Expectations from fans and from the media can be tossed out. College football coaches listen, or at least pretend to, but then just as quickly move on from them. The team and its own expectations are what the coaching staff and the players have to live with throughout training camp and throughout the season. With one of the most veteran college teams he has ever had, UCLA head coach Chip Kelly’s expectations management within his own roster is a big part of Spring camp.
Chip Kelly’s Expectations Management
UCLA is returning one of the most experienced teams in the country. ESPN has the Bruins number two in the country in terms of production returning for the 2021 season. Pay any attention to any columnists covering the team, and the expectations are definitely higher than in Kelly’s previous three years in Westwood. Pay attention to social media and fan boards, and some of the expectations border on absurd.
But to Kelly the “ex” does not belong to expectations. It belongs to execution. Realistically they are intrinsically tied together. A veteran, experienced team should be able to execute better. Thus the leading to an appropriate level of expectations for more wins. With a 10-21 record over the last three years, the bar should be very clearable.
Kelly said Monday that expectations can cause coaches and players to put too much, or even too little, pressure on themselves. “So, we don’t concern ourselves with that,” Kelly said. “We concern ourselves with trying to stay in the moment and not get caught up in outside noise.”
He acknowledged that may be easier for this team than for some of his teams in the past. The players in camp right now know what they have coming back. We have been talking to them for weeks. The familiarity with where everyone is on the field for any play is obvious. They have talked about being able to install more during camp because of their experience coming in. “The expectations [from others] should never be higher than the standard you hold yourself to,” Kelly said.
Internal vs. External
For Kelly it has always been about having a great __________ (fill in the day of the week). He knows others smirk when he uses the phrase repeatedly to answer questions at least once a week during practice. And as trite as it may come off sometimes, in this instance, he uses it to keep players focused. It serves as an admonition not to listen to what he calls the outside noise. “It’s about having a really, really great Monday. Let’s hope Monday’s training session was better than last Friday’s training session. And if it was, we’re continuing to raise the bar for ourselves,” Kelly said. “But we can’t get caught up with external expectations based upon the depth and experience we have. That’s got to come naturally.”
Kelly added that the expectations game and how to manage it is something all teams go through at some point. He said he was pleased with how the players have responded through Spring camp. But this is the New England Patriots with highly paid pros. This is a team of young men who have been told since high school, or earlier, what great players they are. And be it a three-star recruit or the rare five-star signee, they have had a rocky road the last three years at UCLA. Now the opportunities in front of them include a home game against SEC blue blood LSU as well as a Pac-12 schedule with Washington and Oregon. If ever there was a time to make the long overdue noise, it is the upcoming season with so much experience coming back.
Keeping The Heads In The Game
Keeping the focus of a bunch of young athletes still coming into their own is a big part of making a great _______ (fill in the day of the week). “It’s something we have talked about as a staff, and we have identified that,” Kelly said. “The two hours this group is here [every day] they are extremely focused and pretty dialed into improvement when they get here. But you can get caught up in it. And we’re aware of that. That is something every great team has to be able to manage. Sometimes you can kind of eat yourself from within because you are caught up in stuff that really doesn’t affect the outcomes of the games. And you’re spending too much time thinking about what can be and being anxious thinking about the future.”
Process And Result
Kelly said that is why is he relies on the just having a great _______(fill in the day of the week) mantra. “That’s why we have always been a process driven operation.” He called it results-aware, but process driven. “Being process driven is focusing on the work you have to do and not getting caught up in that. But that is easier said than done.”
So how do you know if philosophy is not working?
“I think if it’s not getting through, then I think you have distracted training sessions where guys aren’t totally locked in and aren’t within the moment. We haven’t had that yet.”
They are challenges that Kelly says are new to this group compared to his three UCLA teams ahead of him.
If it gives Kelly any comfort, the vast majority of players we have met with during camp have talked about the need to talk one day at a time, and yes, even have a great ___________(fill in the day of the week).