It's been said a thousand times before, but it bears repeating.
The Bruins have been a disappointment under coach Chip Kelly.
Now, that isn't to say that UCLA football (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12) has been the worst program in the Pac-12 since he came to Westwood in 2018, and not every moment has been one fans want to forget. But for every Washington State comeback, LSU win or Joshua Kelley explosion, there were multiple losses to top teams with postseason implications on the line.
Simply put, the Bruins' ups have not outweighed the downs under Kelly, and the 24 million dollar man is running out of time to rack up signature wins.
Beating USC (4-5, 3-3) on the road Saturday afternoon probably wouldn't qualify as one, as the Trojans enter the game with a losing record, an interim coach at the helm and a true freshman quarterback making his first career start. No matter what happens, the best UCLA can finish through Kelly's first four regular seasons is 18-25, with a grand total of two of those victories coming against teams that finished with winning records.
The Bruins are supposed to beat the Trojans this weekend, just looking at the stats, the analytics, the odds and – as much as Kelly would hate to admit it – the momentum. So if a win wouldn't do much to turn the tides of Kelly's tenure, the focus then shifts to what a loss would do.
UCLA losing to USC on Saturday would be the largest, deepest and final stain on Kelly's record, and he would have to be fired within the succeeding 24 hours should that situation come to fruition.
It wouldn't be the first time UCLA fired its coach after a loss to USC, either.
Jim Mora was 5-5 heading into a road matchup with the Trojans in 2017, and he got canned after a 28-23 loss – on his birthday, no less. Mora was 46-30 in his time at UCLA.
Rick Neuheisel was 6-5 entering a road game against the Trojans in 2011, and he was sent packing following a 50-0 defeat. Neuheisel was 21-28 in his time at UCLA.
Karl Dorrell was 6-5 prior to going head-to-head with the Trojans in 2007, and he got fired right after losing 24-7. Dorrell was 35-27 in his time at UCLA.
It isn't as if those Bruin teams were horrible – far from it actually. All three UCLA teams that had their coach fired after losing to USC wound up playing in a bowl a few weeks later.
So to anyone pointing to the Bruins' recently-clinched bowl eligibility as Kelly's saving grace, not even Dan Guerrero could tolerate mediocrity when that mediocrity included losing to the Trojans.
UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond was supposed to bring that same mindset to the table, at least in terms of not accepting .500 seasons as adequate at the Power Five level.
In his second academic year holding the same position at Boston College, Jarmond fired Steve Addazio, who had just led the Eagles to their sixth bowl appearance in his seven years there and only finished with more losses than wins once. Addazio never won more than seven games in a season across his time in Chestnut Hill, though, and he was relieved of his duties for failing to break that threshold.
Now in his second academic year leading the way at UCLA, Jarmond faces a similar do-or-die decision, regardless of what happens against USC on Saturday.
A win wouldn't save Kelly's job outright, it would just further extend his tenure as a dead man walking at least another week, but a potential eight-win season with a crosstown rivalry victory could theoretically lead to Jarmond thinking a little harder about what lies ahead. A loss, on the other hand, would make the decision easier than it already is.
If Kelly doesn't want to join the list of Bruin coaches who had their careers halted at the hands of the Trojans in the Coliseum, his goal for this weekend is crystal clear.
Win, or go home.