Under new management, UCLA's Chip Kelly seeks a reboot of his fortunes

Ben Bolch
·4 min read
PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 26: Chip Kelly head coach UCLA Bruins during a fourth quarter time out.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly coaches during the fourth quarter against Utah at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 26, 2018. (John McCoy / Getty Images)

As he surveys a season-opening opponent with a first-year coach, searching for any tidbits that might provide an edge, Chip Kelly also finds himself being scouted by someone new.

His boss.

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond has started his evaluation of a football coach who has gone 7-17 in his first two seasons, draining the Rose Bowl of fans long before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the possibility of anybody besides family members showing up in 2020. The Bruins’ average home attendance of 43,849 last season was a record low and there were times when even Kelly seemed resigned to failure.

The coach said after a historic home loss to San Diego State in September 2019 that “You’re as good as what your record says you are,” but a new season under new management represents an opportunity for a reboot of his fortunes.

“Every year is a new year and I’ve just gotten here, so everyone is a clean slate with me,” Jarmond, who is in his fourth month on the job after replacing Dan Guerrero, said Thursday. “You come into a situation and you try to help understand the program and understand what are ways you can help and assist because my job is to support and that’s what I intend to do.”

Jarmond has been a regular presence at practices and in Zoom meetings with players and coaches, learning about the team’s culture and Kelly’s plans to help the Bruins achieve their first winning season since 2015. The athletic director said he’s been impressed with Kelly’s methodical approach to safety issues in an effort to help protect his players.

But Jarmond is no pushover. He showed a willingness to change football coaches in his final year at Boston College, firing Steve Addazio in December after a seven-year run in which Addazio posted a .500 record and went to six bowl games. Those results probably sound like a dream to UCLA fans who have endured the program’s worst four-year stretch since the 1920s.

Success in 2020 can’t be measured solely by UCLA’s record in a shortened seven-game, conference-only schedule, Jarmond said, given there’s no guarantee the Bruins will play every game. Taking it one game at a time becomes more than coachspeak, the team hoping just to play its season opener against Colorado on Nov. 7 before worrying about contending in the Pac-12 South.

“This will be the most unique and unprecedented football season maybe ever, right?” Jarmond said. “So there has to be flexibility and understanding in what we’re up against. We’re trying to get games in. I mean, 15% of games have been canceled in the [college football] season so far.”

Jarmond won’t be able to gauge fan satisfaction as easily as he normally would because fans won’t be allowed at games, but it’s obvious the Bruins must start winning to revive interest and help offset massive budget shortfalls. UCLA’s athletic department posted an $18.9-million deficit for the 2019 fiscal year and its $9 million in ticket revenue for the 2019 season was less than half of the $20 million it brought in while setting attendance records under coach Jim Mora in 2014.

Fans have pointed out on message boards that the revenue gap is greater than the $9-million buyout Kelly would be owed should he be dismissed before Jan. 15, 2022.

“Football is critically important to the health of an athletic program at this level, make no mistake,” Jarmond said. “It is important for football to be successful and that’s why as an AD, I have to focus a lot of my energy and effort in finding ways to help support what we’re doing in football.”

Happy homecoming?

In any other year, it would have been easy for Alexa and Mark Medrano to see their son play.  

UCLA linebacker Kain Medrano grew up in Pueblo, Colo., a little more than two hours from Boulder, where the Bruins will open the season against Colorado on Nov. 7 at Folsom Field.  

But a reunion remained in doubt until Colorado received clearance Thursday from Boulder County Public Health officials to allow a limited number of family members to attend the game.  

“It’s gonna mean everything,” Kain said of the family support. “If they’re allowed, my parents would love to be there.”  

The return of ‘Pick Six’

Former UCLA safety Adarius Pickett has returned to the team as a volunteer defensive analyst, allowing him to mentor onetime teammates. Pickett played his final season with the Bruins in 2018.

“He’s out here running routes with me after practice and giving me like really good live looks,” nickelback Shea Pitts said, “so it’s been really nice having him around and I’ve learned a lot from him.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.