Congratulations to Chip Kelly, formally introduced Monday as UCLA’s new coach, for making one of the smartest decisions of his life.
Kelly chose NOT to become a coach in the Southeastern Conference.
It may have been the most prescient, Pac-related move since Stanford's John Elway refused to become a Baltimore Colt.
Not going to the SEC may cost Kelly a coveted national championship ring but, trust me, he wanted no part of a conference in which decisions are directed by mob rule or based on cryptic messages scrawled, with spray paint, on bed sheets.
Pac 12 fans sit in trees, they don’t poison them.
The SEC has more deep threats and death threats.
What happened at Tennessee over the weekend should make Kelly sleep very well, on a Gucci mattress purchased by his personal assistant on Rodeo Drive.
It has gotten so bat-crap crazy in Knoxville some are suggesting Lane Kiffin be brought back to provide stability—seriously.
Kelly’s agent could have picked up a phone and probably gotten any open, SEC job he wanted: Mississippi, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Florida.
We know, for sure, Florida squeezed him like an orange into a glass.
My guess is that Kelly would have had the Gators back in a national title game within three seasons.
That’s how long it took Northerner Urban Meyer, born in Toledo, from winning his first of two Florida national titles in 2006.
In the end, however, the Gainesville experience nearly killed Meyer. He lost lining in his stomach and had to take a leave of absence. He finally had to get out. Jim McElwain, Florida's last coach, may have trumped up threats to his family just to extricate himself from the fan base.
Remember, the SEC’s motto is: We’re Just Mean More.
Nick Saban made the leap, from Michigan State to Louisiana State, in 1999. He reportedly sat alone in his hotel room, after the decision, despondent. He almost picked up the phone and went back to East Lansing.
Saban has since won five national titles, at two SEC schools. He’s arguably become, since 2003, college football’s all-time greatest coach.
Yet, you can still see bewilderment in his eyes as he battles the “Rat Poison” that consumes 365 days of his SEC football life.
Kelly, a short-tempered introvert from New Hampshire, chose wisely, if only for sanity's sake.
"That was extremely important to me," Kelly said at Monday's introductory press conference at UCLA. "Where would I fit the best?"
Instead of signing up for a clown show, Kelly took less money to come to UCLA-a basketball school that plays football in an off-campus stadium.
Last year, the school wanted to make a little cash by charging students bus fare for the football trip from Westwood to Pasadena.
Coach Jim Mora had to step in and offer to pay the tab before the school backed off. There are questions as to how much Gene Block, UCLA's chancellor, even likes sports. This is MUCH better than having a university president who wants to call the plays.
The Pac 12, really, has one SEC-like school: USC. The Trojans would fit well in the SEC East or West.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
USC wants to win at all cost. The Trojans, in fact, hired Lane Kiffin from Tennessee, after which Knoxville treated him like a leper. It would take Greg Schiano to make Kiffin look human again.
USC, in turn, fired Kiffin on the LAX tarmac after a bad loss, a move right out of the SEC handbook.
Washington, a booster-dominated school, also has SEC tendencies while Oregon certainly has upped its game since it put up a billboard of Joey Harrington in New York City. UCLA and Arizona State fired coaches with winning records and paid $12 million buyout clauses, but that is considered child's play in the South.
The Pac 12 is not the SEC and should not aspire to be. And that's why I'm guessing Chip Kelly was whistling his way to today's press conference.
This is familiar ground. Kelly got close to winning a national title at Oregon, in 2010, and he can get UCLA to the brink.
But it won’t be AT ALL COST.
UCLA doesn’t like to fire people. It gave Karl Dorrell, Rick Neuheisel and Jim Mora a total of 14 years to win zero Pac 12 titles.
The best irate Bruin fans could do, after six years of Mora, was round up pocket change via GoFundMe to pay for a prop plane to fly a banner over the Rose Bowl.
Chip Kelly, in Los Angeles, can go out every day and not be hassled by someone wearing a pig nose--unless he's walking on Hollywood Boulevard. Kelly can catch “Hamilton” at the Pantages Theatre, or slip quietly into a corner seat at the Polo Lounge.
In Tinsel Town, he’ll never be as big as Gene Kelly.
Chip will get three years to be judged at UCLA, not three games.
He’ll get time and space to experiment and operate.
"Be quick but don't hurry," Kelly, wisely evoking a quote from UCLA's John Wooden, said of his plan to build his program.
And even if it ends badly, no one at UCLA will do to Kelly what they do to coaches in the SEC. He won't be excoriated or humiliated. His character, likely, won't be assassinated.
Kelly said the mistake is thinking you can change a culture into your thinking.
"Sometimes your hubris can get the best of you," he said.
Kelly resisted SEC temptation and was delivered to, perhaps, his destiny.
"I think if you've been around long enough you can trust your gut," he said.
In college football, especially in places like Knoxville, it's definitely gut-check time. [/membership]