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Commentary: Chip Kelly is nowhere close to elite, and UCLA can do much better


Martin Jarmond constantly talks about being elite. The word reflects the ideals of a UCLA athletic department that uses excellence as a baseline for everything it does.

Then there’s what’s happening with Chip Kelly and the football program. Elite never enters the conversation.

Elite is not going 15-25, a .375 winning percentage that is the worst in school history for any coach who did not hold an interim tag.

Elite is not hoping to finish with a record above .500 for the first time in Year Four.

Elite is not keeping a failed defensive coordinator, at $700,000 per year, because of loyalty to a friend.

Elite is not losing three consecutive home games, failing to reward fans who show up before dawn for ESPN’s “College GameDay” because they’re desperate to support a winner.

Elite is not hoping to make the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl.

Elite is not touting how your team never gives up and intends to correct the same mistakes it makes week after week.

Elite is not talking about having a really good Wednesday when Saturdays are all that matter in college football.

Elite is not Chip Kelly.

Forty games into the most expensive experiment in UCLA football history, the evidence is incontrovertible. Kelly is guilty of fleecing the Bruins for $16.7 million since his arrival. You don’t need a degree from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management to know that this is not an acceptable return on investment.

The Bruins are eating lavishly, they are getting enough sleep and they are staying hydrated. That’s all great and admirable. They are not winning nearly enough games to justify another season of this madness.

UCLA’s 44-24 loss to Utah on Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium was the latest referendum on Kelly’s failures. The Bruins gave up touchdowns on each of the Utes’ first four possessions. They surrendered 290 rushing yards. They were undisciplined, snapping the ball before quarterback Ethan Garbers was ready and failing to even momentarily deter a Utah defender who surged into the backfield to smash Garbers into the turf for a safety.

Given a chance to take sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 South, UCLA (5-4, 3-3 ) instead fell into a tie with USC for third place during a season in which the Trojans are operating with an interim coach.

Kelly was crabbier than usual afterward, refusing to address the one constant stain on his time in Westwood: defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro. Kelly deflected a question about how he could justify keeping Azzinaro given the team’s ongoing defensive struggles.

“Yeah, well, I’ll just talk about tonight,” Kelly said. “We didn’t do a good job in the run game. We played — even this year — very well on the defensive side of the ball and I think our defense has improved. Our defense improved last year and when you look at some of the games we did early in the year, I thought we played really well.

“Tonight, we did not play well in the rush category to give up that many yards.”

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers is tackled by Utah defensive tackle Junior Tafuna.

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers is tackled by Utah defensive tackle Junior Tafuna during the first half on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Kelly was also unnecessarily difficult when addressing the status of injured quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, saying he wasn’t trying to evade questions while doing exactly that.

Reporter: “How close was Dorian to being able to go?”

Kelly: “He was unavailable.”

Reporter: “When did you find out he was unavailable?”

Kelly: “We talk about all the things and when the doctors and Dorian put their heads together in terms of where we are, made a decision today that he was unavailable.”

Reporter: “Was the decision made earlier today, after warmups?”

Kelly: “Just, we just talk it through as a group and they told me he was unavailable.”

Reporter: “The question is because we saw him warming up.”

Kelly: “You saw him practice this week too.”

Reporter: “Was it after warmups, before the game?

Kelly: “He was unavailable.”

Reporter: “Do you expect him back next game?”

Kelly: “I don’t expect anybody back. I don’t have any answers to the crystal ball, so we will see how the week goes and how our training session goes and then we’ll get ready.”

UCLA’s latest loss likely ended its bid to contend in the Pac-12 South and any hopes of extinguishing a 22-year Rose Bowl drought. It may not matter that the Bruins are about to hit a soft pocket in the schedule with games against Colorado, USC and California given their continued stumbles.

Kelly sounded almost defiant when asked if fighting hard and coming close was enough.

“We still got a lot of football to be played this season,” he said. “But I wouldn’t bet against that group in that room there, that group in that room there’s awesome and I love those kids. So we’ll be right back at it, those guys will get in on Monday for film and lifting, we’ll be back on the field on Wednesday and Friday next week and then get ready to go play our next game.”

Even with Jarmond’s heroic marketing efforts, the Bruins could play before a record-low crowd when they face Colorado at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 13. Karl Dorrell, the Buffaloes’ coach, might leave longtime UCLA fans wistful for the days when he guided the Bruins to a succession of Silicon Valley and Las Vegas bowls.

There will be those who point to Kelly’s $9-million buyout that expires Jan. 15. as a possible saving grace allowing him to finish out the final season of his contract in 2022. No way. If the amount can’t be negotiated to a negligible figure, if not abandoned altogether, Kelly can’t be allowed to further sully a decaying brand.

You want elite? It’s time to look elsewhere.





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