LOS ANGELES – Consider UCLA’s bell-ringing 38-20 win over USC on Saturday a shoutout from Chip Kelly to his haters.
A thank you and an apology – sorry not sorry.
He isn’t going anywhere. Not anytime soon.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, of course. They’re like problems; everyone’s got some.
And Kelly’s include an increasingly low opinion of him. Writers and pundits and fans who’ve been calling for his job, for a change at the top of a UCLA football program that entered Saturday’s game against its crosstown rival with an overall 33-33 record on his watch – including the two most recent losses, pitiful performances against Arizona State and Arizona.
But for those problems of Kelly’s, a push from boosters to oust him isn’t one. According to Casey Wasserman, it’s not. The sports and media executive and probably UCLA’s most influential booster went on the record this week with Southern California News Group’s Scott M. Reid to make that clear.
“He knows how to win and he’s proven that and I expect him to be our coach next year our first year in the Big Ten,” Wasserman said.
And according to Kelly, UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond relayed the same message to him directly during the week when he shot down a report that it was “likely” the coach would be canned. “Martin told me it was inaccurate, inappropriate,” Kelly said.
And that was before Saturday afternoon at The Coliseum. The rumored rainstorm never came to bear and the Bruins (7-4 overall, 4-2 Pac-12) sent their hosts’ fans streaming resignedly for the exits, dry but disgruntled, with more than nine minutes to play in what was, then, 38-13.
Like USC, UCLA came into Saturday unranked and without a shot at securing a bite at the final Pac-12 title Saturday – when we got to find out which was worse: the Trojans’ much maligned defense or UCLA’s inept offense.
Now we know without a doubt: It’s the Trojans’ indefensible D.
UCLA, which started the schedule unranked and got only as high as No. 18, trampled the Trojans, who came into the season ranked No. 6, a laughable memory for the 7-5, 5-4 team now.
The Bruins ran up a score Saturday that eclipsed all but two of their efforts this season (their 59 points on non-major North Carolina Central and 42 against a now-2-6 Stanford team).
Kelly – who was given a two-year contract extension last spring worth more than $6 million per season through 2027 – was wise enough to lean on the running game against USC (199 yards on 45 carries). But junior quarterback Ethan Garbers, healthy again this week after missing last week, got the job done. The Newport Beach native threw for a career-high three touchdowns and completed 18 of 31 passes for 155 yards.
The Bruins’ defense did the rest, unfazed even by Caleb Williams’ substantial firepower. Somehow the reigning Heisman Trophy winner completed 31 of 42 passes for 384 yards Saturday and it wasn’t close to enough – not against Kelly’s fired-up contingent, which treated the rivalry game like they cared. A lot.
Kelly choked up afterward talking about Laiatu Latu, who finished with seven tackles and two of UCLA’s four sacks on the week that he’d been named a finalist for the Lombardi Award. The coach had to collect himself before he could finish recounting Latu’s reaction when he broke the news before practice earlier this week.
“I’ll share this with you because he’s a special person. We found out on Monday he was a finalist for the Lombardi Award … and I told,” Kelly said, halting for a few seconds, overcome.
Eventually, he continued: “I told Laiatu during stretch. And he was like, ‘What does that mean?’ And I said, ‘You’re a finalist and you get to go to it.’ And he was like ‘Did I win it?’”
Told no, not yet, Latu asked Kelly not to tell the team as he’d planned. And why?
Said Kelly: “He said, ‘I just want to win the game this week.’ ”
Know what? That’s absolutely going to be an indication of what UCLA’s most influential backers want from Bruins players – and from their coach.
“My view is if you want to judge a football coach, if you’ve lost the team that’s when you really have to make serious decisions,” Wasserman said of Kelly. “There is no question he hasn’t lost that football team.”
Garbers said it directly after Saturday’s resounding win, so badly needed: “This entire performance was for him.”
Surely, no UCLA supporter liked losing those games to the Arizona schools. But they’d have hated losing to USC a lot more.
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There are holes in Kelly’s resume at UCLA. He hasn’t won a bowl game; he hasn’t lost fewer than three Pac-12 games in a season; in six seasons, they’re an uninspiring 5-13 against top-25 teams.
But he’s now 3-3 against the guys across town. And Kelly knows how much that matters.
“I know Terry Donahue is smiling right now,” said Kelly, paying homage again to the legendary UCLA coach who died in 2021. “He said, ‘You gotta beat your rival.’”