Win over Cal highlights UCLA's growth
December 2, 2021
A young Bruin football fan turned to his friend in the elevator and asked, "Which bowl game do you think we are going to get? Can you believe it, we are going bowling!!!"
Watching something grow is a lot like watching paint dry. The process, wrought with frustration, can drive anyone mad. However, there is nothing more rewarding than watching a fledgling develop into something vibrant and dynamic. Growth is a sign of life and vitality. After their first bowl-eligible season under Chip Kelly, the budding signs of development are taking shape for the UCLA football program.
The 36,156 fans at the Rose Bowl last Saturday saw the UCLA Bruins improve to 8-4 on the year after a 42-14 dispatching of the Cal Bears, and with the win, the Bruins have their first winning season under Kelly. But it begs to ask, what is the state of Bruin football, and has the program peaked?
The COVID-laden season of 2020 hijacked the momentum that was building. Instead, this season could be viewed as a harbinger for the program. Kelly had a roster of his recruits and transfer students, had an off-season to integrate all the moving pieces, and finally had winning expectations. The result: UCLA touted huge wins against LSU, and cross-town rival USC, a pair of heartbreaking losses to Oregon and Fresno State and laid two eggs against Utah and Arizona State. Every victory this year came against teams with losing records.
Is this all the program is relegated to? Should Bruin boosters and alumni expect and accept a middling program with an annual appearance in a lower-tiered bowl game?
UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond is faced with the first big decision of his tenure, Kelly's future. Jarmond inherited Kelly, he did not choose him.
Jarmond built a reputation at Boston College as an adept fundraiser specializing in connecting with alumni and boosters. He is demonstrative and engaged on the sidelines, ingratiates himself with students and supporters, and alumni love him. Jarmond is a fresh breath after Dan Guerrero. At UCLA, he is yielding the same results as he did at Boston College. Against Cal, Jarmond brought Jonathan Ogden to serve as an honorary captain.
But Jarmond must take an honest assessment of the coaching landscape and ask if better options are available. With USC sure to hitting a home run with their coaching hire, the Bruins must throttle the gas to continue to grow. If Jarmond believes in Kelly, he will extend him, but for how long, and how much?
Winning and continued success will help bolster the football program's cachet on the national stage. The next logical step for Jarmond, and possibly Kelly, must be Pac-12 championships and trips to the College Football Playoffs.
With the uncertainty of a contract extension, Kelly remained unfazed.
"Yeah, I don't need to discuss my contact with you," Kelly stated when asked by another reporter about his future. "I'm good. I've always been good. I have an agent; he takes care of things and that's the way it works."
Kelly's impact on the development of his players should not be overlooked, but more importantly, he has helped his players grow as men. UCLA linebacker Jordan Genmark-Heath was reflective of his growth after the game. "I came in, I was a little hot-headed, I can't even lie," Genmark-Heath said. "My freshman year going into Notre Dame and just watching being out there afraid of making mistakes. But as you continue to grow throughout college, those are some of the most transformative years of your life. I feel like I'm finally an adult."
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who possibly played his last home game in front of fans, spoke highly of the process of transforming the UCLA program. "I took a lot of lumps, this team took a lot of lumps," Thompson-Robinson stated. "I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Just the moments of adversity I got with my teammates, and all that bringing us together, finally paid off. We're at an eight-win season and keeping it rolling."
Defensive back Quentin Lake beamed from the dais and was equally reflective after a 2-interception performance. "We were down in the dumps the first two years," Lake stated. "Honestly, it was tough because you want to win, you want to be successful. When things aren't going your way, you might lose hope, lose a little bit of faith, but we bought into the program, bought into what coach Kelly had for us. Had a little bit more experience through the years and you see what happens when you got guys that bought in."
Jarmond and Kelly, possibly, have more room to grow. But the question remains if they will continue to grow together?
Follow Eric on Twitter @elambsquared and IG @elamb5quared.