UCLA Football Recruiting: National Signing Day 2019 Post-Mortem

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 26: Chip Kelly head coach UCLA Bruins during a fourth quarter time out against Utah Utes at the Rose Bowl on October 26, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 26: Chip Kelly head coach UCLA Bruins during a fourth quarter time out against Utah Utes at the Rose Bowl on October 26, 2018 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Why did UCLA recruit this way?

Like we said before, a lot of these aforementioned and to-be-mentioned pieces can be justified in isolation — show kids what their lives will be like in college, don’t stroke the egos of teenagers and turn them into primadonnas, etc. — but when all combined into one package, become the equivalent of reinventing the wheel.

Above all else though, there seems to be a pretty clear thread in Chip Kelly’s history as a head coach connecting all of this: in Chip’s program, his program is the star and players are replaceable and interchangeable parts. It was that way in Oregon, it was that way in Philadelphia (as Michael Vick made abundantly clear last week), and it will be that way at UCLA as long as Chip Kelly is running the show.

Making the player development system itself the centerpiece of the program actually makes a ton of sense on many levels. Even a halfway decent college coach outlasts the kids he recruits early on in his tenure; a great college coach is often employed for more than a decade, while a recruit will only be on campus for a maximum of five years. So, there should be a conveyor belt of sorts for player production.

It also explains a lot of the recruiting philosophy evinced in this cycle. UCLA’s process to filter out players for offers was more rigorous than any other in the country, with extensive done work to take every possible physical measurement and extreme character and academic vetting.

Why would a staff go through all that effort and do the hardest part of recruiting in the evaluation process, only to drop the ball at the simplest part, which is the communication with a recruit? Why watch hours of film and spend hours with teachers, guidance counselors, principals, ministers, etc. to make sure a single player was worthy of an offer… only to barely talk to the kid and not fully pursue him once the offer went out?

It seems illogical (and is so, in my nacho-eating opinion, but I digress), but Chip Kelly does nothing by accident. There is always a method to the madness. And when you put yourself in Chip’s shoes, here’s what he sees:

High school players are raw pieces of clay there to be molded. If one is slightly more polished in high school, who cares?

The belief is that:

  1. The strength and conditioning program at UCLA is going to optimize a player physically because the extensive character evaluation done on him shows he’s a grinder who’s going to go all out to get the most out of the cutting-edge S&C system in place;
  2. The way the program practices with the number of reps received in each practice is going to sharpen that raw physical talent into football skill;
  3. And finally, the schemes in place are so advanced that said player is going to succeed once he’s been shaped by the behind-the-scenes factory of football player development.

When you have such devotional faith in the structures you’ve put in place to make the most out of any football player, the player acquisition process almost seems to become perfunctory. A belief begins to take root that they can take any player who runs X fast and jumps Y high and turn him into a functional piece of the puzzle.

And when you feel like you can take anyone meeting a certain minimal standard and make your system work, who needs to put in extreme amounts of effort on winning competitive recruiting battles? Especially when the process of recruiting teenagers with tons of public spotlight on them couldn’t possibly be more tedious or annoying for most adults?

Instead, there’s a tendency to cut corners and just say any recruit requiring effort isn’t worth the effort, so onto the next recruit until someone is personally motivated to say yes without much staff prompting. UCLA only went all-in on a handful of recruits it deemed elite, like Bru McCoy, so it was clear that the staff sees a small tier of kids as exceptional and a cut above the rest, and the other 99% as functionally interchangeable.