Swanson: Pac-12 football coaches’ message? Adapt, adjust and evolve

LOS ANGELES – Football coaches are gonna football coach.

There wasn’t going to be any public hand-wringing about the state of their conference from the 12 men who were following commissioner George Kliavkoff, one after another, at Pac-12 media day on Friday.

“I’ve always said,” Chip Kelly noted, “the best part of football is actually football.”

And kickoff is coming. But on Friday, the UCLA coach and his Pac-12 colleagues fielded plenty of questions about realignment because the Bruins have announced plans to join USC in a move to the Big Ten in 2024, a departure that threatens to destabilize the 107-year-old conference.

Kliavkoff – whose job it is to worry about the big-picture, off-the-field stuff – insisted he remained confident in the Pac-12 even as he offered dire warnings about the existential threat that super conferences pose to college athletics.

“Our long-term measure for the success of college athletics cannot be how much money we consolidate into 10 or five or two conferences, but rather should be our ability to support the largest number of student-athletes while still facilitating competition between schools and conferences,” Kliavkoff told reporters gathered for Pac-12 media day Friday at the Novo Theater.

“We should be measuring how many lives we can change.”

Although Kelly ran the ol’ control-what-you-can-control play when he was initially asked about the situation, of all the coaches who sat at the dais Friday, his comments were the most heartfelt.

Because, yes, the Pac-12 has changed his life. After he was hired as the offensive coordinator at Oregon in 2007, he took the reins as head coach and led the Ducks to four consecutive BCS games. That opened the door for NFL opportunities before he returned to the Pac-12, where he’s coached UCLA since 2018.

“I owe my life to the Pac-12,” Kelly said Friday. “I appreciate what this league has done. But I was in this league and it started as the Pac-10. Early in my career, we added Colorado and Utah. We were all excited about adding people…

“It is what it is. I didn’t have a vote, I didn’t have a say,” he added. “I’m going to coach my guys. Hang out with the players I have now. We love ’em. Close to them. Hope we have a good experience in this whole thing. The focus for us is the 2022 season.”

But he has looked ahead, done some coach’s math on future away games and, perhaps, thought about how he’ll persuade players they’re up to the challenge of competing regularly four times zones from home.

He mentioned a sports science study initiated while he was in the NFL about the toll coast-to-coast travel takes on athletes: no big deal, at least according to Kelly.

“You’re only there for probably 18 hours total,” he said. “You fly in the night before, go to sleep, get up in the morning, touch your toes, play a game, get on a plane and go back.”

Kelly’s calculations: “You only play four away games in the year. In the course of 12, that’s 25% of your games. Where are they? One of the away games could be USC. I know we’re not getting on a plane to go to ‘SC. So that’s going to be a short bus ride. So I hope that doesn’t take too much out of our guys.

“You can go to Lincoln, Nebraska, it’s 1,149 miles from our campus. (He’s close, it’s more like 1,276 miles if you’re throwing the football on a line.)

“Seattle is 1,135 miles from our campus.” (By car, that’s true).

And then, for a moment, Kelly’s presser turned into a parlor game: “And how far,” the Associated Press’ Joe Reedy asked, “is your campus from Piscataway, New Jersey?”

“It’s 2,765 miles,” smiled Kelly, almost on the nose about the distance separating UCLA and Rutgers’ SHI Stadium.

Just as Kelly expects his Bruins players to adapt, his Pac-12 coaching colleagues expect the same from the young men on their teams, whether they’re staying or going or how far they’re flying.

They’ll just have to put it in all-wheel drive and keep going. Adjustments are life. Adjustments are football.

Washington’s Kalen DeBoer: “Expect the unexpected.”

Oregon’s Dan Lanning: “It’s fun to adapt and be on your toes.”

Arizona State’s Herm Edwards went deeper, even.

“Change is about growth sometimes and opportunity,” said Edwards, who was the 12th Black coach of a BCS team when he was hired in 2017 and who previously became just the fifth Black NFL head coach when the New York Jets hired him in 2001.

“According to what and how you believe it and how you sit, it affects people different. I look at myself. Without change, I’m not sitting here. I don’t sit in this seat. So I don’t look at it like, ‘Well, this is going to mess up college football.’

“It’s going to change college football, no doubt about that. The funny part is this: Everyone is trying to figure out what is it going to look like. We don’t know.”

Whatever that picture, as Colorado coach Karl Dorrell, the former UCLA player and coach, put it: “We’ll evolve and adapt and move forward.”