LOS ANGELES — Entering his sixth year at UCLA, Odua Isibor senses something different this year around spring football practice: It feels like business.
“Like we’re here to get something done, to get a job done,” Isibor said. “Not like it wasn’t like that before. But it really felt like a business and I appreciated that.”
The defensive lineman attributes that to the “NFL presence” that has recently permeated through the coaching staff. Head coach Chip Kelly has been a coach at the NFL level. But last year, only one other coach on staff had NFL coaching experience in defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro, who resigned earlier this year.
This season, three of Kelly’s position coaches have been coached professionally.
Azzinaro’s replacement, Bill McGovern, coached linebackers for three NFL teams between 2013 and 2021. Offensive line coach Tim Drevno, who was promoted from an analyst role last year after Justin Frye left for Ohio State, coached the offensive line for the San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2013. And Ken Norton Jr., the new linebackers coach, was the defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks as part of an NFL coaching career that lasted more than a decade.
Each of the three contributes something from his NFL expertise to the college level, which for Kelly is an advantage. He pointed to Norton and Drevno bringing over schematic ideas from their NFL stops, and Drevno for techniques that he’s now teaching the linemen.
“When you have guys like Drev, Ken Norton Jr., Bill McGovern that have spent time in the National Football League, I think that’s a huge bonus,” Kelly said. “It’s not often you have that many. We’re real fortunate that we do.”
Kelly added that the coaches are planning to implement “some of the new things that are going on in [the NFL] that are trickling down to college football.”
McGovern said: “We’ve got a number of years of coaching experience up in our coaching staff, and we’re trying to take advantage of that on defense, in terms of drawing from all of us and finding out some of the best ideas and putting it together.”
One addition that the coaching staff put in place this spring was holding walk-throughs every day, running players through the reasoning behind the schemes and playbook. It has helped defensive players get to learn McGovern’s style and system.
For Isibor, the walk-throughs have refreshed his memory of what he learned the day before.
“I feel like these coaches this spring are really trying their absolute best to make sure we understand the material,” Isibor said. “It feels like a curriculum. It feels like I’m in class. We have a set pace, a set schedule and they’re really trying to drill the curriculum into our heads so we can be the best players we can be, and not have to worry about thinking during the play – even though it’s a whole new defense.”
Safety Kenny Chuchwell, entering his fifth season at UCLA, has “seen a lot” on the football field – but he’s only 22 years old.
“They have experience,” Churchwell said of the coaching staff. “So they might see something that I didn’t see yet, and they’re talking about it and now I’m just like, ‘Oh, OK. Now I understand. I see why you see that.’”
Three-star recruit signs on for 2023
Wide receiver Grant Gray, rated a three-star recruit by 247Sports and Rivals, committed to UCLA this week. In a tweet, the Norco native said he was “staying home.” Gray is UCLA’s first commitment for 2023.
Gray, a two-sport athlete at Norco High who also plans to play for the UCLA baseball team, chose the Bruins over several other schools that included Arizona, Colorado and Boise State.