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5 UCLA Bruins head coach candidates to replace Chip Kelly

Vincent Frank
NCAA Football: Oregon State at UCLA
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It appears that Chip Kelly is leaving the UCLA Bruins after four seasons in Southern California. Multiple media reports indicate that the Oregon Ducks intend to rehire Kelly after he departed the program nearly a decade ago.

This is yet another surprising move within the confines of a college football world that has seen big-name coaches trade programs on a never-ending loop.

It also leaves UCLA out in the cold after the program posted its best regular-season mark (8-4) since all the way back in 2014. Below, we look at five ideal candidates to replace Kelly with the Bruins.

Related: Highest-paid head coaches in college football

UCLA hires Dave Aranda away from the Baylor Bears

ucla hires dave aranda
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Following the Kelly reports, some indicate that UCLA has interest in Aranda as its new head coach. He’s expected to interview for the job. For good reason.

Here’s a dude who has been a head coach in waiting for some time now. He’s servied as the defensive coordinator with Wisconsin and LSU before behind hired by the Bears back in 2020. This season, he led Baylor to a victory in the Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma State. Adding to the intrigue here is the possibility that Aranda could bring respected Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes with him to Westwood.

UCLA takes a chance on Bill O’Brien

ucla hires bill o'brien
Gary Cosby Jr. via Imagn Content Services, LLC

O’Brien took over as the Alabama Crimson Tide offensive coordinator under Nick Saban this season. All he’s done is oversee the maturation process of Heisman favorite Bryce Young while leading Alabama to an average of 42.5 points per game.

Sure we’re talking about someone who bombed out with the NFL’s Houston Texans. But that was more about ego and wanting player personnel control. He’s a tremendous offensive mind and recruiter, two things the Bruins need in a new head coach. O’Brien’s success with Penn State after the entire Jerry Sandusky scandal magnified this.

UCLA steals Graham Harrell from USC Trojans

Harrell is now out of a job with the Trojans following the shocking hiring of Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley as their next head coach. It has nothing to do with Harrell’s performance as USC’s offensive coordinator and play-caller. In fact, the former college star quarterback received significant interest last coaching cycle from the likes of Boise State and others

Harrell, 36, would bring a much-needed youthful exuberance for a fledgling UCLA football program. He’s a brand name in Southern California and runs an offense that fits in tightly with the modern college football game. It almost makes too much sense.

Josh Heupel heads to UCLA

ucla bruins hire josh heupel
Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

It remains to be seen if the Bruins would be considered an upgrade over Tennessee for Heupel. What we do know is that the Name Image and Likeness (NIL) aspect of today’s college football world has to be taken into account. Simply put, Southern California is a much larger market than Rocky Top.

As for Heupel’s candidacy, the former star quarterback is seen as one of the best young coaches in the nation. He led Tennessee to a surprising 7-5 regular-season record in his first year as the Volunteers’ head coach. This came after a brilliant three-year stint with Central Florida that saw him post a 28-8 record.

UCLA goes big-game hunting with Luke Fickell

ucla hires luke fickell
Kareem Elgazzar, The Cincinnati Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

There was some thought given to the idea that Fickell would end up in Notre Dame as Brian Kelly’s replacement. That did not come to fruition. But with his Cincinnati Bearcats heading to the College Football Playoffs, his name will continue to come up.

Fickell is already considered one of the best coaches in college football. He’s 48-14 as Cincinnati’s head coach and has experience leading a big-time program in that of the Ohio State Buckeyes back in 2011. This would be an absolute coup for UCLA.