While Oregon is coming to the Big Ten with big hopes and dreams of success in 2024, Washington is coming in off an appearance in the national championship, and USC hopes for a bit of a rebound season, the UCLA Bruins are coming in looking like a bit of a dumpster fire by comparison. Nothing could possibly drive that point home than what transpired this week with the football program.
Chip Kelly left his position as head coach of the UCLA football program to take on the offensive coordinator role at Ohio State, a new Big Ten opponent for the Bruins. Kelly will take over the role that was supposed to be filled by Bill O’Brien after the former Penn State head coach took off after about a month in Columbus to become the next head coach at Boston College. O’Brien’s quick move to become a head coach is far from shocking given his drive and goals as a football coach. That much makes sense. But Kelly leaving UCLA as a head coach to be an offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes is eye-opening.
Or, at least it should be for UCLA.
Kelly had been the head coach of UCLA since 2018. His hiring was thought by some to be the near-perfect blend to bring UCLA back to some national relevancy, or at least compete for a PAC-12 title the way he experienced success at Oregon. UCLA never followed through on the mission to support its football program the way it was needed to keep up with the college football powers and the Bruins remained an average or slightly above average football program during Kelly’s time as head coach. UCLA is coming off an 8-5 season a year after a 9-4 season. That has been the high bar for the UCLA program, and it had become clear Kelly was growing more and more frustrated with the situation.
Kelly voluntarily leaving UCLA at this point in the calendar to take on a lesser role for a new conference foe is telling. UCLA has squandered their opportunities for years with a lack of financial support for a thriving football program that has remained in the shadows of rival USC far more often than not.
UCLA is not exactly coming into the Big Ten flying high. They are the baggage that has to come with the additions of USC, Oregon, and Washignton despite being invited before Oregon and Washington were extended invites to the Big Ten. Here’s hoping UCLA figures this out soon so they can be a fun and worthwhile addition to the conference. If they don’t, Big Ten teams will be making trips to a southern California with a giant tarp over one end of the historic Rose Bowl Stadium for years to come, and that’s just not a good look for anyone.
Now the UCLA coaching search will be one to watch, because there is some potential for the right coach to come in and inject some much-needed life into the program. And one coaching candidate that has been mentioned could come from another Big Ten program. PJ Fleck of Minnesota has been mentioned as a top candidate for the job, and who could blame Fleck for rowing out of Minnesota to to UCLA if the opportunity arises?
The good news for Penn State is this is one LA job where James Franklin is not being mentioned as a candidate. Remember all of those USC rumors we have had to deal with? UCLA literally cannot afford that kind of move.