Column: Will Chip Kelly give up on UCLA before it gives up on him?

UCLA coach Chip Kelly walks off the field following the Bruins' 48-14 loss to Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
(Getty Images)

At some point Saturday during another wilting night at the Rose Bowl, somebody involved in the UCLA athletic department surely asked the question.

Maybe it occurred as quickly as the game’s first play, in which Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts sliced through a week of Bruins preparation by sprinting 52 yards untouched down the sideline.

Maybe it was about two minutes later, when Hurts sprinted 30 yards on fourth down through seemingly clueless Bruins defenders for the first of the Sooners’ six virtually uncontested touchdowns.


Maybe it was early, often, and throughout fifth-ranked Oklahoma’s 48-14 demolition of a simply rank UCLA team that rarely looked as if it belonged on the same field.

But, surely, at some point, somebody had to finally be asking the question whose answer could haunt this program for years.

Was hiring Chip Kelly a mistake?

UCLA can’t stop quarterback Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma in a 48-14 loss at the Rose Bowl, dropping the Bruins to 0-3. The No. 5 Sooners improve to 3-0.

Was it really a good idea to give $23.3 million to a guy whose once-innovative methods now seem not only outdated, but destructive?

Was it really smart to make such a big bet on a once-great college coach who can’t seem to adjust to the new era, new kids, and a new school and has now won just three of his first 15 games?

Not only is it reasonable to think that UCLA officials are having these thoughts, but it is understandable to wonder if another noted Bruin is sharing them.

Could Chip Kelly be asking himself that same question?

There is seemingly no way Bruin officials would ever consider firing Kelly after this season even though the Bruins are 0-3 for a second consecutive year and could start 0-5 again. Officials would never so quickly admit such a costly mistake, nor be willing to pay for it.

But there been some thoughts that if the team doesn’t drastically improve, Kelly could eventually say enough is enough.

UCLA fans wear paper bags over their heads.
UCLA fans wear paper bags over their heads during the second half of the Bruins’ blowout loss to Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
(Getty Images)

He might not feel he needs the hassle of a complete rebuild that has thus far gone completely wrong. He might come to the conclusion that this whole returning-to-college deal just doesn’t work anymore. He might just want to go back to the NFL.

Surely, nights like Saturday cannot be any fun for a guy who has now lost 26 of his last 31 games as a coach at any level. Faced with a national measuring stick in front of a national television audience, the Bruins were mostly a national disaster, and we’ve seen this before.

Already, they had lost to a Cincinnati team that later lost to Ohio State by 42 points, then lost to San Diego State for the first time in 23 lifetime meetings. And now this, what should have been a glorious Pasadena Saturday turned gory.

Afterward I asked Kelly to measure his personal disappointment and he said, “It’s not my cross, it’s everybody’s cross. No one is going to feel sorry for us. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t make excuses, we don’t let anybody else make excuses for us. We have to grow and be better as a team and we’ll continue to do that.”

A program with the size and resources of UCLA should never get beaten this badly, even by a powerhouse like Oklahoma, yet on this night the Bruins never even had a chance. They fell behind 34-7 at halftime while being outgained 434-116, and even a second-half surge comprised of one scoring drive couldn’t change the reality that this looked like a Power Five team playing a Putrid Five team.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly reacts to a play during the second half of Saturday's loss to Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl.
(Getty Images)

Overall the Sooners outgained them, 611-311, while averaging 10 yards every time they ran a play. The Bruins could barely touch the great Hurts, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for a touchdown and accounted for 439 total yards.

Meanwhile, the Bruin offense scored exactly 14 points for the third consecutive week while its starters finished the night in a struggle against the Sooner backups, with reserve linebacker Ryan Jones intercepting Dorian Thompson-Robinson on UCLA’s final offensive play of the game.

“We’re a young football team…we’ll continue to fight, we’ll continue to battle,” promised Kelly. “They competed in the second half, that’s something we have to build on…now we’ll have the opportunity to learn and grow after this one.”

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Not everyone agreed with the optimism.

“Stupid!” muttered one UCLA fan while turning his back to the field and walking out in the final minutes.

“This is a terrible team,” added his companion.

The Bruins were booed at various moments throughout the game. Some of the loudest cheers occurred at the end of the first quarter upon the on-field introduction of the UCLA national championship softball team. It could have been worse. But, even though UCLA gave away free tickets to the game, their fans were still outnumbered 60-40 by Oklahoma fans as the Rose Bowl was barely three-quarters full.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly walks off the field after losing to Oklahoma on Saturday.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly walks off the field after losing to Oklahoma on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
(Getty Images)

That disparity was most striking after the game ended, as the stadium was filled with the sounds of the Oklahoma band playing “Boomer Sooner” and the sight of the Sooner players being greeted like rock stars by hundreds of remaining Oklahoma fans. Meanwhile, the Bruins trudged into their tunnel with no music and mostly blank stares while Kelly ducked his head and sprinted out between them.

“We saw more red than blue, honestly,” Sooner defensive tackle Jalen Redmond told reporters. “I actually felt like playing at home. It was real comfortable.”

It was uncomfortable for the Bruins late in the first half when Oklahoma’s Charleston Rambo sprinted untouched to complete a 48-yard touchdown pass. On his journey to the end zone, he ran directly past the symbol of UCLA’s centennial anniversary celebration.

“UCLA, 100 Years” read the on-field logo, raising the idea for another one.

“UCLA football, never been worse.”

UCLA coach Chip Kelly stays with Dorian Thompson-Robinson at quarterback even as the sophomore shows more inconsistency in a 48-14 loss to Oklahoma.