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UCLA Wins the Chip Kelly Sweepstakes, But the Biggest Winner Is College Football

After more than four years away from campus, the offensive guru is returning to this level to bring his warp-spread tempo to Westwood.

Photo via Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Chip Kelly is back in college football, and all is right with the world again. UCLA landed the biggest prize of the 2017 coaching carousel on Saturday, inking Kelly to a five-year, $23.3 million contract with a $9 million buyout. He’ll succeed Jim Mora Jr., who went 46-30 in his more-than-five-year tenure at the school before being fired following a 28-23 loss to USC last week. The Bruins got rid of the guy whose stint may be best remembered for the time that Diddy attacked a strength coach with a kettlebell; they replace him with a coach who would never let anyone misuse his beloved facilities.

There is plenty to sort through here, from how this impacts recruiting at UCLA to what this means in the Pac-12 to why Kelly picked the Bruins over SEC suitor Florida. For now, though, let’s pause a moment to give Chip’s return to campus the emotional weight it deserves. Think Jessica Chastain roping in Matt Damon in The Martian. Our man is back where he belongs.

Kelly’s head-coaching stint at Oregon from 2009 to 2012 was nothing short of transcendent. He inherited a team that had recently risen from a history of obscurity—Oregon didn’t make a bowl for 25 straight seasons from 1964 to 1988 before breaking through under his predecessors, Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti—and transformed it into the program that other programs wanted to imitate. Oregon became synonymous with speed and style, and it ranked among the top eight nationally in scoring during all four years of Kelly’s tenure. Even better, the Ducks won big: They went 46-7 over that span, a record that comes out to an 86.8 winning percentage. Entering Saturday’s Iron Bowl, Nick Saban has won 87.2 percent of his games during his time at Alabama. Take that for what it’s worth.

Kelly’s Oregon career produced Marcus Mariota, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, Darron Thomas, and Dion Jordan. It gifted us the double-overtime win at Arizona, the second-half blowout of Stanford, and the Fiesta Bowl beatdown of Kansas State. It inspired flashy uniforms and this song, which still rules more than seven years after it was released. When Kelly bolted to take a job in the NFL, where he later flamed out with both the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers before working as an ESPN analyst this fall, it created an unmistakable void in the sport. And it led to the repetition of a familiar question: Who would be the next Chip Kelly?

As it turns out, no one would. And now he’s back in the Pac-12, where he’ll bring his warp-speed offense to Westwood in an attempt to infuse life into a program that sits in the heart of a fertile recruiting base but has generated just three 10-win seasons since 1999. He’ll face lofty expectations—though likely not as high as the ones he would’ve faced in Gainesville, which may be the main reason that the notoriously reclusive Kelly picked this job instead. Still, this is the most exciting news that I can possibly imagine as a college football fan.

Forget the fact that UCLA largely wasted Josh Rosen’s college career (well, aside from this), has an atrocious defense, and is an Under Armour school. On Friday, the Bruins needed a last-second field goal to skate by Cal and improve to 6-6. Now, they’re the story of the college football universe.