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Chip Kelly's UCLA recruiting philosophy remains a mystery

Chip Kelly (right)
USA TODAY Sports Images

CLASS OF 2019 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | State | Position | Team

GLENDORA, Calif. – The search for prospects able to describe Chip Kelly’s recruiting philosophy is hunting wild game in a desert at night. Even here, in the new UCLA head coach’s backyard, information is scarce.

Top prospects that hold UCLA scholarship offers are difficult to track down, players that have so much spoken to Kelly are even rarer. And finding a prospect that has met the elusive Kelly in person? That’s reason for a small celebration.

Many of the top players at Sunday’s Los Angeles stop of the Rivals Camp Series presented by adidas were quick to discuss Kelly, most singing his praises. They mentioned his famous, high-powered offense, noted his success at Oregon and even expressed interest in playing for the newest name on the L.A. football marquee. Personal anecdotes, however, were in short supply.

More than three months into his tenure as the Bruins’ coach, Chip Kelly the recruiter remains a total enigma.

“I actually haven’t met him,” said quarterback Bryce Young, one of the top California-based prospects in the class of 2020. “He talked to my old coach before I transferred a little bit. They say they’re a little slow. From what I’ve heard, they haven’t gotten to 2020 yet.”

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Young’s experience is common. The list of people at Sunday’s Los Angeles-based event claiming to have never spoken to the Bruins’ new coach included Young, Rivals100 linebacker De'Gabriel Floyd, four-star running back Sean Dollars, four-star defensive end Stephon Wright and quarterback Cameron Williams. UCLA alumnus Darick Holmes, father of current Bruins standout Darney Holmes and coach of elite LA area 7-on-7 program Pro Way, is also a member of said list.

Catch is; the near-radio silence is probably by design.

“These days, everybody offers everybody,” said Edward Lewis, who covers Kelly and the Bruins at BruinSportsReport.com. “You talk to kids out here and it’s ‘I have an offer. I have an offer. I have an offer.’ Now, it’s exclusive. Now it’s ‘I haven’t heard from Chip, and if I hear from Chip it means something.' That’s the approach he’s taking. It’s almost like a science experiment. It’s going to be interesting to watch.”

The slow pace and low profile were staples of the Kelly regime at Oregon, where he functioned as the head coach for four seasons, compiling a 46-7 record and three Pac-12 titles. Scholarship offers were rare and almost always committable. Thus, they carried more weight when they arrived. Kelly’s reliance on the most basic laws of supply and demand worked wonders once, sure, but that was before the dawn of a Twitter-driven recruiting trail, littered with slick photo edits, brand-consciousness and a steady stream of heaped praise.

“He’s a little laid back, but at the same time he gives you a little push to let you know he wants you at the school,” Steele said. “He’s a real offensive-minded coach, though. If you’re an offensive player, I’d say that’s the place you need to go. As a DB, though, I can’t really speak too much on him but I liked him a lot.”

UCLA is yet to land its first commit for the 2019 class, which isn’t particularly odd for a Pac-12 program, as only six conference schools have landed their first. It’s the short list of offers or visit activity that sets apart the approach.

And it may well work.

Players may jostle for UCLA offers because they’re desirable – a limited commodity in a world where invites from other schools seem to carry little value. That’s the ideal outcome, anyway. The less-than-ideal inverse, however, is also possible.

It’s not just fans taking the wait-and-see approach when it comes to the new regime in Westwood.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to talk to coach Chip soon and see what happens,” said Dollars, a Rivals100 back with offers from USC, Florida, Florida State and others. “It would be good to hear from him because that offense is just like my playing style and it would be cool to go over my film with him. I think I’ll probably talk to him soon.”

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