‘That shouldn’t have gone up’: Chip Kelly says tweet calling UCLA ‘Transfer U’ was a mistake
A UCLA football program that was long a national force in high school recruiting, often edging rival USC for the best young players in Southern California, momentarily ceded those designations earlier this week.
Just check the title it gave itself.
The nickname surfaced Monday on the official UCLA football Twitter account. A graphic illustration showed a group of Bruins transfers in uniform below a list indicating that the school led the nation with 20 transfer starters since 2020.
Atop the post, on a faux city limits sign, was the slogan: “Welcome to Transfer U.”
The message sparked an immediate uproar on social media and message boards.
Wasn’t this the stuff of teams that can’t get enough high school recruits? How should high school recruits feel about coming to a team trumpeting its transfers? Could this plug-and-play approach really be sustainable?
UCLA coach Chip Kelly gave his input Wednesday, and it wasn’t to thank his social media team.
“That shouldn’t have gone up,” Kelly said. “That was a mistake the head coach saw and when I saw it, I said, ‘That’s a mistake.’ ”
Would Kelly have the post that by Wednesday afternoon generated nearly 500 likes and more than 60 comments — many of them snarky — deleted?
“Do people go back and look at it afterward?” Kelly asked a reporter inquiring about removing the message that was scrubbed later in the day. “I’m not in that world, so if you want it off, I’ll take it off.”
Kelly said there was some validity to the thrust of the post, that UCLA was among the teams dominating the transfer market, but that he would continue to blend transfers with his high school recruits.
“I think what their point is, we’ve been very efficient with our [transfer] portal,” Kelly said. “I think the kids we bring in here play and that’s a credit to how we do that. We’ve always approached it like it’s free agency in the National Football League, so how can they contribute to the program?”
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Kelly has unabashedly embraced what he described as a year-to-year approach to roster construction in the transfer portal era, calling it “team-building” instead of recruiting and acknowledging he was less inclined to take high school players who would require significant development.
Among Pac-12 starting quarterbacks, Kelly pointed out, only UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Stanford’s Tanner McKee joined their respective teams directly out of high school.
UCLA started nine transfers in its season opener, including running back Zach Charbonnet, left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal and twin edge rushers Gabriel and Grayson Murphy. Transfer linebacker Laiatu Latu was the defensive star of the Bruins’ 45-7 victory over Alabama State last weekend, forcing a fumble and logging two sacks.
But can UCLA continue to bring in similar high-end transfer talent in future seasons given what appears to be a growing disparity between the name, image and likeness success of its players versus those who are getting more lucrative deals at other schools?
“The best of the best are not going to UCLA because those elite kids are going to get NIL deals,” said Greg Biggins, a national recruiting analyst for 247 Sports. “The only way they would come to UCLA is if they’re from Southern California and they want to come home or maybe it’s a player who wants to be a brain surgeon, but those are few and far between, right?”
It took two years for UCLA’s Laiatu Latu to get a doctor’s permission to play after a neck injury. The comeback culminated in two sacks Saturday.
UCLA’s Twitter post anointing itself as the king of the transfer market provided numbers but not backstories involving the other teams it included. Arizona State, which has had 18 transfer starters since 2020, had no choice but to go that route given its difficulties in high school recruiting with coach Herm Edwards’ future in doubt. Rutgers (16 transfer starters since 2020) resides in an area largely lacking top-tier high school talent. Ole Miss (16) and Florida State (15) are both in their third seasons with new coaches.
USC also brought in a slew of transfers this season, albeit with an easy explanation. Craving a swift makeover, new Trojans coach Lincoln Riley imported quarterback Caleb Williams, receiver Jordan Addison and other widely coveted stars that could transform the team into an instant winner.
By contrast, Kelly has stockpiled transfers to plug roster holes created by mass defections and his own undistinguished high school recruiting. UCLA’s high school recruiting classes have shrunk in each of Kelly’s seasons, from a high of 27 players in 2018 to 11 in 2022. Conversely, the number of transfers has ballooned, from two in his first season to 13 this season.
Maybe UCLA really is Transfer U. Instead of sprinkling in transfers, the Bruins are piling them higher and higher.
“I would say actions speak louder than words,” Biggins said of the Bruins’ roster construction.
It might feel as if Kelly has all but abandoned high school recruiting given his team has only six players who have verbally committed for the class of 2023. That figure may not rise appreciably because the Bruins have extended just 56 scholarship offers, according to 247 Sports, the fewest among Pac-12 schools.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson admits he was a ‘little frustrated’ about Chip Kelly’s decision to pull him out of the Alabama State game.
UCLA is also lagging when it comes to scholarship offers given to high school freshmen and sophomores that are so freely dispensed by other teams.
“Chip Kelly has a process in how he’s recruiting high school athletes,” said West Hills Chaminade High coach David Machuca said, alluding to Kelly’s deliberate evaluation of players. “I respect that. The process they are following is slower. [But] kids today want to be offered earlier.”
UCLA’s labeling of itself as Transfer U — even erroneously — did not appear to spark an internal divide between players who arrived from high school and those who came from other colleges.
“Everybody here is UCLA Bruins,” said cornerback Azizi Hearn, a transfer from Wyoming. “That’s how I view it, you know what I mean? Regardless of where they were at before here, whether it was a different university or a high school, you know what I mean? Once we’re here, we’re all brothers, we’re all Bruins.”
Times staff writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.
The size of each of Chip Kelly’s high school recruiting classes at UCLA has dropped from 27 in 2018 to six at this point for 2023. But the number of transfers has soared.
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