In the aftermath of another crushing defeat, Chip Kelly managed to crack a joke.
“The only guy I’d say I’m disappointed in today I’d say is Billy Beane,” Kelly said of the Oakland Athletics executive.
The new UCLA coach continued, “I wish he gave the kid more money so he wouldn’t come back.”
The kid in question was Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, whom Beane’s A’s selected with the ninth overall selection in baseball’s amateur draft three months earlier. The part-time center fielder signed a contract that included a $4.66 million bonus, but did so under the condition he could play college football for another season.
Kelly’s line elicited some polite laughter.
Murray had passed for 306 yards and three touchdowns Saturday in his team’s 49-21 victory over UCLA at Memorial Stadium. He also rushed for 69 yards and two more touchdowns.
The levity was new to these parts. Jim Mora was never that relaxed, in victory or in defeat.
Except pretty much everything else that came out of Kelly’s mouth sounded familiar.
About how the Bruins would learn from this defeat. About how they had to cut down on their mistakes. About how they have long-term aspirations.
Mora used to talk like this. Rick Neuheisel, too.
Coach at UCLA and reading from this script is an inevitability. It’s about tomorrow. It has to be about tomorrow because it can’t be about today. But will tomorrow ever come?
In his first career start, true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked like a quarterback Kelly could build around. Another true freshman, Christaphany Murray, started at center. Thompson-Robinson’s and Murray’s classmate, Michael Ezeike, caught a touchdown.
UCLA didn’t commit any turnovers. They were penalized only six times.
There are the makings of a foundation here. Then again, if you had strained your eyes hard enough, you could have found reasons to be optimistic about the Bruins under any of their previous coaches.
What’s evident after only two games is that transforming this program will take time — three or four years, at the very minimum.
The offense has no identity. The running game is virtually nonexistent. The offensive line is porous. The defense can’t tackle. The special teams have a propensity for giving up big plays.
The Bruins have dropped their first two games of the season for the first time since 2010, their defeat last week coming against a Cincinnati team coming off consecutive four-win seasons.
But the UCLA faithful have to believe in Kelly and have to exercise patience. There is no other choice.
Kelly’s recent predecessors were concessions of sorts, the best coaches UCLA could afford under its modest budget. In Kelly, the Bruins landed a reputed top-line coach, the kind of coach any major program would want.
If Kelly fails to win at UCLA, it will point to the coaches not having been the program’s problems, but something more fundamental, something even harder to change.
So the choices are to trust Kelly or abandon hope.
Despite the humiliating reality check against Cincinnati last week, UCLA fans traveled to Oklahoma by the planeloads. Fans in powder blue flooded a section in the southeast corner of the stadium, as well as four sections in the upper deck.
But only so many performances like this will be tolerated.
Asked what fans could look forward to, Kelly replied, “This team’s going to compete. They always play with good effort. They’re going to give everything that they have. It’s a little process for a lot of them just because they’re young. That’s what this thing is all about. We have to continue to grow on a weekly basis.”
Notice he didn’t say anything about winning. Next season, perhaps.
The day before the game, a few dozen UCLA fans were on an Oklahoma-bound plane that was on the runway at Dallas Love Field airport. Weather delayed the takeoff. As tedium started to set in, the fans broke into an impromptu Eight Clap.
The plane never left the ground. The flight was canceled and the aircraft returned to the terminal.
Some fans asked to be placed on a later flight for Oklahoma City. Others rented a car and made the four-hour drive.