Potential candidates for UCLA head football coach job
UCLA is in the market for a new head football coach after Chip Kelly left to take the Ohio State offensive coordinator job, which leaves the Bruins in a tricky spot, though they seem to have something lined up.
Signing day has passed, spring practices are nearing, and most programs that had vacancies finalized their head coach hirings 1-2 months ago. Unlike Michigan, which knew Jim Harbaugh likely was leaving and had an internal candidate ready to replace him, UCLA does not have an obvious internal candidate to promote. Not only that, but having the head coach leave means a 30-day window will open for players to exit the program via the transfer portal. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that UCLA did not sign any recruits this week.
Whomever the Bruins hire will have his work cut out for him. But at least they will have a good starting point — they have a promising quarterback in Ethan Garbers.
So who are some potential candidates for the job? This does not seem like the type of search that will be wide-ranging and result in a lengthy, national search taking weeks. UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond has already reportedly told his team there will be a new coach within the next four days.
UCLA AD Martin Jarmond reiterates what we'd reported in this story, that he'd told the team earlier today that he's trying to make this hire to replace Chip Kelly in the next 96 hours: https://t.co/X18lmmnh9R https://t.co/NmPWXbXRBN
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) February 9, 2024
It’s hard not to think that UCLA already had something worked out and that’s part of why Kelly was working hard the last few weeks to find a new offensive coordinator job.
UCLA fans who are dreaming may be thinking of Big Ten coaches like Jonathan Smith, who left Oregon State for Michigan State, or PJ Fleck, who has been at Minnesota for seven seasons. Those do not seem like realistic options given UCLA’s significant financial constraints. The usual suspects like Chris Klieman or Matt Campbell, whose names have popped up in coaching searches the last two years, probably will not be in play. This does not seem to be that type of coaching search.
The more realistic move seems to be UCLA hiring a coach who has some previous ties to the program.
The more likely candidates probably include the following.
UCLA bringing back D’Anton Lynn
Lynn did an excellent job last season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator, which was his first ever season working as a DC. The 34-year-old is young, hungry, a good recruiter, and he was so desired that crosstown rival USC doubled his salary and hired him away from UCLA. Many Bruins fans wanted Kelly gone and would likely have been happy with him fired and Lynn hired as the replacement.
UCLA did not have the resources to retain Lynn as their defensive coordinator, and they did not want to pay a buyout to Kelly. Now the Bruins no longer have to pay Kelly a buyout, and they could give Lynn a raise over what USC gave him.
It’s also easy to figure that Bruins fans would love this hire because it would be screwing over USC in the process. Would Lynn do USC dirty and leave after a month to go back to the rival school? UCLA has to at least make that call and find out.
Hiring ex-Stanford coach David Shaw
If UCLA will have a new coach within 4 days, that means they likely have been working on something behind-the-scenes. Shaw is unemployed and his son plays for UCLA. He would be someone easy to have worked something out with since he does not have any current coaching constraints.
While Shaw did great at Stanford from 2011-2018 after taking over for Jim Harbaugh, he completely fell off in 2021 and 2022, going 3-9 both years. Both NIL and the transfer portal hurt an elite school like Stanford, which relies on its academic excellence as a draw to recruits (which also makes it a barrier for transfers). The 51-year-old Shaw was very accomplished at Stanford, but the way he finished his tenure inspires little confidence that NIL and the transfer portal would not be hurdles for him at UCLA.
Nebraska DC Tony White
The 44-year-old played linebacker at UCLA and was highly regarded for his intelligence. He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant and then developed further coaching experience at San Diego State under Rocky Long, and then at Arizona State. He served as a defensive coordinator at Syracuse for three seasons before Matt Rhule hired him as Nebraska’s DC last season.
If UCLA wants someone who is young and motivated, and who has coordinator experience and ties to the Bruins, White would fit.
Just want to make sure you’re still reading. Carroll is available and still has interest in coaching. He is best known for rebuilding USC into an absolute monster in the 2000s. This would never happen, but he could probably step in for two years and give you the old Dennis Erickson quick turnaround.
If UCLA were looking for just an interim-type solution, some names to consider would be defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe or wide receivers coach Jerry Neuheisel. Another possibility would be former UCLA running back Deshaun Foster, who coached running backs at UCLA from 2017-2023. He just left to take the running backs job with the Raiders though.
Though UCLA has historically had a good program, it’s important to remember that replicating the success under the likes Terry Donahue and those before him, is unlikely. UCLA operates under strict financial restrictions from the University of California public school system. They have limitations on how much they can pay coaches and their staffs. As of now, they will likely be paying Cal an annual subsidy for leaving the Pac-12 (the “Calimony” payment). The Bruins don’t have the same donor or NIL base as other big schools. And they are headed to the Big Ten, where they will face travel issues and possibly tougher competition. All of the aforementioned issues did not exist in the past when UCLA had its greatest levels of success. Winning enough to please the fan base will be a big challenge for whomever gets the job.