Has Chip Kelly coached his final game at UCLA and could Pete Carroll return to LA?

Would Pete Carroll's firing open the doors for Chip Kelly to be released from his post at UCLA, and why is January 15 a day to remember?

It’s safe to say Chip Kelly’s tenure as the head coach of the UCLA Bruins has been tumultuous. You could say the same for Pete Carroll’s potentially final year with the Seattle Seahawks. After failing to win more than four games in his first three seasons at the helm, Kelly seemingly turned the corner in the 2021 college football, finishing with an 8-4 record. Still, his four-year record with the Bruins is just 18-25.

With a new deadline approaching for Kelly and new athletic director Martin Jarmond pushing for perfection, Kelly’s time in Westwood may be coming to a close. What does the potential timeline look like for Kelly? And what does Carroll have to do with any of this? Join us as we dive into the madness.

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Chip Kelly’s roller-coaster tenure at UCLA

The Bruins are no strangers to lucrative contracts for their coaches. Nor are they strangers to buying out those expensive deals. Whether it was on the hardcourt with Steve Alford or on the gridiron with Jim Mora Jr., the Bruins have made splash hires only to see them flop. Sure, a ton of blame is to be laid firmly upon former AD Dan Guerrero’s shoulders for his handling of those previous situations under his reign. But the lack of on-field success by high-profile coaches didn’t make Guerrero’s job any easier.

Enter Jarmond from Boston College. In just three years as the Eagles’ AD, Jarmond transformed an already illustrious athletics program into one of the ACC’s best across all sports. Jarmond — who also spent nearly a decade at Ohio State — was tasked with some big feats. However, none were as large as figuring out what to do with Kelly’s contract.

Kelly’s contract poses issues

Let’s circle back to Guerrero for just a minute. It’s important to know where the Bruins had been prior to figuring out where they’re going. It’s one thing to say, “Just buy out Kelly’s contract.” But that’s a difficult ask after Guerrero’s athletic department ran up a $19 million deficit from 2018-19. That deficit is now rumored to be upwards of $40 million.

Jarmond was handed a sinking athletic department in a huge market with fleeting sponsorship deals. While attempting to figure out what to do with Kelly’s massive buyout clause, UCLA’s apparel deal also flopped. Under Armour backed out of a $280 million deal due to lack of return from UCLA. There was money flying out the door at UCLA, but none returning.

So, after three straight seasons of four or fewer wins, why keep Kelly for 2021? The deficit certainly played a factor as Kelly’s contract buyout is $9 million. They simply couldn’t afford to buy him out of his contract or fire him due to the money they’d owe him.

Keep your eyes on January 15

So if the Bruins couldn’t buy out Kelly, why are we even talking about him? It’s simple: January 15 is around the corner. That day marks the last day of Kelly’s fourth year as UCLA’s head coach and turns the page to the fifth and last year of his contract. It also signifies when his reciprocal buyout of $9 million expires. Both parties are free to walk away from each other without owing any money.

That day is five days removed from NFL’s “Black Monday,” where the majority of NFL head coaching moves are expected to be made following the 2021-22 season. Is Jarmond looking to move on from Kelly after seeing what happens on the NFL’s dark day? Is there a specific head coach he’d be looking for?

Pro Football Network’s Chief NFL Draft Insider Tony Pauline shared his thoughts on this week’s Between the Hashes: “From what I’m hearing, UCLA could potentially try and court Pete Carroll, to bring Pete Carroll in as the head coach of UCLA.”

Would Pete Carroll return to college?

Let’s wind the clocks back a few years. Okay, fine, maybe 20 years.

Carroll, now 70 years old, was announced as the head coach at USC back in 2001. He saw great success, although it was marred by NCAA sanctions that returned a Heisman Trophy won by Reggie Bush and two seasons’ worth of wins.

Despite the sanctions, Carroll’s on-field success was among the best in the college ranks over the past 30 years. He won four Rose Bowls, two national championships, seven Pac-10 Championships in a row, and a slew of individual coaching awards during his nine years at the helm of the Trojans.

Given his on-field success, a return to college would absolutely make sense for the Bruins. We’re just not so sure it would make sense for Carroll, who will turn 71 during next season.

A “splash hire” may not be what UCLA needs

It’s safe to say the move to bring in Carroll would be considered a “splash hire.” UCLA be adding a coach who has documented success. But Carroll also would come marred with levied sanctions. He also would re-enter college football after the NFL game seemingly passed him by over the past few seasons in Seattle.

UCLA would be chasing their rivals at USC by hiring Carroll. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery — but this isn’t that. This is playing catch-up when you don’t have the funds to match nor the support of your boosters or community. Hiring Carroll just because USC hired Lincoln Riley would be a mistake. Pauline had this to add in case Seattle and Carroll part ways following the end of the season:

“We’ll see what happens with Pete Carroll’s job after this final week, and we’ll see if [UCLA] brings back Chip Kelly or if it lets him go.”

For UCLA’s sake, you’d probably hope Seattle retains Carroll. The Bruins’ student-athletes deserve stability. They deserve to be coached by someone who will help develop them. Not someone who is being brought in as a splash hire and who hasn’t coached a down in college football for over 12 years.

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.

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