A growing outcry for UCLA to fire head coach Chip Kelly is ridiculous and not based on reality, sports and media executive Casey Wasserman, arguably UCLA’s most influential booster and LA 28 chairman, said Thursday.
The Bruins (6-4 overall, 3-2 Pac-12) are coming off losses to Arizona and Arizona State heading into Saturday’s showdown with crosstown rival USC (7-4, 5-3) dropping Kelly’s overall record to .500 (33-33) through his first 66 games at UCLA.
“I love UCLA. I went to UCLA. I support the athletic department. I support a lot of things there,” Wasserman said. UCLA’s Wasserman Football Center was named in recognition of support from the Wasserman Foundation, which reportedly donated $20 million to the facility. Wasserman also led the search committee that hired Kelly, who led Oregon to three consecutive Pac 12 titles and the 2011 BCS national championship game. “It is neither my job to hire or fire the coach. Nor do I think that is an appropriate role for a booster.”
But Wasserman was unwavering in his support of Kelly.
“I think Chip has done a great job over six years,” Wasserman said. “He’s probably more disappointed than anybody over the last couple of games, without question. I don’t think people appreciated where the state of the program was when he took it over to where it is today. And I really believe he ought to be the UCLA football coach going forward. And we’re going into a really important year next year and I think continuity and consistency is underrated and he has built a good program. He knows how to win and he’s proven that and I expect him to be our coach next year our first year in the Big Ten.”
Finances could influence UCLA’s decision. The University of California regents are requiring UCLA to pay Cal between $2 million and $10 million as a sort of exit fee for joining the Big Ten, the first step in the dismantling of the Pac 12 which in turn dramatically impacted Cal’s bottom line.
Kelly’s contract includes a buyout clause in which UCLA would owe him $8.5 million if he is fired before December 2023 but drops to a $4.27 million payout if he’s fired before December 2024.
Kelly was given a two-year contract extension last spring that runs through the 2027 season. Kelly will receive a $6.1 million salary this season and in 2024. That figure jumps to $6.2 for the 2025, 2026 and 2027 seasons.
Wasserman was asked if there were markers UCLA would have to reach for Kelly to remain in Westwood past the 2024 season.
“Look if you’re a fan of your school you want them to win every game right?” Wasserman said. “So it’s like that’s not fair but UCLA is not some other schools. The graduation rate he has produced is remarkable. There are zero students on academic probation. I don’t think he’s had a failed drug test in two years of any kind. He has continued to elevate the program. He’s made changes when he’s needed to make changes. So obviously the people who live in this city know beat USC and it doesn’t mean beat USC and 1-11 is OK.
“Look it’s important to have perspective on these things and it’s always easy to fire someone in any job. That doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing in the long run and I do believe the players continue to believe in him. He continues to attract talent. They continue to play hard. That doesn’t mean he won’t make adjustments going forward on how he coaches, his staff like he did with the D coordinator this year.
“But my view is if you want to judge a football coach, if you’ve lost the team that’s when you really have to make serious decisions. There is no question he hasn’t lost that football team. That doesn’t mean people are happy about losing to Arizona and Arizona State but the team is there, there for him, they believe in him.”
Wasserman said UCLA’s record was due in part to injuries, especially to freshman quarterback Dante Moore.
“It’s hard to compete when you’ve had the injuries (Kelly’s) had on the quarterback side. Having a true freshman quarterback with as incredibly talented as Dante is, it comes with ups and downs and then when he gets injured the backups are backups for a reason.
“All that stuff is real. I’m not making excuses for anybody, but I think the noise and all that stuff is ridiculous and neither based in truth or reality.”
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