College Football
Chip Kelly explains to Joel Klatt why CFB has 'never been in a better place'
College Football

Chip Kelly explains to Joel Klatt why CFB has 'never been in a better place'

Updated Jul. 17, 2023 11:05 a.m. ET

Editor’s Note: This summer, FOX Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt is interviewing the biggest names in college football as part of his new podcast series, "The Joel Klatt Show: Big Noon Conversations." The following is an excerpt from Episode 5, featuring Chip Kelly. You can listen to episodes with Deion Sanders here, with Nick Saban here, with Greg Sankey here and with Ryan Day here.

Change has been a constant in college football, especially over the past decade, but Chip Kelly is adamant the sport is as good as it's ever been. 

The UCLA football coach spoke about the state of the sport with FOX Sports’ Joel Klatt in a recent episode of "The Joel Klatt Show: Big Noon Conversations." When Klatt mentioned that college football is in a great place right now, Kelly agreed, following up with some perspective he shares with his players any time they have complaints during practice.

"There’s no crying on the yacht," Kelly said. "We’re on a yacht. Like, we could be a lot worse.


"We practice every single day and there’s the Mattel Children’s Hospital," Kelly added as he pointed to the hospital, which stands right outside the team's practice facilities. "If there’s a player that ever says things aren't going well, just take a peek across. 

"You want to talk about realistic and what we’re talking about and what we get to experience on a daily basis … then what some families are going through right now in terms of what’s going on in a life experience."

Of the many rapid changes that have taken place throughout the college football landscape as of late, perhaps none have been bigger than the introduction of name, image and likeness (NIL) and the transfer portal.

While many coaches have raised concerns and taken issue both this offseason, Kelly sang a different tune. 

"I’m all for it," Kelly said when asked about players’ freedom. "I think we let 18-year-old kids make decisions in so many other aspects of their lives, but for some reason, in college football, we say they can’t."

UCLA's Chip Kelly talks about the impact of NIL in college football

Joel Klatt sits down with UCLA coach Chip Kelly, as they talked about NIL and the impact it has on the college football landscape.

Kelly brought up several real-world examples in which teenagers are able to earn money and choose what they want to do with their careers without major repercussions. He pointed out how Klatt was selected in the MLB Draft out of high school by the San Diego Padres, and then went on to play minor league ball and earn money for a couple of years as a teenager, saying, "No one has an issue with that."

The coach also used a non-sports example. 

"I’m watching 18-year-old kids on the deck of the SS Eisenhower in 137-degree weather landing planes, million-dollar equipment that we’ve entrusted to an 18-year-old," Kelly said. "But we don’t think an 18-year-old should get NIL money because he has to pay taxes? People argue that."

Not only did Kelly bring up current examples of college-aged kids entering the real world and earning an income, but he also touched on how transfers have been an ongoing issue in college football, reciting a story from 1896 involving Fielding H. Yost, the former Michigan coach that played football at a pair of schools.

"The transfer portal started a long, long time ago. It’s at the forefront now," Kelly said. "Fielding Hurry Up Yost in 1896 played a game at West Virginia against Lafayette. He stayed and then played for Lafayette and beat Penn and then transferred back to West Virginia. He went on to be one of the greatest college football coaches and one of the all-time greatest ADs that started the NCAA. But they had transfer portal issues in 1896.

"So, what’s going on now, is it something that has to be cleaned up? Yeah. But if we keep talking and focusing on the student-athletes, that’s the thing that always impresses me. We’ve got some impressive student-athletes in this game."

UCLA's Chip Kelly on 'good problems' within college football

Chip Kelly discussed how coaching has evolved over the years, and how it's now at a point where every level of competition can learn from one another.

As Kelly has learned throughout his coaching career, which dates back to 1990 when he was an assistant for Columbia’s freshman football team, and then having notable stops at Oregon and in the NFL before landing at UCLA, college kids still have a lot of learning to do. 

Kelly believes it falls on the coaches to teach and educate student-athletes, especially as they have more power than ever.

"What we have to teach these kids though is that with freedom and freedom of choice has to come discipline," Kelly said. "You have to be a disciplined individual when you have a lot of freedom on your side."

While Kelly didn’t disagree with Klatt that athletes should face more recourse if they transfer away from a program they’ve mutually invested in, he did stress the importance of coaches constantly working with the players, even if they want to leave for another school.

"If there’s not [any recourse], then don’t complain about it," Kelly said. "These are the rules that we have at this point in time. If they do it, our job – whether a kid is here for one day or is here for four years – is to make it a great experience for them. If a kid says, ‘Well, I want to go and transfer.’ Well, where do you want to go? How can I help you and assist you in that?

"When it’s all said and done, are we helping young people achieve their goals? If they believe it’s somewhere else, then it’s somewhere else. That’s OK."

Kelly does have concerns within college athletics – just in other areas. He’d like to see the NCAA take action on player pay, saying it "has to figure out what we are." As Kelly explained that he’d like to see players get paid, he cautioned them about what could happen next as a result. 

"If you do get involved in some type of collectively bargained agreement about monetary figures, I’m all for it, but there hasn’t been a collectively bargained league in any [North American] sport that doesn’t have a draft," Kelly said. "So, you no longer get to choose where you go to college. … There [would be] some kids that would say, ‘I got drafted where?’ But that’s the deal."

Kelly said that’s "the biggest hurdle" that faces the future of the college game: If the athletes were to get paid by schools directly, how would that look? And would they then turn into at-will employees as a result?

"If a kid misses a kick on a Saturday, can he be cut on a Sunday?" Kelly asked.

Kelly admitted that the "air is leaving the room" for amateurism in college sports, and with it, Kelly fears that his job is changing a bit. 

"The sad part with the amateurism aspect that is leaving the game is that the other thing that’s happening is a lot of us coaches looked at what we do as transformational, and now it’s going to turn into transactional," Kelly said. "Is that what we want? I know Nick [Saban] has said that a lot: 'Is that what we want college football to be?’ Do we want it to be a transformational experience or do we want it to be a transactional experience? Or is there someone smart enough [to help] make it both?"

Kelly, who is set to enter his sixth season as UCLA's head coach, still loves coaching and the opportunity to work with student-athletes, even if there are changes he’s grown a bit worried about over the years. 

"What I love the most is the day-to-day," Kelly said. "Like, the camaraderie to be in a staff meeting when I used to think staff meetings were treachery."

Of course, he’ll always appreciate the players themselves.

"If you get an opportunity to meet with Zach Charbonnet, that’s what’s right with college football," Kelly said. "If you get a chance to meet Bryce Young or Will Anderson or whoever those guys are, when you hear their stories and listen to what they’ve overcome and what they’ve done to get to where they are, that’s what it’s all about."


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