Disgruntled UCLA fans hoping coach Chip Kelly will admit defeat and take an NFL offensive coordinator’s job or retire to the hills of New Hampshire aren’t going to like what his old boss thinks about the likelihood of that happening.
“I don’t think Chip will ever walk away,” former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said during a telephone interview Sunday. “I don’t think he’s a quitter at all and I don’t think he would ever give up on anything.”
Bellotti worked alongside Kelly for three years, first as the Ducks’ coach when Kelly was the offensive coordinator and later as the school’s athletic director when Kelly succeeded him as coach in 2009. That gave Bellotti a front-row seat to some stunning success.
Kelly was 46-7 as Oregon’s coach, guiding the Ducks to a major bowl game in each of his four seasons and the national championship game after the 2010 season.
At UCLA, Kelly is on pace to win 46 games … by the 2035 season.
The Bruins have opened the season with a 1-5 record, just like they did in 2018. Their defense is giving up 37.7 points per game, ranking No. 113 nationally. Their offense, supposedly Kelly’s strong suit, is scoring only 26.2 points per game, ranking No. 76.
There’s a realistic possibility that UCLA may not be favored in any of its final six games.
“I’m at a loss like everybody else,” the now-retired Bellotti said the day after UCLA’s 48-31 loss to Oregon State at the Rose Bowl left the Bruins as the laughingstock of the Pac-12 Conference. “I don’t have an answer. It’s just one of those things. I think Chip is a relatively patient person that doesn’t push the panic button and I think he feels like he has time and support [from the UCLA administration], although as we all know, there’s a limiting factor there.”
Bellotti finished the last sentence with a chuckle, indicating that he realized there’s only so long any coach can keep his job winning only 22.2% of his games while playing in front of a half-empty home stadium.
Kelly’s five-year, $23.3-million contract calls for a reciprocal $9-million buyout, which would seem to provide the coach with a security blanket until one considers the bigger picture. The Bruins are hemorrhaging fans, leading to lost ticket revenue and donations that could offset any financial benefits to keeping Kelly in place.
UCLA’s average home attendance of 46,020 has put it on pace for a record low since moving to the Rose Bowl in 1982. The previous low was 49,098 in 1995 during Terry Donahue’s final season as coach. It’s important to note that USC is not on the Bruins’ home schedule this season, depriving UCLA of hopes for a late-season attendance boost.
Bellotti said any definitive judgments about Kelly’s time at UCLA can’t be made before at least the end of this season.
“I would say, give him a little bit of time,” Bellotti said, adding that quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been sidelined for more than a week because of a leg injury.
Kelly’s refusal to run the blur offense that made him a revelation at Oregon makes sense to Bellotti given a roster heavy on tight ends.
“If you look at some of the teams that have tight ends and the ability to change personnel groups and the ability to change in and out of tempos, in other words, use tempo as a weapon, not as an all-the-time thing, I understand it,” Bellotti said. “Some teams are very successful at that and I think Chip, with what he’s done and learned since he’s been gone from Oregon, has determined that for this group of kids, that that might be the best thing.”
Bellotti said the optimist in him believes that Kelly can pull out of this downward spiral, so long as a notoriously stubborn coach is willing to make changes.
“You may have to play younger people who are going to learn on the run,” Bellotti said, “but maybe they’re going to be better in the system or [the coaches] have to look at the system and say, ‘Hey, how can we make these kids successful? What is the right solution?’ I’m sure they have looked at it and they’re talking about it and I’m sure they are still trying to figure it out.”
Even in a best-case scenario, Kelly’s Bruins are never going to remind anyone of Kelly’s Ducks.
“It’s going to take a little bit longer, I guess,” Bellotti said of UCLA’s rebuilding process, “than some people thought.”
The Bruins hope an 11-day layoff before playing Stanford on Oct. 17 can help them get closer to full strength.
Their injury woes worsened Saturday when defensive lineman Martin Andrus Jr. suffered an apparent leg injury in warmups and linebacker Krys Barnes was sidelined in the first half because of an undisclosed injury.
Linebacker Elijah Wade didn’t play because of an unspecified injury, joining Thompson-Robinson, receiver Theo Howard (wrist) and safety Quentin Lake (hand) on the sideline.
Kelly said assessing the status of injured players would be one of his top priorities during the open week, when his team is scheduled to hold two practices.
“There’s no trade or waiver wire, you don’t get to add players at this point and time,” Kelly said, “so we’ve got to see who’s available and we’ve got to coach them up and put them in positions to make plays and give them an opportunity to execute and that’s on us as a coaching staff.”