It’s an emotional start for DeShaun Foster as UCLA football coach

New UCLA football coach DeShaun Foster, left, poses with athletic director Martin Jarmond.
New UCLA football coach DeShaun Foster, left, and athletic director Martin Jarmond were all smiles during an introductory news conference at Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

The tears started before the rookie coach said his first word. They flowed again only 35 seconds into his opening remarks.

“Being the head coach here at UCLA,” DeShaun Foster said Tuesday morning, trying to hold it together, “you guys have no idea, just …”

Foster paused in a losing battle to compose himself, his gentle sobbing drowned out by the roaring applause from a few hundred donors, family members, players and alumni inside Pauley Pavilion’s pavilion club.


From star running back on UCLA’s last team to play in a Rose Bowl to longtime running backs coach to head coach, Foster marinated in the realization that he had made it to the top at his alma mater.

“It’s a surreal moment just coming all the way back around,” Foster said, finally steadying himself during an introductory news conference filled with emotion but few specifics. “You know, that I’m the head man here at UCLA.”

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After six seasons of stoicism and joylessness under Chip Kelly, UCLA football appeared to have rediscovered its heart.

It belonged to a 44-year-old who is as long on passion as he is short on experience, having never called a play as a coordinator, much less a head coach. Yet Foster’s conviction in his ability to lead UCLA back to glory, not to mention his loyalty to the four letters, were among the reasons athletic director Martin Jarmond named him the successor to Kelly after a search lasting less than three days.

“I know he deeply cares about this place and that’s really important to me,” said Jarmond, adding he spoke to roughly 20 candidates, including sitting college head coaches and NFL assistants. “We wanted to find a leader and a teacher who cares about this university.”

Showing fearlessness similar to his punishing style as a running back, Foster bowled over the notion that he was too inexperienced to be the Bruins’ head coach.


“I interviewed just like everybody else did,” Foster said. “They came back with the best candidate. ... This is something I’m built for, y’all. I can do this. I’m going to put all my passion into this. I’m here for these boys.”

Former UCLA great DeShaun Foster wipes away tears as he's introduced as the school's new football coach on Tuesday.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

As evidence of his ability to generate immediate success, Foster pointed to running for a 67-yard touchdown on his first NFL carry with the Carolina Panthers.

Passion wasn’t enough to propel former UCLA players Rick Neuheisel and Karl Dorrell to success as Bruins coaches, and there’s no disputing the many challenges confronting Foster in what amounts to a massive gamble for the program after Kelly departed to become offensive coordinator at Ohio State.

Among other things, Foster must bolster the team’s relatively tiny name, image and likeness coffers, replenish the talent on defense and spark a more aggressive recruiting approach among a staff that put in minimal effort to land top high school players under Kelly. Foster said he would continue to be selective in offering high school prospects while prioritizing Southern California talent in addition to the best players nationally.

Acknowledging the need to do more with NIL, Foster said he was meeting with leaders from the Men of Westwood collective Wednesday. By midafternoon Tuesday, a video featuring Foster seeking support for the collective was released on the social media platform X.


Foster’s hiring has already sparked conversations about possible donations of seven-plus figures among NIL donors, said Josh Rebholz, UCLA’s executive senior associate athletic director who was also part of the coaching search committee. Ticket sales have also seen a significant uptick, Rebholz said.

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One thing Foster doesn’t need to worry about: loyalty among players and alumni.

The new coach received several loud ovations from the gathering that included a chunk of the current roster as well as former players Anthony Barr, Danny Farmer, Patrick Cowan, Josh Kelley and Demetric Felton Jr.

As Foster spoke about his ability to develop players and mentioned Kelley, the Chargers running back yelled from the back of the room, “Love you, coach!”

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers, who was among the active players present, praised the hire and said he did not expect anyone to transfer.

“The whole team’s just ecstatic,” Garbers said. “We love Coach Foster and we trust him, that’s the most important thing. … This is the hire that the team wanted and this is what we all decided would be best for us.”

Garbers said he believed the Bruins could take a “huge step” forward in offensive production during their first season in the Big Ten in 2024 given that every starter besides center Duke Clemens could return after Clemens exhausted his eligibility. UCLA also added wide receiver Rico Flores, a highly rated transfer from Notre Dame, and Garbers said the team would probably seek more transfers on the offensive line.

New UCLA football head coach DeShaun Foster takes a group picture with former Bruins football players
New UCLA football head coach DeShaun Foster takes a group picture with former Bruins football players after an introductory news conference at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

Who will call plays for that offense? Foster said he wanted to hire an offensive coordinator “that has my type of DNA, what I’m looking for,” though he did not specify what that was. He added he was interviewing the team’s current assistants to determine what his staff would look like next season. As of now, the team has openings for a running backs coach, inside linebackers coach and tight ends coach in addition to offensive coordinator.

Foster indicated he would not accept a subpar first season as part of his transition and expected to win immediately in the Big Ten. How would he define his success in 2024?

“Winning games,” Foster said. “I’m not here for a hidden agenda — ‘Oh, we played well’ — none of that. We’ve got to win games. I’m a Bruin too, so this isn’t just, ‘I’m happy to be in this seat.’ I’m trying to produce. We’ve got to win.”

It’s expected Foster will restore several beloved traditions, including the pregame Bruin Walk at the Rose Bowl and possibly a spring game at Drake Stadium after his predecessor eliminated the former and reduced the latter to a routine practice.

Asked about his vision for the program, Foster cited what he called his three pillars — discipline, respect and enthusiasm. The last pillar had crumbled under Kelly as UCLA compiled its three worst season attendance figures at the Rose Bowl.


“You’re gonna see it, you’re gonna feel it,” Foster said of passion so intense that it had kept him from eating during the previous 24 hours because he was so excited. “We’re gonna get this Rose Bowl back to how it needs to be.”

Before he was handed a handkerchief to dab his watering eyes, Foster watched a highlight video that showed him running over and around defenders while at Tustin High and UCLA in addition to his seven seasons in the NFL.

The video included narration from Foster alluding to this opportunity of a lifetime.

“I’m going to do my part,” Foster said in the video. “I’m here today, I’m a Bruin. This is for life.”