LOS ANGELES — UCLA coach Chip Kelly had six coaches, including four on defense, move on from the program and pursue other opportunities. The vacancies have allowed Kelly to overhaul the defensive staff with a vision in mind.
The hiring of defensive coordinator Bill McGovern and inside linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. have helped add a fresh perspective for the defensive players this season.
“Just through some research, we wanted to get an NFL style,” Kelly said about the coaching changes. “Bringing both (McGovern) and (Norton), I think we’ve done a really good job.”
Norton, a notable UCLA alumnus, replaced Don Pellum, who retired after his contract was up.
Norton played for UCLA and in the NFL before working as a defensive coordinator with the then-Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks.
McGovern recently coached the Chicago Bears’ inside linebackers before joining the Bruins. He was brought in, following Jerry Azzinaro’s resignation this offseason.
Kelly, who signed an extension this offseason, had not commented publicly on Azzinaro’s departure until Tuesday.
“I think he tried to catch on the in National Football League,” Kelly said. “He was looking for other opportunities.”
Defensive back Mo Osling III is the most experienced player on the roster, entering his sixth year with the team, and has seen coaching turnover in the past when Kelly was brought in to replace Jim Mora in 2017.
“He’s brought the (NFL style) here,” Osling said about McGovern’s coaching style. “He’s doing a lot of stuff from the league and he is very professional with the way he carries himself.”
McGovern has received high praise from the defensive players, characterizing him as personable.
Defensive back Azizi Hearn, a transfer from Wyoming, has also settled in with what is expected of him from McGovern and the staff.
“I’m extremely comfortable,” Hearn said. “We did a lot of player-ran meetings over the summer and spent some time with the coaches and in my playbook.”
He joined Wyoming as a walk-on in 2017 and spent four years with the program before returning to his home state to become a Bruin through the transfer portal.
Hearn is expected to see significant playing time alongside Osling and Stephan Blaylock in the secondary, directed by assistant head coach Brian Norwood.
“We need to do a better job at pass defense,” Kelly said. “So some of the coverage principles that (McGovern) and (Norton) have and the pass rush schemes are what we’ve been looking for.”
The Bruins’ pass defense ranked 107th in 2021, giving up 260.2 yards per game against opposing offenses.
Norwood was the only defensive coach returning from last season.
“I love coach Norwood,” Hearn said. He’s an extremely intelligent coach. … He coaches the whole secondary and knows every position so I’m learning what everyone is doing.”
Blaylock and fffensive lineman Jon Gaines II were the Bruins’ representatives for Pac-12 Media Day on July 29.
Gaines missed the first day of camp to be with his father, who had a kidney transplant, in Wisconsin.
“My mom called me and said dad was on his way to the hospital because dad had a possible donor,” Gaines said. “Shoutout to coach Kelly and the whole UCLA staff, they sent me home right away so I came back a little bit later after camp started.”
Gaines explained that his father had low energy when he was there to visit him after the transplant but stated that he continued to get better each day and began telling jokes.
Gaines stated how grateful he has been in the past for UCLA’s help in getting his father out to some of his games at the Rose Bowl and is excited to have his father back in Pasadena for his senior season.
The Bruin credits his teammate, offensive lineman Sam Marrazzo, for getting the story out there and for their support when he returned to join them for camp.
“I remember years ago when Jon pulled a couple of us into a room and told us that his dad had kidney cancer,” Marrazzo said. “So just seeing that and his dad going on dialysis and everything and then a couple of weeks ago, Jon texted us, … you can’t help but be extremely happy for him.”
“It was crazy,” Gaines said. “I was welcomed back with open arms and just the amount of people that really cared showed how tight-knit this group is.”