Chip Bleepin’ Kelly.
The phrase that once represented the exuberance of the UCLA faithful has taken on an entirely new meaning.
We got Chip Bleepin’ Kelly!
The same words that encapsulated the widespread excitement over Kelly’s hiring now express the growing frustrations over the five-year, $23.3-million nightmare unfolding at the Rose Bowl.
Chip Bleepin’ Kelly has made history, all right, taking the Bruins to depths unfamiliar to even one of the country’s most underachieving football programs. Every weekend promises another round of humiliation, the latest indignity coming in a 23-14 defeat Saturday that counted as UCLA’s first-ever loss to San Diego State.
The Bruins dropped to 3-11 under Kelly, including 0-2 this season.
Kelly doesn’t have the same players he had at Oregon. That’s obvious. The question is whether he is as a good a coach as he was then.
The coach wasn’t about to subject himself to such introspection, at least not in a public forum.
“You’re as good as what your record says you are,” he said in the postgame news conference.
Of course, if the cliché is true, that would make him the program’s worst coach since the school was known as the Southern Branch of the University of California.
“We’re 0-2, so we’re not doing a good enough job right now,” Kelly said.
That’s an understated assessment, if there ever was one.
“Not doing a good enough job” is what a coach of a Power 5 conference team can say when dropping a game to a comparable program.
“Not doing a good enough job” doesn’t capture what’s happening here. This is an absolute calamity.
The Bruins opened their season last week by losing in Cincinnati.
In a little more than a season with Kelly as their coach, they are 0-4 against Group of Five conference teams.
When asked by Times beat reporter Ben Bolch to contextualize UCLA’s first-ever defeat to San Diego State, Kelly said, “I mean, you try to compare things all the time, Ben, and I don’t understand.”
As if it was Bolch’s fault that UCLA lost to a school against which it was previously 21-0-1.
With a visit by No. 4 Oklahoma next week followed by road games at Washington State and Arizona, UCLA should start the season 0-5 for the second time in as many years.
The results are disastrous, but they are only part of the problem.
These are the same old Bruins, missing tackles, fumbling footballs, committing inexcusable penalties and allowing their opponents to take free shots at their quarterback.
Kelly was supposed to be an offensive guru, but UCLA’s attack looks shockingly ordinary. On second thought, ordinary would be an upgrade. The Bruins have scored a combined 28 points in their first two games.
Skepticism over the program’s direction was in full view Saturday, as the announced crowd of 36,951 fans was the third-smallest for a UCLA home game at the Rose Bowl.
The only times the Bruins drew smaller crowds were in games against Oregon State in the early 1990s.
Many of the fans who braved the infernal weather were noticeably upset by what they saw. Taking a 10-7 deficit into halftime, the Bruins retreated to their locker room to a soundtrack of boos and whistles.
The stadium emptied after a failed fourth-down attempt with two minutes and 31 seconds remaining in the game. UCLA’s band might as well have been the orchestra on the Titanic. Images of their cheerleaders could have been used on inspirational posters that read, “Dance like no one is watching.”
Defeats like this can damage recruiting, an area in which Kelly has already encountered a surprising amount of trouble. His most celebrated class was, ironically, his first, which had to be quickly assembled.
In other words, the Bruins don’t have a wave of five-star players coming in.
Asked why fans should stick with this team, Kelly responded, “I see what they see. We made too many mistakes to win a football game today and we certainly understand that. It’s on us to correct them. It’s not on us to tell them what to say or what to think or how to act. It’s on us to make the corrections and play better as a football team and to coach better as a coaching staff.”
How optimistic is he of that happening?
“I believe it will happen,” Kelly said. “I have faith in these guys.”
In the long view, however, this isn’t about the players. This is about Kelly and what supporters of the program will mean when in the future they say, “Chip Bleepin’ Kelly.”