both Martin and White are no longer with the program at all, having been removed from their posts even in the midst of bowl game preparations.
There has been no confirmation as to why as of this writing.
Who’s Up in the Air
One final coach from this season - defensive line coach Angus McClure - has yet to have his fate decided for next season. Incoming defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro is a defensive line coach by trade, which would mean McClure’s position would be filled. However, McClure was previously UCLA’s tight ends coach before switching lines, and his versatility and recruiting prowess in the Bay Area cannot be overlooked. His track record of defensive linemen in the NFL - Datone Jones, Takkarist McKinley, Kenny Clark, Cassius Marsh and Eddie Vanderdoes among others were all top 4 round draft picks - is unmatched by any other position coach at UCLA.
He is also notorious for knowing the ins and outs of the NCAA eligibility standards and figuring out how to get junior college transfers accepted into UCLA. The most notable example of this is Takkarist McKinley, who only ended up a Bruin after McClure found an error that looked to keep McKinley from reaching eligibility.
McClure brings obvious value to Chip Kelly. But where to put him? Does McClure stay on the defensive line and leave Azzinaro to be the defensive coordinator, or does Azzinaro take both roles? Will McClure be kept solely for recruiting, or could he go back to offense and coaching tight ends? Could he coach special teams?
And what of UCLA still needing a quarterbacks coach or an offensive coordinator? While Kelly will certainly call plays, he had Mark Helfrich as an offensive coordinator to game plan and to coach quarterbacks. How will he divvy up the roles? Retaining McClure and hiring one more coach will bring UCLA up to 9, the limit until January when the NCAA rule for a 10th coach takes effect.
It seems as if Kelly might be waiting until the conclusion of bowl season to make the final hire or two. A common thought has Kelly bringing Ryan Day, currently the quarterbacks coach at Ohio State, with him to reunite; Day was on Kelly’s staff with the Eagles. But that is just speculation. Is there someone else Kelly might be waiting on?
If he is, then he is going into next week’s recruiting period undermanned. But Kelly must figure that the current staff in place - both retained and new - is doing enough to earn commitments while he waits on his top choices and then decides what to do with McClure.
To Recap and to Predict
Here is the 2018 UCLA coaching staff as it is currently situated:
Chip Kelly - Head Coach
Deshaun Foster - Running Backs
Jimmie Dougherty - Wide Receivers
Hank Fraley - Offensive Line
Jerry Azzinaro - Defensive Coordinator (for now)
Don Pellum - Linebackers
Paul Rhoads - Defensive Backs
Kelly needs a quarterbacks coach, so let’s put someone there. Let’s plug in Ryan Day from previous mention (disclaimer: unfounded speculation) to round out the offensive staff. Kelly has stated he wants experience on the defensive side of the ball, so dividing his coaches 5-4-1 in favor of defense makes sense.
It is reasonable to predict Angus McClure will fit in there somewhere, though who knows where. But someone with his recruiting acumen and versatility is too valuable to let go, especially with the added 10th coach. Could he coach special teams full time and hold a recruiting coordinator title? Or would he split the defensive line with Azzinaro? It’s tough to predict what Kelly does before defining McClure’s role; McClure is almost too versatile. Kelly could be waiting on any number of coaches to finish their bowl games, but the question remains which position that 10th coach would fill.
Watch this space in the coming weeks as the recruiting period and bowl season pass by. Before you know it, it will be January, and UCLA’s new full coaching staff will be hitting the recruiting trail hard for February and making spring ball preparations.