During Chip Kelly's six seasons at Oregon, the last four as the head coach, he developed a reputation as one of the brightest minds in football.
The architect of what was then a revolutionary spread offense that changed college football, Kelly guided the Ducks to an unprecedented 46-7 record before jumping to the NFL, leaving a legacy as a true innovator. That's why when he was hired at UCLA in November, it was widely viewed as the best hire of the coaching cycle.
But for all the success he had at Oregon, Kelly, then the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, made it clear in 2013 there was one part of the college game he definitely wouldn't miss: recruiting.
"My schedule, the day the season was over, was a lot worse than my schedule [in the NFL]," Kelly said at the time, "because you're planes, trains and automobiles recruiting from Sunday night until Friday afternoon and hustling back and practicing, getting a practice in Friday afternoon, practice Saturday, practice Sunday, get back on a plane and fly around the country chasing down recruits."
There are coaches who genuinely enjoy the recruiting grind, but it’s hard to fault those who look at the entire process as a necessary evil. The entire idea of grown men flying around the country building the egos of a bunch of teenagers in hopes of convincing them to play football at their school is an inherently strange social dynamic.
"Maybe a misconception is when you're a college coach and the last game is done and then the bowl game comes, you don't have a month off," he said. "I would argue my schedule [at Oregon] was more hectic from a recruiting standpoint than it was here [in Philadelphia]. So I'm looking forward to being in the office every day and watching tape. That is the fun part of our job."
The implication in what he said, of course, is that the recruiting part of the job wasn't something he would refer to as fun.
Still, the importance of bringing in highly regarded recruits can't be denied, and while Kelly has never been viewed as a top-tier recruiter, the Ducks were consistently among the top three or four recruiting teams in the conference when he was there. There are several things that make Oregon a desirable location for incoming recruits -- the uniforms and facilities are well-documented -- but perhaps more than anything, while Kelly was there, was the opportunity to play for him, in a program that had established itself as one of the best in the country. Kelly was also extremely adept at finding and developing under-the-radar recruits.
For all Oregon has going for it, there is one major drawback that no amount of money can solve: a considerable lack of in-state talent. Kelly and his staff regularly convinced some of the best players in Southern California to leave home, which contributed significantly to their success.
At UCLA, the rides in planes, trains and automobiles won't take as much time. There is enough talent within a 100-mile radius of Westwood to build a team capable of competing for a national title. Of the 20 players who have either committed or already signed with the Bruins, 12 are from Southern California.
The class currently ranks No. 25 nationally, which is worse than where the Bruins ranked in four of the past five seasons, but Kelly wasn't brought in for his recruiting acumen.
What athletic director Dan Guerrero is banking on is Kelly's ability to develop players once they're on campus and to outscheme opposing coaches. The fun part. And if the type of success he had at Oregon is replicated at UCLA, the program, which opened a beautiful new football facility this season, has a chance to develop into a true recruiting power.
Does that mean bringing in classes more highly rated than USC? History says that will be tough to do, but when UCLA is winning it certainly makes it tougher for the rest of the Pac-12 and for other schools nationally to pry good players from Southern California.
During Kelly's time as an analyst at ESPN this past season, he didn't concern himself with the recruiting landscape. So when he was hired at UCLA, he relied heavily on the Bruins' assistant coaches he retained to help bring him up to speed on the players who had already committed to UCLA and others who could be potential fits. Kelly remained home for the first week after being hired to evaluate the players they had and the players they had been going after.
"The film part I think has changed in the last five years. Access to everybody's film is one click away so you can really watch guys," he said. "Here's our list of guys. All right, let's put them on. You do an athletic evaluation, you do an academic evaluation, you do a character evaluation. 'OK, are they the type of guy we want here?' "