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Back on Dec. 5, 2017, the Bruins announced the hiring of Jerry Azzinaro as their new defensive coordinator. 

The replies and comments on social media leaned generally positive, with fans excited that newly-hired head coach Chip Kelly was getting the band back together from his days of winning Rose Bowls and Pac-12 titles at Oregon.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

UCLA football is 15-25 under Kelly, with Azzinaro serving as defensive coordinator in all 40 of those contests. It took just a handful of games for the Bruin faithful to turn their backs on Azzinaro, and fans were calling for him to be fired before the end of his second season in town and they haven't stopped since.

Azzinaro is more than just an easy target for hate in a relative down period for the program, though. He is one of the least accomplished, statistically-poor defensive coordinators in the country, and his attitude has only dug his grave deeper in the eyes of fans and media members everywhere. 

UCLA has employed 12 different defensive coordinators since Terry Donahue retired in 1995. Only one of them has lasted more than three seasons – Azzinaro.

Only one of them has allowed more than 260 passing yards per game during their time with the Bruins – Azzinaro, whose defenses have given up 277.5 yards per game through the air. No defense in program history had ever allowed more than 270 passing yards per game in a single season, but Azzinaro is about to do it for the third year in a row.

The run defense hasn't been as much of a saving grace as Kelly may have you think either. Azzinaro's 154.4 rushing yards allowed per game throughout his tenure ranks No. 5 among the 12 modern era coordinators, so while it is miles better than Tom Bradley's units at the end of the Jim Mora era, it's really just middle-of-the-road in the grand scheme of things.

Yards can be deceiving, though. Maybe UCLA has played great bend-don't-break defense over the past few years.

Not exactly.

The Bruins' scoring defenses have ranked No. 104, No. 116, No. 73 and No. 79 in the country over the past four seasons.

Overall, Azzinaro's defenses have allowed 431.9 yards per game. That's the most by any UCLA defensive coordinator since Nick Aliotti, who had just one season of work in Westwood back in 1998.

Aliotti was in charge of a defense on a team that started 10-0 that season, so even if they were allowing a mediocre 25.3 points per game to that point, there wasn't much to complain about heading into December.

And then came the infamous Miami game, when UCLA blew a 17-point second half lead and lost 49-45. While that lost to the Hurricanes cost the Bruins a shot at the National Championship, they were still playing in the Rose Bowl a month later. Aliotti's defense gave up another 38 points in a loss to Wisconsin that day, and UCLA hasn't been back to a Rose Bowl since.

So isn't it a cruel twist of fate that Azzinaro rose up through the ranks under Aliotti in Oregon over a decade ago.

After getting chased out of town thanks to the 1998 collapse, Aliotti became the defensive coordinator at Oregon in 1999 and stayed there until 2013. Azzinaro, who had bounced around to 12 different spots over the previous 28 seasons, became the defensive line coach under Aliotti when Kelly took over as head coach in Eugene in 2009.

Azzinaro, after learning from the other contender for worst defensive coordinator in UCLA history, then followed Kelly from stop to stop, first the Philadelphia Eagles, then the San Francisco 49ers and now the Bruins.

Kelly mentioned last month in a press conference that he already had his staff ironed out right as he got hired by UCLA in late 2017, meaning Azzinaro was his hand-picked man for defensive coordinator. That was an interesting choice even without the benefit of hindsight, considering Azzinaro hadn't been a defensive coordinator since 2006.

Azzinaro was the co-defensive coordinator at Duke from 2004 to 2006. The Blue Devils went 2-9, 1-10 and 0-12 across those three seasons while their defenses ranked No. 79, No. 113 and No. 114 in the country in points allowed per game.

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The last time Azzinaro was a solo defensive coordinator was at UMass in 1997. The Minutemen went 2-9 in Division I-AA and allowed 33.4 points per game that year. When Azzinaro was the defensive coordinator there during a separate one-year stint in 1994, UMass went 5-6 and allowed 30.6 points per game during its 1-4 finish to the season.

The production is one thing, but Azzinaro's attitude and accountability are whole other beasts entirely.

Azzinaro has not spoken to the media a single time since the start of the 2018 season. The same had gone for all other UCLA assistants and coordinators in the Kelly era until this past spring, when they became available for press conferences and interviews – all of them except Azzinaro, that is.

When asked by Eagles beat reporters about his team having a growth mindset back in 2015, Azzinaro decided to share his true feelings on talking to the media.

“I have to – no offense to you guys – but I don’t enjoy this," Azzinaro said. "I have to have a growth mindset to come out here and not be all f**king pissed off. I’m just being honest with you.”

Kelly was asked about his defensive coordinator's lack of public presence since arriving in Westwood before practice Wednesday, and he continued to show his support for Azzinaro.

"It’s the United States of America, we’re not going to force anybody to do anything," Kelly said. "That’s his choice that he doesn’t want to speak to the media."

And by making that choice, standing by it and having his friend come out and defend that choice on his behalf, Azzinaro continues to show a complete lack of maturity for a 63-year-old whose job is to lead young men on and off the field.

The players Azzinaro coaches have to talk to the media. Kelly has to talk to the media. His position coaches now have to talk to the media. So with his defense crumbling yet again, Azzinaro is still hiding behind Kelly and locking himself in Wasserman Football Center, refusing to take any sort of public accountability for his play-calling, schematics or lack of production.

Kelly has ensured Azzinaro is being held accountable behind closed doors, but he won't even disclose the roles each individual coach fills on a day-to-day basis, let alone any kind of adjustments in responsibilities or mindsets over the past four years.

When Azzinaro's contract was up after the 2019 season, he had it renewed for another season. And when it ran out at the end of 2020, he again signed a one-year extension, again at a $700,000 salary. Not too many people are rewarded with a six-figure payday when they're being held accountable for their subpar performance.

The Bruins' 44-24 loss to Utah on Oct. 30 was another in a long line of stains on Azzinaro's record, and Kelly was asked how he could justify keeping Azzinaro around after yet another back-breaking performance on his side of the ball. Instead of answering the question, Kelly deflected and vaguely defended his defensive coordinator as he has done on countless occasions over the past four years.

"Yeah, well, I’ll just talk about tonight," Kelly said. "We didn’t do a good job in the run game. We played – even this year – very well on the defensive side of the ball and I think our defense has improved. Our defense improved last year and when you look at some of the games we did early in the year, I thought we played really well."

Azzinaro is the worst defensive coordinator in modern UCLA history, though. You'd be hard pressed to find a defensive coordinator anywhere in the country, actually, who has held the position for a total of nine seasons at the DI level without even one campaign approaching average.

And yet, here he is.

Back for another week of practice, back for another game, with no resume or production to justify his employment and no answers to the questions fans and reporters continue to hurl his way.

Kelly has shielded Azzinaro for years, gifted him promotions and shiny new titles, never backing up those decisions with any kind of results.

The longer Kelly keeps Azzinaro around, the more he jeopardizes his own future in Westwood. At this point, it's probably too late to change anyways.

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