EUGENE - UCLA coach Chip Kelly is laser focused on the task at hand, rebuilding the Bruins football program that fell 42-21 to Oregon at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. So much so that returning to site of his greatest professional successes proved insignificant enough to break through his stony exterior. Or so he claimed.
To hear UCLA quarterback Wilton Speight tell it, Kelly, who insisted during the week that he wouldn't get swept up by nostalgia when he returned to Autzen, treated this game like any other. No emotion. No extra desire to win. No misty water-colored memories of the way he and the Ducks were.
"Xs and Os," Speight said.
That very much defines the Chip Kelly we all knew when he had the Ducks' humming from 2009 through 2012. He zeroed in on his agenda and did not care what anybody else thought. He didn't have time for feelings or much of anything that failed to give his team an edge. It worked for him at Oregon. Will it work for him at UCLA, a job that comes with a far greater degree of difficulty than the one he was handed with the Ducks?
"I think it was cool pregame that they acknowledged coach Kelly's return and everyone kind of game a standing ovation." Speight said. "He's lying if he says that didn't feel good."
Kelly didn't lie. He did appreciate the gesture from the 56,114 in attendance after long-time public address announcer Don Essig announced Kelly's presence.
"It was nice," Kelly said. "These fans are awesome. My six years here was an unbelievable experience. This just kind of solidified it."
But that's all the emotion you'll get from Kelly regarding this day. For him, the game will be remembered for the score that ended his team's chances of becoming bowl eligible in his first season at the helm. And it will be remembered for the teachable moments it presented for his young UCLA team that sits at 2-7.
Kelly simply has no time or emotion or reflection.
"I don't think that way," Kelly said. "I'm a forward thinking guy. To me it's about the journey. It's not about thinking about memories and thinking about moments. It's about what's next. We've got a lot of work to do to get ready for a good Arizona State team."
That attitude, which lacks in the fuzzy feelings department, is the same one he had when he guided Oregon to three Pac-10/12 conference titles, the national title game, the program's first Rose Bowl win in 85 years and a Fiesta Bowl victory. It's simply who Chip Kelly is. It's partly what got him into trouble in the NFL for reportedly not being able to relate to professional players. He is, at times, so laser focused that he forgets the human side of the game.
So how could Kelly waste a second feeling good about returning to Autzen where he had so much success when his current team is struggling to scratch out two wins on the season? He couldn't. Doing so would do nothing for the Bruins so why bother?
Kelly said he viewed the game as merely another opportunity for his struggling team to grow.
"We've got a young team that's learning from their mistakes," he said. "A lot of teachable moments from this game."
Kelly, who will turn 55 on Nov. 25, left Oregon at age of 49. He's been through a lot since then. He spent four years in the NFL. He's been fired twice. In many ways, he's a different coach than the one that departed Oregon in January of 2013 to take over the Philadelphia Eagles.
"Older. Grayer," Kelly said. "I think we're all byproducts of our experience. You grow and you learn. That's part of it. I owe a lot of it to here. The experience I had here."
That experience was far different than the one he is in now. Kelly inherited a very good team and a program still on its way up and armed with a strong staff in place that he inherited.
"It was a lot easier transition, I think, because we all weren't new," he said.
He made the most of the opportunity and won big. But he didn't build Oregon. He merely built a culture that worked. Now he is faced with both overhauling a culture and rebuilding the roster.
Kelly called that the "fun part."
"No one wants it easy," he said. "And that was one of the reasons it was attractive."
Oregon has about 60 players on scholarship. Many are breaking down. Youth and injuries have created a mess.
"Baptism under fire," Kelly said.
Speight said he believes that Kelly has the UCLA program on the right track.
"I think he inherited a team that has a lot of talent but now he's trying to instill the culture," Speight said.
Redshirt running back Joshua Kelley said mostly the same.
"We're buying into it day in and day out," Kelley said. "We like where it's heading."
Hmmm...Could there actually be a nostalgic bone hidden within Kelly's body?
What is present is his love of friends. He might not want to reminisce about past successes, but he appears to like to reconnect with old pals. Kelly said he took time this weekend to hang out with former football strength and conditioning coach Jimmy Radcliff, former athletic director and major UO money donor Pat KilKenny, baseball coach George Horton and golf coach Casey Martin, to name a handful.
"There's a lot of great people at this place," he said. "That's what makes it special."
But apparently, reminiscing about Marcus Mariota, Dennis Dixon and Darron Thomas running his offense, or LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner or De'Anthony Thomas getting loose for touchdowns does not matter enough to make him get all misty eyed while standing in Autzen.
"I just feel sad that we came out on the wrong end today," Kelly said.
It is who he is. And that's okay. Chances are, his single-mindedness will one day lead the Bruins into contention.