UCLA’s Process Isn’t Working

UCLA's Process Isn't Working

At a postgame press conference in 2018, we were told by UCLA head coach Chip Kelly that he does not or did not use the phrase, “The process.” He said maybe it was a catch phrase the players were using. But we knew we were right, so we moved on and forgot all about it. Ok, it was Saturday October 6th at approximately 9pm after a closer-than-expected loss to the Washington Huskies. And we have the audio file in our library. Alright. Maybe we didn’t move on so much. UCLA’s process isn’t working though if you move outside Kelly’s micro world and look at the big picture.

UCLA’s Process Isn’t Working

The Process is a critical theme of Kelly’s time at UCLA. He often reminds all that it is about having a good singular day at practice. And then the next day you move on to that moment. You never look big picture, because by Kelly’s belief, you get distracted. In an over-simplified way, there is a “Wooden-esque” concept to it. “A successful journey is where your real accomplishment lies,” Coach would tell people over generations of teaching. It made sense. It produced some of the greatest players and teams ever to play the game. The journey-to-results was easy to see even for a scrappy 10-year old who saved his allowance for a year to go to Coach’s basketball camp at Cal Lutheran in the mid ’70’s.

The difference between Coach’s journey and Kelly’s process is that there has to eventually be an arrival point, a destination. Coach got to his rewards. Kelly has yet to get there.

The Process Versus The End Results

At 7-18 in two-plus years at the helm of UCLA football, the destination under Kelly remains unclear. The players certainly echo his philosophy as though they had just read it in a book. Control the things you can control. Don’t worry about the things you cannot control. Operate in the micro, not the macro. They repeat it as a mantra. And it all sounds like what coaches and players should be saying. And it would ring more unimpeachable if the results were there to match it.

But UCLA is coming off a season-opening loss at Colorado that resembled too many of the games in the previous two seasons. The Bruins committed four turnovers, got gashed by Colorado’s run game, and had to try to dig out of a 28-point first half hole. And this is not a young team hearing these coaching bromides for the first time. Yes, there are some grad transfers making their UCLA debuts, but the majority of the starters Saturday were in their second to third year in the program. If anything, it was Colorado that had youth on its side with a first-time starting quarterback and running back.

What To Make Of Utah

Things do not get any easier this week as the Bruins prepare to possibly face Utah at home Saturday night. The game was originally scheduled for Friday night, but was moved to Saturday to give Utah extra time to recoup from a COVID outbreak in its program.

The Utes had to cancel their opener last week against Arizona when they could not meet the Pac 12 mandates to field a team. The Pac 12 rules state that a team has 53 healthy players. That includes a minimum of one quarterback, four defensive linemen and seven offensive linemen. The Utah athletic department did not give specifics last week on which position groups were depleted, only that they could not comply with the minimums. On Monday, head coach Kyle Whittingham said they were using walk-ons and scout team players in key positions. The school reported that they had not had a positive COVID test since last Saturday.

But that flies in the face of UCLA’s game week process. “I think when you get into the minutia of that, they don’t have as many people out as has been reported,” Kelly said Wednesday. He added that he got a two-deep roster from Utah this week and it was pretty much in line with that from the previous week for the Arizona game. So, either a lot of Utes have recovered and are back getting ready for the game, or it is just a routine depth chart and Utah has no idea if they will be able to play Saturday or not.

Burning The Film

Kelly said he has to treat it like any other game against an opponent that has not played a game yet. He will go off last year’s game films. “Our breakdowns are based upon what they did last year,” Kelly said. “The fortunate thing for us is that staff has been in place for a little bit of time, and Kyle has been there for a long time.” Kelly probably won’t enjoy reviewing last year’s game film as pre-game prep this week. That was a game where UCLA kicked a field goal in the first quarter and then never saw the scoreboard again in a 49-3 in Salt Lake City. Utah rolled up 536 of offense against the Bruins. But gone are quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss.

Jake Bentley, the transfer quarterback from South Carolina is now expected to run the offense. Bentley suffered a season-ending foot injury in week one of the Gamecocks’ season last year. He is recovered and participated in the three Spring camp workouts Utah had prior to the COVID shutdown. In 2018, he completed 62% of his passes in route to a 3,000-yard passing season. He also had 27 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. Kelly is going to have to go all the way back to the film from that season to really get a read on Bentley.

Today’s Process Leads To Tomorrow’s Process

It is all part of the process of focusing one day to the next. On Monday Kelly reiterated that it is about the process and not necessarily the outcome. He refocused that idea Wednesday. “If you study people that are successful, people that focus on the outcome get distracted. What I mean by the process is how do we improve on a daily basis. How do we improve on a Wednesday, and what do we do on a Wednesday? So, we’re not thinking about the game on Saturday. We are thinking about Wednesday. We’re living in a micro world.”

At 7-18, the world, whether it be macro or micro, is not producing sufficient results. Kelly says there is an ongoing effort to find a way to do things better. That is part of the process.

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