Chip Kelly to Ohio State: Top candidates to coach UCLA next

UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond spent nine years at Ohio State and could look at a coach like Buckeyes co-offensive coordinator Brian Hartline to replace Chip Kelly. Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Some coaching candidates lists are easy to compile, like Alabama's. Despite the shock of Nick Saban's retirement, the top names who could replace him were fairly obvious.

Then, there's a situation like UCLA's. The school is replacing Chip Kelly, who is expected to become offensive coordinator at Ohio State. Kelly had been rumored as an NFL coordinator candidate for several weeks, and clearly wanted out. The feeling was mutual for some in UCLA circles. Still, the timing of Kelly's exit is extremely challenging.

UCLA simply doesn't have many obvious options, especially right now, at the tail end of an active coaching cycle. Jedd Fisch, a Bruins assistant in 2017, took the Washington job. Jonathan Smith, a Southern California native, left Oregon State for Michigan State in late November. Brent Brennan, a former UCLA wide receiver who has coached up and down the West Coast, replaced Fisch at Arizona. Although a lot of coaches have ties to Los Angeles, there aren't many currently in the region, either top assistants at other power conference schools or Group of 5 coaches, who would be obvious fits.

Athletic director Martin Jarmond could go with a temporary/interim/tryout situation for the 2024 season, UCLA's first in the Big Ten. There are a few options within the program who might be able to keep the roster as united as possible.

The Bruins also find themselves at an important juncture as they prepare for their conference switch. Kelly went 25-13 in his final three seasons, but recorded only one AP Top 25 finish and never won more than nine games, finishing 35-34 overall. UCLA has had some wins in the transfer portal but lagged in high school recruiting, signing a class ESPN ranked as No. 74 nationally, between Memphis and Charlotte. The school has had a slow start in the NIL game. Kelly's departure for an offensive coordinator job -- in UCLA's new league, no less -- doesn't cast the program in a great light.

The Kelly hire, widely celebrated when he picked UCLA over Florida, didn't hit big, continuing a long-term pattern of underachievement in Westwood. UCLA has not won a league title since 1998 and has just one AP top 10 finish since then.

UCLA still has a lot to offer, namely a beautiful location and access to the Southern California recruiting scene. The Big Ten move will bring initial challenges but also more financial stability -- a significant issue in recent years. Although there are obstacles, including playing home games off campus at the Rose Bowl and a fan base prone to apathy, UCLA remains appealing to many coaches.

Jarmond has challenging work ahead. Here's a look at who UCLA could consider to replace Kelly.