The failures have stacked up to where disappointment has become a natural state, this fatalism that gradually swept over UCLA in the last couple of decades explaining why Chip Kelly has received a free pass for a three-win maiden season.
In the wake of a season-ending 49-42 loss to Stanford, you would think Kelly would show some appreciation for the warm welcome he has received from whatever remains of a beaten-down fan base.
Maybe by thanking 38,391 patrons who had to feel as if they showed up to a sparsely attended party inside of the cavernous Rose Bowl. Or by offering insight to these loyal enthusiasts about why he was hopeful about the long-suffering program’s future.
Instead, Kelly snarled.
Citing a supposed focus on the upcoming game, Kelly had declined all season to specify improvements made by his team. Now that the season was over, he was asked if he could offer any such reflections.
Kelly glanced down at the digital watch wrapped around his left wrist.
“From a game that just ended three minutes ago?” Kelly said dismissively. “I think I’ll take a little more time before I reflect on that.”
Geez, sorry for tossing you a softball.
By now, it’s evident that if Kelly ever wins over Los Angeles, he won’t do the way Pete Carroll did. Or Phil Jackson. Or Tom Lasorda.
And with Kelly, there will be no middle ground. He’s making no effort outside of the field to endear himself or his program to a personality-driven market, the consequence of which is that he will either win and be respected or lose and be reviled.
Actually, there’s a third possibility, which is that he will continue to be ignored.
More than his 3-9 record, his greatest failing this year was his inability to create any sort of buzz. The crowd that watched the loss to Stanford was UCLA’s smallest at the Rose Bowl in more than 21 years.
Almost 12,000 more fans watched UCLA’s home finale last year — and that was on Friday night after coach Jim Mora was fired.
Kelly wasn’t bothered by the decline in fan support.
“Nah,” he said. “I’m worried about getting first downs and stopping people, so, you know … We’re trying to grow a young football team and that’s what these guys did, they learned how to compete every single week and I’m proud of their effort. We just need more weapons.”
Well, since you brought it up, where do you need more weapons?
“We’ll identify it as a staff as we move forward,” he said. “This isn’t the time to talk about that right now, to be honest with you.”
More revealing was a response Kelly offered to a smart question asked by Hanson Wang of the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper.
Why did Kelly call a timeout with 44 seconds remaining in the first half?
The Bruins scored on fourth-and-one on the play that immediately followed the timeout, narrowing their deficit to 24-20. But with 37 seconds still on the clock, Stanford was able to march down the field and kick a field goal before the intermission.
“What time did we score with?” Kelly said. “We ran some plays after that.”
Yes, one. And if UCLA had allowed the clock to run down a little more …
“But if we don’t score, then …” Kelly said. “You can’t tell your guys not to score, you know what I mean?”
Before Wang could explain the point of his question, Kelly interrupted him.
“Your point of your question is that you have it automatically in your head that we were going to score,” Kelly said. “You know, we still have to score. So if we ran out of time and didn’t get an opportunity to score, you would be asking me why didn’t I call a timeout.”
This was complete nonsense. The Bruins were facing a fourth down. If they didn’t score, Stanford would take over on downs.
“Your kickoff team’s got to be better,” he said. “It’s obviously a depth issue for us. We got to do a better job there kicking it.”
So in three concise sentences, Kelly blamed the Stanford field goal on UCLA’s kickoff coverage team, Mora for sticking him with a depleted roster, and kicker J.J. Molson.
“The difference in the game wasn’t a three-point game,” Kelly said. “I’m not a woulda-coulda-shoulda guy.”
What he sounded was like a throw-others-under-the-bus guy.
And with that, his portion of the postgame news conference ended.
This isn’t an untreatable condition. This city embraces winners. Win a national championship and Kelly will be crowned a hero.