The Chip Kelly Derby has moved into the homestretch. The former Oregon head coach met with UCLA officials Tuesday, a source told SI. The meeting was not in L.A., as an earlier report indicated. Some 36 hours earlier, six Florida officials flew up to New Hampshire to make a pitch to Kelly, and sources say both sides felt the meeting went well. The Florida visit occurred on the same day UCLA fired Jim Mora. The Bruins have to pay over $12 million to honor the terms of their former coach’s contract, showing the school’s determination to reel Kelly in.
The 53-year-old Kelly has made it clear from the beginning that he’s going to be pretty deliberate in this process, sources say. Regardless of how well the Sunday meeting went, there was never any intention that Kelly would fly back with Florida brass on that plane as their next head coach.
Both vacancies offer some compelling possibilities. At Florida, Kelly would have a great recruiting base, good facilities, a very strong commitment from the school and an impressive program history where two coaches have won national titles in the past 20 years. At UCLA, Kelly also would have a great recruiting base (much better than what he won big with at Oregon), would be back in the Pac-12 and would enjoy the favorable dynamic of not being in the middle of the fishbowl situation he would face at some schools such as Tennessee, where virtually everyone in town seems to be hounding you for something.
The New Hampshire native led the Ducks to three top-four finishes in his final three seasons in the Pac-12 before moving on to the NFL, where he spent four years as a head coach. He went 26–21 in three seasons with the Eagles, then took over a dreadful 49ers team with a depleted roster and was let go as the organization cleaned house near the end of a 2–14 season in 2016. Kelly is widely regarded as one of the most innovative minds in all of football, not just for his offensive system but for his approach to training and development.
In his four seasons at Oregon, his spread-option attack averaged 44.7 points per game and led the nation in big plays, producing 225 pass plays of 25 yards or more and 110 rushes of 25 yards or more. Running Kelly’s system, one of his disciples—former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost—has led a resurgence at UCF where the Knights are 9–0 and ranked No. 15 in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings. The Knights lead the nation in points per game at 48.2; In 2015, the year before Frost arrived in Orlando, they averaged under 14 points per game (126th in the nation) and went 0–12.