LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chip Kelly agreed to a five-year, $23.3 million deal to become UCLA’s football coach on Saturday.
The former Oregon coach returns to the Pac-12 to replace Jim Mora, who was fired Monday with one game left in his sixth season in Westwood.
Kelly, who turns 54 on Saturday, spent the past year out of coaching after four seasons in the NFL. He has elected to return to the college game with the sleeping giant of a program at UCLA, which hasn’t won a conference title since 1998.
“I am thrilled to welcome Chip Kelly to Westwood,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. “His success speaks for itself, but more than that, I firmly believe that his passion for the game and his innovative approach to coaching student-athletes make him the perfect fit for our program.”
Kelly won three Pac-12 titles in just four seasons (2009-12) in charge of the Ducks, who were turned into a marvel of exciting football by his up-tempo spread offense. Oregon went 46-7 during his tenure, reaching the BCS championship game after the 2010 season.
Kelly went 28-35 with the Philadelphia Eagles and the San Francisco 49ers from 2013-16, getting fired from both teams after losing seasons.
The Bruins almost certainly fired Mora early — and ate more than $12 million remaining on his contract through 2021 — because they hoped to land Kelly, the most coveted coach on the college football landscape after his groundbreaking work at Oregon.
Florida also spoke to Kelly about its job opening. But after the Bruins’ presentation on Tuesday, which included input from former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman and powerful booster Casey Wasserman, Kelly elected to return to the Pac-12 while staying on the West Coast, where he already has recruiting contacts after years of landing California talent for Oregon.
Kelly’s UCLA contract contains a $9 million reciprocal buyout, the Bruins said.
Jedd Fisch, Mora’s first-year offensive coordinator, served as the Bruins’ interim head coach Friday night when UCLA (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) beat California 30-27 at the Rose Bowl to earn bowl eligibility for the fifth time in Mora’s six seasons.
Kelly likely sees the opportunity to do big things at UCLA, which plays in the Rose Bowl in the nation’s second-largest media market. Although the Bruins are usually overshadowed by powerhouse rival Southern California, UCLA is hoping Kelly can be the ingredient that tips the balance back toward the Bruins, who had only seven winning records in the previous 14 years.
Kelly changed college football during his short tenure in charge of Oregon, but he left Eugene for the challenge and rewards presented by the NFL and the Eagles. He was fired late in his third season in Philadelphia despite posting winning records in his first two campaigns. He spent last season in charge of the 49ers, who fired him after going 2-14.
Mora leaves behind plenty of elite talent on the school’s beautiful campus where UCLA recently opened the Wasserman Football Center, a lavish training complex that provides the Bruins with facilities approaching the standards of their Pac-12 competitors — even Oregon, with its famously impressive trappings backed by Nike boss Phil Knight.
Kelly becomes the Bruins’ fifth full-time coach since 1995, when Terry Donahue left after winning five Pac-10 titles during 20 seasons. The Bruins won two more league titles in the late 1990s under Bob Toledo, but they haven’t claimed another conference crown or appeared in the postseason Rose Bowl in two decades.
Mora was arguably the Bruins’ most successful coach since Donahue, going 46-30 and starting off his tenure with four consecutive winning seasons. Mora’s second and third teams tied the modest school record with 10 wins, and he fended off apparent interest from Texas and NFL teams to stay at UCLA.
But the Bruins declined sharply in the past two seasons. UCLA went 4-8 last year with one of the FBS’ worst offenses even before losing quarterback Josh Rosen for the second half of the season due to a shoulder injury.
UCLA has gone undefeated at the Rose Bowl and winless on the road this season, with an inconsistent defense causing most of the problems this time. The Bruins are third-worst among the Power Five conference with 37.6 points allowed per game, and second-worst in the FBS with 288.7 yards rushing allowed per game.
The Bruins won just 10 of their last 27 games under Mora after their 28-23 loss to USC last Saturday night.