May 23, 2024

When the celebrated Chip Kelly was hired as the UCLA coach, school officials bragged that the forlorn football program had finally gotten it right.

“I firmly believe that his passion for the game and his innovative approach to coaching student-athletes make him the perfect fit for our program,” said then-athletic director Dan Guerrero.

“ ‘Champions Made Here’ is more than just a mantra at UCLA, and I’m confident that Chip will lead UCLA football back to competing for championships.”

Six years later, it is obvious that UCLA football has once again gotten it all wrong.

There is no passion. There is no innovation. There is no fit.

Mediocrity Made Here. Disillusionment Made Here. Hopelessness Made Here.

For the last time, Chip Kelly must go.

In the previous three seasons this notion has been presented in the media and pushed by alumni and flat-out screamed from the empty bleachers at the Rose Bowl. But on each occasion, the demand was ignored by Martin Jarmond, an athletic director seemingly impervious to the noise and unaware of the damage.

For real this time, Chip Kelly must go.

In the wake of a second consecutive dispiriting loss to a Pac-12 underdog Saturday — the Bruins were 16 ½ point favorites against Arizona State and lost by 10 — the evidence is undeniable and overwhelming.

Smart guy. Bad program. Great mind. Boring program. Decorated leader. Backward program.

His record as Bruins coach is 33-33. When is the last time a prominent sports boss in this town has been allowed to be so average for so long?

Two of Kelly’s three fired predecessors had better records, Jim Mora canned after going 46-30 and Karl Dorrell replaced after going 35-27. Only Rick Neuheisel had a losing record, but even he went to the Pac-12 championship game.

Despite being the highest-paid employee by the state of California — he makes about $6.1 million a year — Kelly’s Bruins haven’t come close to anything resembling a championship game. In fact, they haven’t even won a bowl game.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly reacts after the Bruins fail to score against Arizona State on fourth down.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly reacts after the Bruins fail to score against Arizona State on fourth down from the Sun Devils’ one-yard line in the second quarter on Saturday.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In six years, they have never lost fewer than three conference games, including this year, going 3-4 in the Pac-12 despite being blessed with a schedule that didn’t include conference powerhouses Washington and Oregon.

In six years, against top-25 teams, they are 5-13. In six years, they have won seven games against teams that finished the season with winning records. Wherever champions are made, it’s not here.

What more does Jarmond need to see? How has he ignored this problem for so long?

There were cries for Kelly to be replaced after the 2020 season, when he had an historically bad three-season start of 10-21.

Jarmond did nothing.

There were cries for him to be replaced after the 2021 season, after he won just 18 of his first 43 UCLA games with a horrible defense and a confused offense.

Jarmond was so angry he rewarded him with an extension.

There were cries for Kelly to be replaced after the 2022 season, when, in the only bowl game played during his tenure, the Bruins blew a lead in the final 34 seconds against a Pittsburgh team playing without five starters.

Jarmond was so outraged he rewarded him with another extension.

Kelly now has a contract that lasts until 2027, but it’s difficult to imagine him lasting past the next couple of weeks, even with a buyout that could be as high as roughly $8.6 million. In the lucrative world of college athletics, that sum is considered chump change.

Did you see where Texas A&M just paid more than $76 million to buy out Jimbo Fisher? In his six seasons with the Aggies, Fisher was 45-25, a testament to the understandable impatience that rules big-time college football.

When Kelly was hired and hailed as an offensive genius, UCLA proclaimed that it had finally entered that world.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly walks on the sideline during a win over North Carolina Central on Sept. 16.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly walks on the sideline during a win over North Carolina Central on Sept. 16.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Only by firing him now can they make that same claim.

They need a new powerful presence to march them into next year’s Big Ten. If they retain Kelly, they will be stumbling there beneath loads of baggage.

They need a new powerful persona to fix the Rose Bowl, the once grand arena having been transformed by Kelly into a tarp-covered canyon of boos and sighs. In his six seasons the Bruins have recorded the three lowest average attendance figures since moving to Pasadena 41 years ago. Look like a football school, act like a football school.

They also need a new powerful voice to lead the recruiting charge in this brave new culture of name, image and likeness money. An academic type, Kelly never seemed much interested in getting his hands green.

More than anything, the Bruins need a new powerful leader who can make adjustments, something Kelly has failed to do during his turbulent reign.

His devotion to struggling defensive coordinator and old pal Jerry Azzinaro cost the Bruins dearly during his first three seasons. His refusal to tailor his offense to offer more protection to top quarterback recruit Dante Moore cost them dearly this fall.

They began the season going 6-2 with high hopes for a strong finish. But two weeks ago they suffered a 27-10 loss to Arizona that was so ugly, players used the words, “disunified” and “divisive” to imply the team was falling apart.

Longtime observers thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, it got worse, the offense scoring just seven points against a Sun Devils defense that gave up 55 the previous week to Utah.

The Bruins consistently failed on crucial short-yardage situations. They committed 86 yards worth of penalties. The clinching Sun Devils touchdown occurred on a 17-yard run by Cameron Skattebo during which it appeared the Bruins were simply helpless to tackle him.

“We told them it was on us as coaches,” said Kelly to reporters afterward. “We didn’t do a good enough job to prepare those guys to play this football game.”

His honesty and accountability are admirable. His results are not.

If history is any indication, Jarmond will make this move, and soon. At his last job as athletic director at Boston College, he fired Steve Addazio after seven seasons and a 42-42 record.

Jarmond has the blueprint. A frustrated Bruin Nation will surely give him the permission. To continue to support mediocrity in the most profitable sector of a major Los Angeles institution would be an insult.

For the last time, it’s time.

Chip Kelly must go.

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