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If swoosh comes to shove, might UCLA opt for a new deal with Nike?

UCLA coach Chip Kelly looks on from the sideline during a game.
Could UCLA coach Chip Kelly’s old ties to Nike play a role in the Bruins potentially switching to the swoosh after its partnership with Under Armour?
(Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Needing a new apparel sponsor, UCLA could turn to an old friend of its football coach.

Chip Kelly and Nike co-founder Phil Knight were so close when Kelly coached at Oregon that Sports Illustrated reported Kelly allowed Knight to don a headset inside his Autzen Stadium suite and listen to the coaches’ play calls during games.

Knight has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the athletic department at his alma mater, where the Ducks’ gleaming basketball facility, Matthew Knight Arena, bears the name of his late son. The Oregon football team’s flamboyant Nike uniforms under Kelly featured a kaleidoscope of colors and its shiny helmets displayed otherworldly designs in “Liquid Metal” paint.

Does it sound like the sort of fun the Bruins might enjoy after a humdrum three-year partnership with Under Armour?

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The Bruins have a new defensive backs coach and they hope a new attitude after allowing a school-record 3,729 passing yards last season.

Kelly helped broker the transition to Nike at a previous school, according to one of his former coaches.

“Chip was very instrumental in making UNH a Nike school,” Bill Bowes, who coached Kelly at New Hampshire, told The Times in 2018. “We were Reebok when I was there.”

Kelly was predictably coy Friday when asked about his Nike connections, though he did acknowledge owning some gear with the famed swoosh.

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“Yes, I do have Nike shoes, yes,” Kelly said during a teleconference with reporters.

Given his strong Nike ties, does Kelly hope UCLA can consummate a deal with the apparel giant?

“I don’t have any say in the matter,” Kelly said. “My job is to stop people from getting first downs and get first downs, so I’m going to stay in that realm.”

Asked if he was wearing his Nikes now that the Bruins’ record $280-million deal with Under Armour had unraveled, Kelly said, “No, but I can wear whatever I want. We still have Under Armour shoes that are provided for us here.”

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UCLA basketball coach Mick Cronin doesn’t anticipate NCAA decision to give athletes an extra year of eligibility having a big impact on the Bruins.

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond recently disclosed that all of the Bruins’ teams would wear gear provided by their current apparel sponsor for the 2020-21 school year because it was too late to equip them as part of a replacement deal. Kelly said he believed his team had enough Under Armour equipment to get through the season.

UCLA sued Under Armour for more than $200 million in August, alleging breach of contract, after the apparel company tried to back out of its 15-year deal with the school earlier in the summer.

Kelly’s friendship with Knight isn’t the only high-level connection the Bruins have with Nike. Andrew Campion, Nike’s chief operating officer, received both his bachelor’s and master’s in business degrees from UCLA.

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Among other options, the Bruins could target Jordan Brand, a coveted offshoot of the Nike line, for their football and basketball teams while outfitting the rest of their teams in Nike apparel.

UCLA men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin recently acknowledged the potential appeal of a partnership with Nike, noting that players given free gear with another company continued to covet what they considered the hipper brand.

“You know these kids, they’ve got them,” Cronin said. “You’d think, why would they spend a dime on sneakers? But they do.”

Etc.


Kelly said redshirt senior defensive lineman Steven Mason was being quarantined for an unspecified period after coming in contact with somebody outside the team who tested positive for COVID-19. UCLA announced later in the day that it had zero positive results from the 1,293 tests it had administered in its athletic population over the previous week. … Junior running back Martell Irby remained day to day in his recovery from a knee injury, Kelly said, and redshirt junior defensive lineman Martin Andrus Jr. still was limited to individual drills while rounding into form from a knee injury suffered a year ago.

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