Florida wants Chip Kelly, but UCLA might be the better fit for him
Fortune purportedly favors the bold. Florida fired Jim McElwain midway through his third season. The Gators are looking to reclaim the program’s reputation for an innovative and explosive offense. Florida brass was reportedly in New Hampshire this pas weekend, making an all-out pitch to land Chip Kelly, who had a 33-3 conference record at Oregon. The college football world awaits his response.
The Florida job is tempting, so tempting coaches seldom if ever turn it down. The Gators have a national brand. They are the only local SEC program in the nation’s best recruiting ground. One can count the better places to win a national title on one hand if any exist. Even if a coach’s “dream job” is Notre Dame, he turns it down for Florida.
That said, Florida has been a brutal place to coach since Steve Spurrier left. A national title is not just the potential in Gainesville. It’s the expectation. Auburn has a reputation for chewing up and spitting out successful coaches. Florida has been worse this century.
Ron Zook went three and out in Spurrier’s immediate aftermath. Will Muschamp made it to his fourth season, barely. Jim McElwain did not survive to the end of his third, after winning the SEC East his first two years.
Urban Meyer did live the dream at Florida, winning two national titles in six seasons. That dream almost broke him in the process. Meyer, then in his mid-40s, took a leave of absence to deal with stress-exacerbated health issues and eventually retired. One wonders, with perfect hindsight, whether he would have revisited taking that job in 2005. Or, what he would say to Chip Kelly today if asked (that would be the rational phone call for Kelly to make, right?).
A typical coach in a typical situation takes the Florida job. Chip Kelly and his situation are from typical.
Kelly does not need to work. He’s still owed eight figures over the next two years on his San Francisco 49ers buyout. He can wait for a near perfect situation. He does not seem like a man racing to get back into the mix with a college head coaching job. Him ever doing that is not a certainty. The Florida job can be everything you want it to be, but you have to really want it.
For all its positives, Florida emphasizes what Kelly, who prefers the film room, did not like about coaching in college. Recruiting at Florida is less physical travel than at Oregon, but the competition is far more intense. Georgia hitting its potential and Miami at or near being national title caliber does not help. Taking perhaps the biggest SEC job in a small college town is an 11 on the media scrutiny scale. Let us not forget the stress plus media scrutiny had Meyer threatening a reporter during his final year.
Florida is a better football program than UCLA in every non-weather related category. But, could it be the better job for Chip Kelly?
UCLA upgraded its facilities. Money won’t be a factor with UCLA able to work Kelly’s buyout into the deal. Kelly would not be battling against history at UCLA. Southern California is a deep recruiting ground (where Kelly has familiarity from his Oregon days). He could do much of his recruiting without stepping on a plane. Getting the players to build a top program won’t be an issue.
Coaching the Bruins offers at or near the least scrutiny in the Power 5. UCLA is the second biggest program in LA, and it’s a basketball school. While Kelly would be the most prominent person in Gainesville, he wouldn’t be among the top 200 in Los Angeles.
If the goal is to get to the Playoff, UCLA also offers a more accessible route. The Pac-12 is deeper than when Kelly had his run at Oregon. But the South is hardly a gauntlet. It’s still not clear whether Clay Helton is the guy at USC. You might have to face Bama in the Playoff. But you don’t have to go through Bama to get there.
Florida is the better job on paper here and in just about every discussion. But taking it isn’t a no-brainer. What matters is whether it is the right job for Chip Kelly. One could make the case UCLA is a better fit for him. UCLA, which moved swiftly on Jim Mora, might have an inkling about that as well.
If Kelly isn’t 100 percent sold on getting back into college football, the right job might be collecting his millions and working on TV for the next couple years.