February 23, 2024

Another mediocre UCLA football season sadly devoid of surprises has finally produced one.

They didn’t fire Coach Chip Kelly.

What? Wait! Why not?

What on earth is athletic director Martin Jarmond’s definition of UCLA football success?

“We want to compete at the highest level and graduate student athletes at the highest level, recruit and develop young people that are great representatives of UCLA, that’s the goal,” said Jarmond. “If you look at our football program, we have great young men in our program, Chip has created a strong and phenomenal culture, it shows when we have so many guys that return and want to go for their masters degrees … the culture is very strong and the young men that come out of UCLA, out of this program, are great representatives, that’s important.”

So, yeah, he doesn’t have a good answer, either.

During a 30-minute discussion with Jarmond this week in the wake of his decision to keep Kelly despite six years of .500 football with no bowl wins, the Bruins’ sports boss strongly backed his coach with the meekest of reasons.

Jarmond talked about stability, continuity, culture — all sorts of things that didn’t address the issue of, you know, wins and losses.

Shouldn’t that be Jarmond’s bottom line? Wins and losses?

There is a sense there’s something more than on-field success involved here. Something about not wanting to make a major leadership change as the university enters a new chapter in a new Big Ten conference with a new chancellor. Something about not wanting to spend about $8.6 million to buy Kelly out of his contract.

Something about how, right now, mediocre is enough.

That doesn’t work for longtime Bruin fans. That doesn’t adhere to this city’s championship standards. That’s just one big shame.

“Continuity and stability are bedrocks of a successful program,” said Jarmond, who has yet to make a major coaching change in his three-and-a-half years as athletic director. “We have so much change coming, we’re going to get a new chancellor, we’re going into a new conference, and so you really want that continuity and stability to usher you into a new era.”

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond stands near the football practice field.

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“NIL is a major factor in college football today and so we have to put more emphasis and focus in providing NIL opportunities for our student-athletes. Chip understands that, we know we need to do more in that area.”

— Martin Jarmond, UCLA athletic director, on UCLA’s NIL challenges

Do you really want to praise the continuity of a program that, in Kelly’s six seasons, has had two winning records in the Pac-12, a 5-13 record against teams in the top-25, and only seven wins against teams that finished the season with winning records? The closer you look at Kelly’s 34-34 overall mark, the worse it gets.

And do you really want to trumpet the stability of a program that ended this regular season sandwiching an inspirational win over USC with losses to Arizona State and Cal, two teams with a combined record of 9-15?

After that USC victory, Jarmond responded to Kelly critics with a social media post that read, “Read the room.”

After the ensuing loss to Cal, a fan helped raise $2,060 to fly a banner over Westwood reading, “Read the room — fire Chip Kelly,”

Two days later, another banner appeared in the sky supporting Kelly, and on and on it will go until UCLA decides to act like a Power Five university and deal with its most powerful employee.

Jarmond explicitly said he wasn’t satisfied with the Bruins’ usual lackluster regular-season finish. He’s acknowledged he’s had discussions with Kelly about the $6-million coach’s need for improvement in some areas.

Jarmond is clearly not thrilled. But he is also clearly not doing anything about it, which certainly doesn’t compute with his statement about wanting to compete at the highest level. For many in Bruin nation, with their team enduring questionable coaching and threadbare recruiting as it enters a 2024 season featuring games against Louisiana State, Penn State, Oregon and Washington, this is the lowest level.

Indeed, Jarmond needs to read the room.

“I’ve had conversations with Chip … we both understand that we’re not satisfied, especially with the way the regular season ended,” said Jarmond. “No one in that Wasserman [athletic department] building is satisfied … we know that we’ve got to improve in some areas … we’re going to work together to address those areas where we need more focus and emphasis.”

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond gestures before the Bruins' win over USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 18.

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond gestures before the Bruins’ win over USC at the Coliseum on Nov. 18.

(Jevone Moore / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“I appreciate the passion of Bruin nation. I completely understand why fans aren’t satisfied with the outcome of the regular season. No one is satisfied.”

— Martin Jarmond, on the fan dissatisfaction

Although Jarmond would not disclose the nature of his conversations with Kelly — hopefully there was some screaming and shoe throwing — he did acknowledge that Kelly needs to be more involved in the donor-driven world of name, image and likeness [NIL] athlete endorsement opportunities.

“Absolutely,” said Jarmond, addressing one of the biggest criticisms of Kelly’s tenure. “NIL is a major factor in college football today and so we have to put more emphasis and focus in providing NIL opportunities for our student-athletes. Chip understands that, we know we need to do more in that area.”

Kelly has always been reluctant to endear himself to alumni and boosters and the sorts of folks to fund NIL collectives. He’s not been doing so well in cultivating superstars either. Just look at Dante Moore, the five-star quarterback who came to UCLA this season as the highest-ranked recruit of the Kelly era.

He had a horrible season, he never developed, he actually got worse and guess who just entered the transfer portal? His recent comments to 247Sports might be Kelly’s most damning indictment yet.

“For these next upcoming years, I just want to go to a place where I can get developed,” Moore told the website. “That’s the main thing is really development, making sure you’re bettering yourself every day and having a staff around you that’s going to help develop you. So I’d say the biggest things are going to a place where I can get developed and continue to love and have fun playing football and be around a place that loves college football and be around great athletes.”

He wasn’t being developed. He didn’t feel like Kelly’s staff was helping him grow. He didn’t think that UCLA was a place that loves college football. Wonderful.

“I have confidence in Chip and his staff that we’re going to continue to do the work to improve and get better and build on the positives,” said Jarmond, later adding, “I’ve seen Chip and his staff make improvements and get better and address areas where we’ve fallen short, and I have confidence we’ll continue to do that.”

Jarmond is happy that after Kelly went 10-21 his first three years, he was 24-13 in his next three years. He’s thrilled that Kelly’s defense has improved from one of the nation’s worst to one of its best, although it was Kelly’s loyalty to pal Jerry Azzinaro that mired the defense in the muck in the first place.

“You don’t look at one moment where there’s a high or a low, you look at a body of work, you look at trajectory, you look at improvement, that’s how I evaluate programs,” said Jarmond. “I’m excited, I think there’s so many positives with the program … we all understand we’ve got to do better, and we will do better. … I’m confident Chip and the staff are going to work together to tackle those areas we need to improve and get better.”

UCLA coach Chip Kelly watches pregame warmups before the Bruins' win over USC on Nov. 18 at the Coliseum.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly watches pregame warmups before the Bruins’ win over USC on Nov. 18 at the Coliseum.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Judging from the buzz around town, most fans don’t share that confidence. Most fans wanted Kelly fired yesterday. Jarmond says he hears them. But does he listen?

“I take that a lot into consideration,” he said of fans’ input. “We need our fans and our booster and our alumni’s support. I appreciate the passion of Bruin nation. I completely understand why fans aren’t satisfied with the outcome of the regular season. No one is satisfied.”

Yet nothing apparently is being done, which is the most unsatisfying thing of all.

During the course of the conversation, Jarmond tried hard to be convincing. He was not. He attempted to give solid reasons for keeping his coach. He could not.

Chip Kelly is not the man to lead UCLA into the Big Ten, and here’s guessing most folks around campus know this, but Jarmond seemingly lacks both the timing and the tenure to make a change.

That’s too bad. He is, by all accounts, a good guy who is generally a strong and effective leader.

But when reading the room in the coming year, Martin Jarmond needs to know he will now share responsibility with Chip Kelly for the mess within.

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