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Chip Kelly likely to remain at UCLA after Oregon hires Dan Lanning

UCLA wants to retain Chip Kelly as football coach and likely will negotiate an extension.
UCLA wants to retain Chip Kelly as football coach and likely will negotiate an extension.
(Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

Oregon’s expected hiring of Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning as its next football coach, which was confirmed by several news outlets Saturday, almost assures that Chip Kelly will return to UCLA next season barring a move to the NFL or a contract extension impasse that becomes contentious.

UCLA wants to retain Kelly after he guided the team to its best season since 2015, according to two people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to comment publicly, and hopes to agree to a contract extension soon. The five-year, $23.3-million contract Kelly signed upon his hiring at the school expires after 2022 and it would be highly unusual for a coach to go into the final season of his contract without an extension.

The only possible snags would be if the two sides couldn’t agree to the terms of an extension, leading to hostility, or if Kelly decided he wanted to return to the NFL and is offered a job there. His reciprocal $9-million buyout is set to expire Jan. 15 — five days after the NFL’s “Black Monday,” in which a flurry of coaching moves are typically set in motion.

The college football coaching landscape has changed significantly in recent weeks, with several big-name hires. Which schools finished at the head of the class?

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Kelly, who was also a candidate for the Oregon opening, affirmed his happiness at UCLA last month, referencing a comedian when discussing his level of contentment.

“Conan O'Brien said, ‘If you love what you do, you love the people you’re with, then you’re in heaven every day,’” Kelly said. “And that’s what I feel like with these players and this coaching staff.”

Kelly’s stock has risen at UCLA thanks to the team’s upward trajectory, from 3-9 in 2018 to 4-8 in 2019 to 3-4 in 2020 to 8-4 2021, as well as a belief that the Bruins can contend for greater success in the coming seasons. If the Bruins defeat No. 18 North Carolina State (9-3) in the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 at Petco Park in San Diego, they will have won nine games in a season for the first time since going 10-3 in 2014.

Another factor that makes Kelly widely desirable is his track record as an offensive innovator and tactician, which did not appreciably suffer even when his teams were losing in his first few seasons at UCLA. The Bruins have featured strong rushing attacks in each of his four seasons and led the Pac-12 Conference in scoring this season by averaging 36.5 points a game.

No. 4 UCLA expects to be tested when it faces Marquette in a hostile environment. Coaches Mick Cronin and Shaka Smart share a history of pulling off upsets.

The biggest reason for UCLA’s struggles under Kelly has been a defense that has been bad to mediocre, but it was not believed Kelly would face demands to make staff changes as part of a contract extension. The team must replace defensive line coach Johnny Nansen after his departure to become Arizona’s defensive coordinator.

The Bruins’ roster for 2022 remains in heavy flux because of the large number of juniors and seniors with remaining eligibility who could opt for the NFL draft or come back for another college season. Among others, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, running back Zach Charbonnet, tight end Greg Dulcich and left tackle Sean Rhyan face questions about their future and could conceivably return next season.


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