For the past few years, UCLA and USC football fans have fantasized about being able to hire Chip Kelly to be their school's football coach. Between his prickly personality and his brush with the NCAA, however, Kelly becoming coach of either school was clearly a pipe dream. UCLA was particularly a farfetched destination given that UCLA never had the financial resources like powerhouse schools in Texas and the South, and hiring Kelly would first entail firing Jim Mora and paying off his $12 million buyout clause, which presumably was beyond the school's athletic budget, not to mention a big paycheck for Kelly which would be seemingly be even further beyond the budget. Yet, UCLA was able to come up with the money to pull the trigger on both.
So how and why did all this become a reality? With the proper context it now all makes sense. In the past few years UCLA has upgraded its athletic facilities tremendously, from the Pauley Pavilion remodel, to the new Wasserman football facility and the Ostin basketball facility, which added up to hundreds of millions of dollars. These were financed through a combination of fundraising, the lucrative Pac 12 media contract, and the record athletic wear sponsorship deal with UnderArmour. In the context of all the capital expenditures, the extra millions needed to upgrade the coaching situation seem relatively insignificant. It turns out Coach Mora would have been fired even if UCLA had beaten USC, as the school needed a different kind of football coach to lead the football program to level needed to match the new facilities. And it wouldn't be surprising to learn if UnderArmour added to the pot, as they were in dire need of establishing a flagship university for their brand.
So why is Chip Kelly not a good fit for USC, but an acceptable fit for UCLA? Two reasons. First of all is the NCAA issue. Chip Kelly was under an NCAA show cause order due to the fact that Oregon made illegal payments to a Texas scouting service. There was no evidence that Kelly knew of the payments, but as head of the football program he bore ultimate responsibility, and jumping to the NFL probably closed the book on that violation. Personally I can't believe that Kelly did not have actual knowledge of those payments. With this in mind, there's no way that USC could have hired Kelly to replace Steve Sarkisian. Given their NCAA problems in both football in basketball, USC could not afford to hire a coach with any hint of a problem, so Kelly would be a nonstarter. Furthermore, Kelly is all football and is not the kind of coach to shmooze the alumni and be friends with all of the wealthy donors. USC is certainly not the kind of place for that kind of coach.
So how is UCLA the better fit? Well, it's athletic director Dan Guerrero is a highly respected member of the NCAA infrastructure and is known for doing everything above board. Rick Neuheisel came to UCLA as football coach with a reputation of sometime pushing the envelope with the NCAA, and in his four years as coach there was nary a problem. Guerrero will keep Kelly under control if there is a need to do so. Secondly, UCLA does not have the cadre of alumni donors that need to be stroked like USC and many other schools have. Indeed, there is just Casey Wasserman and probably a couple of others. So Chip Kelly can spend his time on football, rather than donor relations.
It would have been great had I been able to attend last Monday's introductory press conference with Chip Kelly. I received an invitation to attend just two hours before the event began, apparently a reward for being a 30 year season ticket holder. It probably wouldn't have been worth taking four hours off on a workday to attend a 30 minute press conference with just a select number of fans in attendance. But it would have been fun.