Twelve hours of controversy surrounding UCLA football coach Chip Kelly appeared to be winding down Saturday as Bruins players apologized for a story that went spinning out of control a day earlier.
It’s not the first instance in which the coach with an up-and-down career (up in colleges, down in the NFL) came through an awkward situation looking better than his critics.
UCLA quarterback apologizes to Chip Kelly
The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that 30 UCLA football players were upset with the way injuries had been handled in the past and wanted an outside medical observer attending practices when the team returns to campus this summer. Somehow, misgivings about the football program as a whole got twisted into an assumption that the players do not trust third-year coach Chip Kelly.
Naturally, some people saw it as evidence of another failure by the coach who went through quick flameouts with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 and San Francisco 49ers in 2016. But Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson went on Twitter before the end of the day to let fans know that the team doesn’t have an issue with Kelly.
“Don’t turn this into a feeding frenzy on Coach, this is about the safety of the program as a whole,” he wrote, following up afterward by saying Kelly was on board with what the players were seeking.
“As the player whose face is on the cover of the article, I apologize to coach as I was unaware the letter would be given to the media for them to mislead,” he added.
The day’s late developments weren’t an exoneration of the UCLA football program or athletic department, but Thompson-Robinson definitely took the heat off his coach.
An up-and-down coaching career
Chip Kelly burst onto the coaching scene in 2009, when he was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach at Oregon. The Ducks were coming off a nice 36-15 run in Mike Bellotti’s final four seasons before being named athletic director, so big things were expected.
Kelly delivered in his four seasons in charge, going 10-3, 12-1, 12-2, and 12-1. Those seasons ended with one trip to the Fiesta Bowl, two to the Rose Bowl, and an appearance in the BCS Championship.
Kelly’s reputation as an innovator on offense and his success as a head coach earned him a crack at NFL coaching. He led the Philadelphia Eagles to a pair of 10-6 records before falling to 6-9 in 2015 and being fired. The San Francisco 49ers then hired him, but a 2-14 record in 2016 was the end of his tenure there.
After one season away from the sidelines, he was hired at UCLA, where Kelly’s Bruins have gone 3-9 and 4-8 thus far.
Chip Kelly once wrote a check to an angry fan
For all the success that Chip Kelly experienced as the head coach at Oregon, his time as the head coach there began with a clunker of a game. On Sept. 3, 2009, Boise State beat Oregon, 19-8. The Broncos would go on to a 14-0 season capped with a victory vs. TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, but the opening-day result was still a stunner for followers of Pac-12 football.
One Ducks fan took the loss to Boise State, after which Oregon star LeGarrette Blount punched a Broncos player, especially hard. Tony Seminary, who described himself as a longtime Oregon season-ticketholder, sent Kelly an e-mail with a billing statement itemizing the cost of his trip to travel to Boise to witness the loss.
“I am sending you an invoice for my trip to Boise,” Seminary wrote. “I feel as though I’m entitled to my money back for the trip.”
The sum came to $439.
Now, Kelly certainly already had enough on his mind thanks to the loss and Blount’s post-game behavior. Dealing with an upset fan had to rank low on the list of things to deal with that week. Nevertheless, Kelly wrote back to Seminary to ask for his mailing address.
A few days later, Seminary checked his mail and found a letter from Kelly. Enclosed was a check for $439, signed by the coach, the Seattle Times reported.
Seminary was so impressed that he wrote a thank-you note back to Kelly and returned the check – uncashed. “Your kids must want to run through walls for you,” Seminary wrote.