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Coaching Carousel Watch: Chip Kelly on the Move?
There's been a lot of smoke around Chip Kelly's future. Is any of it true?
Folks, the past few days have been a mess.
I’m not talking about my personal life, for the record - that’s going great - but about all of the rumors swirling around UCLA football and their head coach Chip Kelly. Trying to sift through the smoke to find kernels of truth has been difficult, and many have been caught in their feelings regarding the entire mess. I’m going to try and break it down but, and I say this in advance, it’s all about to get very stupid.
Y’all should know my background here. I don’t have much in the way of inside sources beyond a stray tip coming my way here and there, but I am pretty good at reading between the lines. On top of that, I’m an avid listener of Split Zone Duo, an NFL podcast* featuring solid reporting and honesty about the sport. A lot of my reads regarding coaching searches and rumors are informed from this podcast, so when you see me say some stuff ahead, you should have an idea of where I’m coming from.
*- This is a Shutdown Fullcast joke that only the real ones will get.
The current Chip Kelly saga has revolved around the now-open Oregon job. Mario Cristobal, for those unaware, left Oregon this weekend to take over his alma mater Miami. All well and good, and something that has been rumored for months now (if you want to feel bad for anyone here, think of poor Manny Diaz, who had to sit around the Miami office waiting to see if he was going to be fired or not for multiple days). But UCLA fans started to get involved when Oregonian writer John Canzano put out a theory regarding the Oregon job:
Let’s be clear here: Canzano is a solid reporter, especially when it came to documenting all the problems of the Larry Scott era of the Pac-12. But he’s not infallible and having followed him during this coaching search, it seems very clear that he’s just throwing names into the wind based on random sources with no real influence on the hiring process. But we’ll come back to those sources in a second.
The flames were fanned further on December 7th, two days after Cristobal officially left Oregon, when Tracy Pierson of Bruin Report Online put out a rather hefty analysis of the situation in Eugene. I’m not going to quote from it because it’s behind a paywall, but the general idea was that negotiations between Chip and UCLA were at an impasse, and Kelly was starting to seriously consider other options, and wouldn’t you know it but the place that he made his name at just so happened to open up and he’s still good friends with the two biggest boosters.
Oh hey, and Chip just happens to have a new agent: Jimmy Sexton.
UCLA fans are familiar with Sexton, having seen him wreak havoc on UCLA in the recent past as Jim Mora’s agent. Sexton excels at extracting large contracts for his clients, especially in extensions, and the timing of Kelly’s agent switch seemed to indicate that he was looking to get an extension to his contract at UCLA. Sexton has a lot of moves when it comes to securing these contracts, and one of his favorites is leaking to the media that programs are interested in the coaches he represents. You might recall during Jim Mora’s time that he was floated for openings in Washington and Texas before signing big-money extensions. A similar thing is happening here: Kelly was already floated as a potential name for the Washington job by Bruce Feldman (and wouldn’t you know it, Feldman just happened to float Kelly for Oregon recently!) while Colin Cowherd has repeatedly stated that Kelly to Oregon is a legitimate possibility while lambasting UCLA fans for not wanting to keep Kelly around. Frankly, if you told me Sexton wrote Cowherd’s speech and he repeated it verbatim, I would believe you.
Putting that into perspective, it feels increasingly clear that Oregon is not actually all that interested in Chip Kelly, but rather Kelly and Sexton are putting it out in the media that Oregon is interested in order to put pressure on UCLA administration and get an extension more favorable to them. This doesn’t have to be directly - my theory on Canzano is that Kelly used some Oregon boosters that he’s still friendly with to push this idea on Canzano, which is backed up by Canzano now stating that Kelly to Oregon feels increasingly unlikely. Weird how when you just throw stuff out there because you also have a radio show to promote, you end up with some bad information.
Remember when I said that I’m an avid listener of Split Zone Duo? Well, one of the hosts, former SB Nation and current Sports Illustrated writer Richard Johnson, had a pretty good read of the current situation:
I think Johnson is in the right here: Chip Kelly isn’t looking to leave UCLA, and all the smoke surrounding him and Oregon is just a pressure play on UCLA and AD Martin Jarmond to try and get a more favorable extension.
And let’s be absolutely clear here: the reason Kelly is trying to exert pressure on UCLA is that his tenure as head coach has not been sunshine and rainbows. Most UCLA prognosticators have indicated that any extension from UCLA would likely include a low buyout and a slight increase in base pay. It would also come with an understanding that Kelly would need to make major changes on the defensive side of the ball, and potentially include increased recruiting demands. I would imagine Kelly is not particularly happy about this, and Sexton is doing what he can to get UCLA to lessen the demands.
UCLA, however, is in no rush to do any of that and should be perfectly content to call Kelly’s bluff here. It’s an easy bluff to call: if Oregon truly wanted Chip, they would have hired him by now. Between mega boosters like Phil Knight and having just received buyout money from Miami, Oregon is not lacking for money to pay Kelly’s buyout and give him a substantial raise. But now reports are coming out that Kelly is not a serious candidate under consideration for a number of reasons, including that recruits have indicated to Oregon (and a few have even stated publicly on IG Live) that they do not want to play for Kelly. Oregon is increasingly not looking like an option, which means UCLA has all the leverage in negotiations from here on out.
What that last part means is anyone’s guess, and does not guarantee that Chip Kelly remains at UCLA. As has been mentioned repeatedly, Chip Kelly’s buyout goes down on January 15, going from the current $9 million to simply pay out the final year of his salary. There isn’t a pressing recruiting need to fire Kelly right now because the recruiting class is already not where it needs to be, and it’s hard to see any new hire, even potentially Dave Aranda, as being able to fix that before Early Signing Day next week. So UCLA can afford to wait Kelly out if they so choose.
As I said, this is all incredibly stupid and ultimately a lot of hot air, but at least it gave UCLA fans hope that they’d be rid of Kelly for a few days, right?