Why Chip Kelly left UCLA for Ohio State

COLUMBUS —Chip Kelly wants to coach until he dies, but he also just wants to coach.

That, in a nutshell, is why he is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ohio State in 2024 rather than the head coach at UCLA, where he spent the previous six seasons and was under contract for four more.

Kelly turned some heads across the college football world last month when he did something few do — seek out essentially a demotion.

“I do a lot of things other people don’t do,” he said to some laughter. “I don’t know if that’s right or wrong.”

The decision was not one he made overnight once Ohio State suddenly needed another new offensive coordinator in the wake of Bill O’Brien leaving to become the head coach at Boston College.

Kelly said he started thinking about changing roles in December while the Bruins were preparing to play Boise State in the L.A. Bowl.

He mentored the quarterbacks when Ryan Gunderson left for Oregon State, giving him the opportunity to do something he had not done in 15 years: Coach a position group.

That sparked his interest in making a change.

“To me the best part of football is football, and so you got to do football and not do some of the things the head coach has to do,” Kelly said.

Today that means recruiting high school players, of course, but also one’s own roster with the transfer portal always an option for current players.

There are fundraisers to attend, donors to court, boosters to meet, more media obligations and many other tasks for a head coach that are not concerns for assistants.

“I get to decide what my future is going to be, so what do I want to do?” Kelly said.

Kelly needed the right opportunity to leave UCLA, though, and that turned out to be Ohio State, where one of his most successful former pupils was looking for a revamp of his own heading into his sixth season as a head coach.

“So I started looking for an opportunity,” Kelly said. “It would have to be the right spot to go somewhere and just coach a position again and be back with that group. As a head coach you sit in on position meetings, but you’re always getting pulled out and there are other things that are involved with being a head coach. It’s more of a CEO operation now.”

Ironically, Day is looking to become the CEO-type coach Kelly no longer wanted to be.

“It just allows me to be more present with the whole operation, which is something I recognize that I need to do,” Day said of stepping away from coaching the quarterbacks and offense in practice.

So now what?

“It’s going to be a fun journey to go on,” said Day, who mentioned Kelly has already tweaked the running game without getting into specifics. “It will be competitive every day. That’s something he has always done and something I admire about him. That, and the ability to adapt and change. It has been fun to come to work every day because you know you’re going to be challenged. Even more, as you look ahead to this spring and this preseason, what is this team going to be and what does the offense look like?

“But so far it’s been enjoyable to come in and be able to step out of the room and know there are a bunch of guys in the room who are grinding on it and going to get it right.”

While Day is perceived to be under some heat to reverse a three-year skid at the hands of Michigan, the pieces appear to be in place for another run toward glory.

Kelly, who signed a three-year contract, said he is in for the long haul.

“I’m gonna coach, and I’m gonna die,” Kelly said. “That’s how I think about things. I was talking to someone I was with on the Nike trip (for coaches) and they were like, ‘How much longer are you gonna go?’ And I said, ‘I could go another 15-20 years.’ I don’t think about retirement. I don’t think about any of those things. That’s just kind of my mindset. I love football, and as long as I can be part of this game, I’ll be part of this game.”

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