UCLA has cast a wide net in its hopes of reeling in the big one for its next football coach.
Athletics officials have corresponded with more than a dozen potential candidates for the vacancy created by the departure of Chip Kelly to become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, according to one person familiar with the search process who was not authorized to discuss the details publicly.
Among those UCLA is believed to have had contact with who remain possible candidates are Nebraska defensive coordinator Tony White, Las Vegas Raiders running backs coach DeShaun Foster and Stanford coach Troy Taylor.
The search committee also is expected to have possible interest in Cleveland Browns tight ends coach and pass game specialist Tommy Rees and Baltimore Ravens special teams coordinator Chris Horton.
Among those whom UCLA athletics officials are believed to have corresponded with who are no longer in the running are Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck and Arizona’s Brent Brennan.
Brennan is expected to remain at Arizona and Fleck appeared to affirm his commitment to his current school Saturday with a post on the social media platform X, saying that he was honored to be the coach at Minnesota and was “Ready for an ELITE 2024 season!!”
Significant movement toward a hire could come as soon as Monday. UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said Friday afternoon he was hoping to name a new coach within 96 hours, which would be Tuesday.
The Bruins have incentive to name a coach as quickly as possible to help keep their roster intact because players have only 30 days upon a coaching change to enter their names in the transfer portal.
White, Foster, Rees and Horton all have strong ties to UCLA, which could significantly enhance their candidacy. White played for the Bruins’ last team to appear in a Rose Bowl game, on Jan. 1, 1999, before serving as a graduate assistant for one season under coach Karl Dorrell.
Foster also played in that Rose Bowl as a star running back and spent the last seven seasons as the Bruins’ running backs coach before recently taking the same post with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Horton was an All-Pac-12 safety for the Bruins who was a quality control assistant under coach Jim Mora for two seasons. Rees’ mother, Susan, graduated from UCLA. His father, Bill, was an assistant coach under Terry Donahue for 15 years, and his brother, Danny, was a punter and holder for the Bruins whose old college jersey hangs in the basement of his parents’ suburban Chicago home.
During his time at UCLA, Foster helped develop a slew of running backs who went on to play in the NFL, and he would be a popular choice among current players who have publicly backed him as a candidate on social media. Other players have called for new UCLA defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe to replace Kelly.
White has starred in recent stops at Syracuse and Nebraska, where he was nominated in each of the last two years for the Broyles Award that honors the top assistant coach in college football. Last season, Nebraska’s defense ranked in the top 20 nationally in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense.
Rees was offensive coordinator at Notre Dame for three seasons, helping the Fighting Irish reach the College Football Playoff during the 2020 season, before spending last season as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and taking part in another CFP appearance.
Taylor compiled a 30-8 record in three seasons at Sacramento State before going 3-9 last season at Stanford as part of a massive rebuilding project.
The next coach will face a monumental challenge given the Bruins’ significant personnel losses on defense and recruiting struggles. UCLA’s most recent recruiting class — including transfers — is ranked No. 59 nationally by 247Sports.com, giving the Bruins their worst rating since the rise of recruiting services before the turn of the century.
UCLA also faces a brutal 2024 schedule that includes games against Louisiana State, Penn State, Oregon, Washington and USC.