UCLA retains its leader on the sidelines as well as on the field. Chip Kelly and Dorian Thompson-Robinson are returning for a fifth year together in Westwood.
Multiple media accounts reported Friday that the head coach has signed a three-year contract extension. His contract now runs through 2025. It comes less than 36 hours before his buyout on the current one expired. The school has not released the terms yet, but they will be made public at some point with UCLA being a public school and Kelly being a state employee. And the quarterback announced Monday that he is taking advantage of the NCAA Covid rule to play a fifth year.
With regards to Kelly’s new contract, UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond issued the following statement, “This new contract represents the commitment, stability and investment needed to continue the upward trajectory of our football program.”
Coming Off The Best Year Of His Tenure
Kelly is coming off his first winning season in four years at UCLA. The Bruins were 8-4 in 2021, although they had no wins over teams with winning records. They finished tied for second in the Pac-12 South with Arizona State. They qualified for the Holiday Bowl in San Diego in late December. The game was cancelled when the Bruins suffered a reported Covid outbreak in the days leading up to the game. Kelly is 18-25 overall in his time at UCLA.
Thompson-Robinson has been the starter for three-plus years at UCLA. His freshman year he lost the starting job to Wilton Speight when the season started. But with Speight suffering intermittent injuries throughout the season, Thompson-Robinson was a part-time starter. He became the full-time starter his sophomore year and has never been challenged since. 2021 was his second-best year in terms of completion percentage. But it was his most improved year in terms of touchdown to interception ratio at 21:6. He threw for just over 2,400 yards, second to his sophomore year.
According to scouts we spoke with, his draft projection was anywhere from the sixth round to an undrafted free agent.
What Took So Long?
Kelly was entering the fifth year of a five-year contract. But his reciprocal buyout of $9 million was about to expire at the end of this week. If it expired, he was free to go to any job without owing the school anything. But the buyout was also his security against getting fired.
Last Word previously reported, based on sources’ information, that UCLA had decided to extend Kelly’s contract after the win over USC in late November. What took the two sides to come together is unclear. While there were at least 15 head coach job openings in FBS football since November, Kelly was not a candidate for most of them. He did speak to Oregon over the phone about the Ducks opening in mid-December but was not offered the job. Likewise, while the coaching carousel was spinning at high speed, UCLA was not closing a deal with anyone else while Kelly was still under contract. Essentially the two sides were in their own corner with few options available to either.
One issue that was thought to be a holdup in the talks was the status of defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro. The defense has been statistically among the worst in the country for his entire tenure. But Kelly has been fiercely loyal to his longtime assistant, even going to the extent of sheltering him from media interviews. That hurdle was reportedly removed when Azzinaro resigned Wednesday just a few weeks shy of his full University of California pension. The school has yet to confirm Azzinaro’s status.
A Lot Of Work To Do Immediately
Kelly will have to work immediately. He now needs a new defensive coordinator. Kelly also has to work on replacing OC/OL coach Justin Frye. He took the job as offensive line coach at Ohio State over the weekend. Frye was one of the more significant recruiters on the coaching staff. So was tight ends coach Derek Sage who is moving on to become the offensive coordinator at Nevada.
There is also a significant number of roster spots still to fill. With the loss of the 2021 super seniors, regular senior departures, early departures announced as well as more possibly still to come, UCLA stands to lose around 18 starters/contributors off last season’s roster. Thompson-Robinson’s top two receivers, Kyle Philips and tight end Greg Dulcich have both declared for the NFL draft. Monday, left tackle Sean Rhyan declared for the NFL. In our conversations with NFL scouts, he was the most high valued Bruin. The recruiting class signed in December is 11 players. It is ranked 47th in the country by 247Sport, and fourth in the conference.
They have transfer commitments from three players, though not all have enrolled in school even as the Winter quarter is under way. Edge rusher Laiatu Latu has not played football in two years due to medical retirement brought about by a severe neck injury. They also had quarterback Dillon Gabriel from UCF, on the assumption the quarterback spot would be opening up. But after waiting three weeks, and not signing his grant and aid papers, he opted to go to Oklahoma instead. With Thompson-Robinson returning, the Bruins will not be in the running for any other quarterback transfers. Ethan Garbers and Chase Griffin could return for a second season as back-ups. And they signed Justyn Martin, the four-star recruit out of Inglewood.
The University of California Board of Trustees still has to approve Kelly’s new contract, but that is generally just a formality.