Plaschke: In leaving UCLA, Chip Kelly runs a selfish sneak

Pasadena, California November 13, 2021: UCLA had coach Chip Kelly has a few words.

For the final play of his sorry UCLA tenure, Chip Kelly finally ran something that fooled somebody.

A cowardly reverse.

Less than three months after the UCLA administration publicly embraced him, he flipped them off.

Less than three months after the UCLA players beat USC in his honor, he walked out on them.

Less than three months after praising his team for its resilient spirit in a comeback bowl victory over Boise State, he fled from the fight.

Look, this has to be some sort of sick joke, no?

Read more: Chip Kelly leaves UCLA to become Ohio State's offensive coordinator

Chip Kelly is really leaving the UCLA head coaching job at the worst possible time to become the offensive coordinator at Ohio State?

Not the NFL. Not another head coaching job in college. But a coordinator at one of UCLA’s future Big Ten rivals? He took a demotion in title to work at a lesser position for a school in the same league?

And he’s doing it now?

He’s doing it at such an unconscionably late date that most of the recruits had been signed, and many of the top transfers were gone, and now UCLA has essentially lost an entire season?

Classy. Professional. Disgusting.

I told UCLA to fire him. I begged UCLA to fire him. At the end of the season I wrote a column saying that UCLA had to fire him.

He had gone 35-34 in six seasons with one bowl win. He wasn’t interested in recruiting, as his current class was ranked 58th nationally by He wasn’t interested in schmoozing, as he generated little NIL money and few friends among the boosters.

He should have been fired long before he could pull this selfish stunt, long before his lame opportunism turned the program into steaming wreckage, long before now.

But no, athletic director Martin Jarmond inexplicably told me that Kelly had built a “strong and phenomenal culture.”

Not strong enough to keep the head coach from bailing, apparently.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly walks on the sideline during a win over USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 18.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly walks on the sideline during a win over USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 18. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Jarmond added, “I’m excited, I think there’s so many positives with the program.”

Oh yeah? Name one.

Ironically, Jarmond actually cited continuity and stability as reasons to keep Kelly as they entered the Big Ten, saying, “Continuity and stability are bedrocks of a successful program … you really want that continuity and stability to usher you into a new era.”

Consider those bedrocks crushed.

There is some thought that retiring chancellor Gene Block simply wouldn’t sign off on the $8.6 million required to buy out Kelly from his contract, but others insist that Jarmond never presented Block with the option.

Regardless, by leaving when he did, Kelly made Jarmond look like a fool. He made his players look like suckers. He made the Bruins fans look like bigger suckers.

And how about Casey Wasserman, one of the Bruins’ biggest boosters and the LA 28 Olympics chairman? How is he looking?

Wasserman offered full public support of Kelly and dismissed the firing talk when it arose, telling the Southern California News Group, “I think the noise and all that stuff is ridiculous and neither based in truth or reality.”

The truth is that the entire UCLA athletic community got played. The reality is that Chip Kelly was a complete phony.

After I wrote that he should be fired, and he wasn’t, I faced him following the team's bowl victory and I wrote that he was classy and gracious. Little did I know he was plotting a late and unthinkable exit.

Chip Kelly celebrates UCLA's win over USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 18.
Chip Kelly celebrates UCLA's win over USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 18. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

He preached about the importance of surviving tough times, yet he ran from those tough times.

He preached about the importance of community, yet he acted in his own self interests at great expense to a Bruins family that had blindly backed him.

It was well known that Kelly was uncomfortable with the changing role of a college head football coach. He clearly disliked raising money to pay players, and wasn’t keen on courting kids out of the transfer portal, and basically just didn’t like anything that didn’t involve scheming football plays.

Fine. That’s his prerogative. If he didn’t want to be the head coach at UCLA, he had every right to leave.

But surely he knew this three months ago, so why didn’t he leave then? Why didn’t he leave at the end of the regular season so the Bruins could have time to hire a new coach and recruit new players and get set up for next year?

Here’s why: Because he didn’t yet have a safe landing spot. Because he wasn’t going to spend one second being uncomfortable even if it meant basically lying to the entire UCLA family. Apparently a $6-million annual salary isn’t enough to buy simple decency.

Read more: There's a big difference with UCLA football coach Chip Kelly, and everyone notices it

With him, it was Chip first, Chip all day, Chip every day, and he didn’t care who knew it.

It was embarrassing enough earlier this week when word leaked that Kelly was interviewing for the offensive coordinator position with the Seattle Seahawks. It is downright humiliating that he took a similar job at Ohio State, whose coach Ryan Day has been tied to Kelly at several previous stops.

Is UCLA football so hopeless that its head coach would accept a demotion at an opposing school than stick around and try to fix things?

Or is it just Chip Kelly who is hopeless?

The answer is probably both, and the question surely will be revisited many times as UCLA looks for a successor.

Jarmond will do the hiring, although the athletic director’s stock has surely nosedived in the wake of this debacle. Wasserman also will surely help fund the new hire and, well, don’t forget, he’s the one who bought into the Kelly mess in the first place.

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond gestures during a game.
UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond will face a challenging task trying to find a new football coach with many of the big-name candidates already taken. (Brian Rothmuller / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

There will be many names mentioned, from Pete Carroll to David Shaw to Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White, but all of the leading candidates in this current coaching cycle already have jobs. By leaving when he did, Kelly turned the UCLA job into a toxic waste dump that probably will require at least a season to clean up, and what a season it could be.

As if it’s not tough enough to have a late-arriving head coach and disappearing players entering a powerful new conference, the Bruins will play Louisiana State, Penn State, Oregon, Washington and, of course, USC.

Speaking of which, who’d have thought UCLA football would ever be so messed up that it makes USC football seem well-adjusted by comparison?

When Chip Kelly held his first UCLA news conference six years ago amid much celebration, he trumpeted, “Friendships, relationships and championships …”

When he fled a pile of blue-tinted ashes Friday, he was oh for three.

Farewell, genius. Don’t let the eight clap hit you on the way out.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.