Chip Kelly's tenure as UCLA head coach has started much like his one year with the 49ers went: lots of losses.
Kelly and UCLA are 0-3 and things are already getting heated.
Michael Robinson, the father of UCLA's starting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, lit into Kelly on Saturday following the Bruins' 38-14 loss to Fresno State.
In three games, UCLA has scored just 52 points while allowing 113 points. Under the tutelage of Kelly, Thompson-Robinson has completed 41 of 75 passes for 522 yards and two touchdowns. He's also thrown two interceptions.
The 49ers hired Kelly prior to the 2016 season and gave him a four-year, $26 million contract. But after the 49ers went 2-14, Kelly was fired as the head coach. He spent the 2017 season as a TV analyst before taking the UCLA job earlier this year.
Chip Kelly’s deal to become UCLA’s head coach will save the 49ers approximately $7.5 million, according to a source familiar with his contract situation.
“Chip did the 49ers a solid,” the source told NBC Sports Bay Area.
The 49ers fired Kelly at the conclusion of the 2016 season after he served just one year of his four-year, $24 million contract. The 49ers’ future financial commitment to Kelly is offset by the contract he signed with UCLA.
UCLA on Saturday announced the agreement of a five-year, $23.3 million contract with Kelly. The school also announced a $9 million “reciprocal buyout,” which has no impact on the 49ers’ payments to Kelly. The reciprical buyout refers to the compensation required if UCLA fires Kelly or he leaves the school early for another job.
The source said Kelly and UCLA agreed to a contract structure in which Kelly receives standard percentage raises in his contract that is consistent with typical coaches contracts.
The 49ers’ four-year contract with Kelly averaged $6 million a year but was structured to provide 20-percent salary increased each year. Kelly’s deal with UCLA is similar with consistent raises scheduled for each season. Kelly and UCLA could have put together a contract with comparatively low base salaries in its first two years to force the 49ers to pay more, the source said.
The source did not provide the exact numbers of Kelly's contracts, but based on the typical pay raises, Kelly was scheduled to earn approximately $6.5 million in salary in 2018 – the amount guaranteed in his 49ers contract – with about $3.125 million coming from UCLA.
In 2019, UCLA will pay Kelly approximately $3.75 million while the 49ers make up the estimated remainder of his scheduled $7.7 salary from the deal he signed with San Francisco in January of 2016.
The 49ers would have owed Kelly approximately $14 million in salaries in 2018 and ’19, but UCLA will pay nearly half that amount, saving the 49ers close to $7.5 million.
Chip Kelly’s return to gainful employment (and no, television work is never actually gainful) is being hailed by the raging college punditocracy as a great acquisition for UCLA.
And 49er fans are gnawing their arms off in response.
Then again, there have always been two Chip Kellys – the one who owned college football with his frenetic offensive style, and the one who had to see if he could reinvent pro football by force of will.
That’s how he failed in Philadelphia. And then he failed in San Francisco by finding out that having no talent and working for people who don’t trust you while paying you trumps every clever idea in the playbook.
But his reputation among the collegiate types never deteriorated. He’d consolidated the gains made by predecessor Mike Bellotti and made Oregon a national power. Being a tyrant in Pennsylvania didn’t work, and neither did rowing a boat without a boat in California.
So he cooled his heels on the Eagles’ and Niners’ combined dimes until an opportunity to reinvent himself on his own terms came – and UCLA’s persistent underachievement relative to its self-image matched his desire to get back to what he knew and did best.
It’s as though he never coached in the NFL at all, which one suspects is just fine by everyone.
Kelly learned in Philadelphia that a paid workforce has the power of pushback. He learned in Philadelphia and San Francisco that a general manager with a drawer full of knives and a penchant for political scheming and ass-covering is the death of any sport.
But he must also know that no place reliant on the money of others to thrive is without politics or ass-coverers. The benefit that he got in Oregon was that there was only one of those – Phil Knight, Keeper Of The Swoosh.
UCLA has nobody of that wealth, but it has lots of people with opinions who give just enough money to expect those opinions to be heeded. Today, they are all-in on Kelly because it makes the Bruins’ football program a national talker, and in late November, when only a few teams are doing meaningful things competitively, talking is the currency of the realm.
Put another way, nobody talked about Chip Kelly in such glowing terms when he came to San Francisco because the failure in Philly was too fresh. At Westwood, his pro career is almost irrelevant because Los Angeles has only been an NFL town for two years, practically speaking. At Westwood, he is the man who perfected Eugene, and in the world of college football he is the man who reordered the world they care about.
In sum, for UCLA administrators and fans, Chip Kelly is the same guy he was the day he left Oregon. Philadelphia was a brief interlude and San Francisco essentially never happened at all.
If only all our histories worked that neatly.