February 22, 2024

Chip Kelly replacements: Ranking UCLA’s best candidates from Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck to Eric Bieniemy

According to multiple reports, Chip Kelly reportedly is leaving UCLA to become the next offensive coordinator at Ohio State.

Kelly had been interviewing for NFL positions, so the move isn’t necessarily a surprise. He had a 35-34 record with the Bruins the last six seasons, and that included bowl appearances the last two seasons. It wasn’t nearly as successful as the 46-7 record Kelly put up in four seasons with Oregon from 2009-12.

The move still puts UCLA in a precarious position this late in the calendar. The Bruins are preparing for the move to the Big Ten, and from a perception standpoint having a coach leave to take a coordinator position at another conference school is a tough look. 

What kind of candidates will the UCLA job attract? That is an interesting question.

MORE: Ties between Ryan Day, Chip Kelly set stage for hiring

Why did Chip Kelly leave UCLA for Ohio State? 

Kelly was looking for a different job. He had interviewed with a few NFL teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, for their offensive coordinator job. The Ohio State position opened Friday when Bill O’Brien – who was hired on Jan. 19 – took the head coach position at Boston College. 

Kelly and Ohio State coach Ryan Day have a long relationship. Day was the quarterback at New Hampshire when Kelly was the offensive coordinator for three seasons from 1999-2001. Day was the quarterbacks coach for Kelly with the 49ers and Eagles from 2015-16 before he left to become an assistant at Ohio State.

Now, the tandem is reunited in a role reversal that will be one of the dominant storylines of the 2024 college football season. 

MORE: What college football will look like after realignment in 2024

UCLA coaching candidates 

Who might be in line to take Chip Kelly’s job at UCLA? A look at some of the best candidates: 

P.J. Fleck, Minnesota coach 

Fleck is 50-34 at Minnesota the last seven seasons, and that includes five bowl victories. UCLA is 41-41 in the same seven-year stretch, and one could make the argument that Fleck is positioned to compete in the 18-team Big Ten with his current program. Still, Fleck could do more with the California recruiting backyard, and at 43 years old he could be a fit for a program that is switching conferences. The Gophers have won their last five bowl games and had a 11-win season in 2019. UCLA has never won 11 games in a single season. 

Tony White, Nebraska defensive coordinator  

White was a three-year starter at linebacker for UCLA, and he was a graduate assistant for the Bruins in 2007. He stayed on the West Coast while working through the coaching ranks at New Mexico, San Diego State and Arizona State. He has two defensive coordinator stints at Syracuse (2020-22) and Nebraska (2023) since, and that experience in the Big Ten should help. This would not just be a pure alma mater pitch. White, would be a no-nonsense land for the program. 

Brian Hartline, Ohio State co-offensive coordinator 

Why didn’t UCLA just work out a trade? UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond worked at Ohio State from 2009-17, and Hartline is one of the best young recruiters and receivers coaches in the game. Hartline, 37, would be given the opportunity to branch out, and this would be a high-level first head coaching opportunity. Given Hartline did not leave when O’Brien was hired, however, suggests it will be difficult to pull the former Ohio State receiver out of Columbus. 

Eric Bieniemy, former NFL offensive coordinator 

Bieniemy was the Chiefs offensive coordinator from 2018-22 and with Washington last season, and was passed over each year on the coaching carousel for a NFL head coaching job despite a proven track record of success. Bieniemy was an assistant coach at UCLA from 2003-05, and he was the offensive coordinator at Colorado from 2011-12. Bieniemy has a nice mix of experience at both levels and this hire would be a splash. Don’t rule it out.  

Matt Campbell, Iowa State coach 

How many times have we put Campbell on these lists? He’s been a potential candidate for other Big Ten jobs given his Midwest roots, but the Cyclones have finished just 18-20 the last three seasons. Iowa State is 53-48 the last eight seasons, which is better than UCLA at 45-49. Campbell is an excellent culture builder, and he could potentially thrive in this spot with that underdog card moving into a new conference. This hire would make sense. 

David Shaw, former Stanford coach 

The Los Angeles Times pitches Shaw as a possible candidate. Shaw – a former Stanford coach – has a son Carter who will be a sophomore receiver for the Bruins. Shaw had a 96-54 record at Stanford from 2011-22 and took last season off. He won three Pac-12 championships, but the Cardinal were 14-28 in his last four seasons. This hire would not be met with excitement, but he has the experience and qualifications.