UCLA has hired program legend and longtime assistant DeShaun Foster as its new coach just three days after the sudden departure of Chip Kelly. Foster, who played running back for the Bruins and later worked as an assistant under both Jim L. Mora and Kelly, was hired as the running backs coach for the Las Vegas Raiders 10 days ago. Now, he returns to his alma mater to replace Kelly, who left the Bruins on Friday to become the offensive coordinator at Ohio State in a stunning and unprecedented move.
“While undergoing a comprehensive search for our new head coach, DeShaun resonated from the start and throughout the whole process,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said in a statement. “We are looking for a coach with integrity, energy and passion; someone who is a great teacher, who develops young men, is a great recruiter and fully embraces the NIL landscape to help our student-athletes. DeShaun checks all of those boxes and then some. He is a leader of men and a true Bruin. I am excited to partner with him as we usher UCLA Football into an exciting new era.”
Foster was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022 following a brilliant career with Bruins from 1998-2001 in which he finished with 44 touchdowns and 3,129 yards rushing, both of which rank top-three in program history. He spent seven years in the NFL and began his coaching career in 2013 as a student assistant at UCLA under Mora. He was a graduate assistant with the Bruins from 2014-15 and returned to the staff in 2017 as running backs coach, a title he held through the 2023 season. He also has a brief stint at Texas Tech (2016) on his résumé.
“This is a dream come true,” Foster said. “I always envisioned being a Bruin ever since I was young, and now being the head coach at my alma mater is such a surreal feeling, and I’m grateful for this opportunity. The foundation of this program will be built on discipline, respect and enthusiasm. These are phenomenal young men, and I’m excited to hit the ground running.”
Proven track record as assistant
There may be concerns about Foster’s lack of experience, especially since he’s never held as much as a coordinator spot on a coaching staff, but there’s no doubt he was one of the top assistant coaches in the nation during his time at UCLA.
The Bruins fielded a 1,000-yard rusher four times in Foster’s seven seasons as the team’s position coach; the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign served as one of the years in which they failed to have a player reach that mark. Foster also tutored a pair of NFL Draft picks in Joshua Kelley (Round 4, 2020) and Zach Charbonnet (Round 2, 2023). Charbonnet, who transferred to UCLA from Michigan in 2021, rushed for 2,496 yards and 27 touchdowns in his two seasons as a Bruin after posting just over 800 yards total in two years prior.
Foster was a finalist for the 2022 Broyles Award, given annually to the top assistant in college football, for his work with Charbonnet. The Bruins also led the Pac-12, and ranked sixth nationally, in rushing with a whopping 238.2 yards per game that season.
Bruins betting on upside
Kelly put UCLA behind the 8-ball with his departure. By leaving so late in the coaching cycle, the Bruins missed the bus on a lot of the big names that could have been willing to make a move. Compounding the problem is the state in which Kelly left the program. Things stagnated under the renowned offensive innovator. It got to the point where, back in November, UCLA’s administration considered moving on from Kelly and absorbing his $8.5 million buyout. Obviously, the program reversed course on that potential decision, but it didn’t matter — Kelly still set sail for seas anew.
Given the uncertainty around the program and its struggles under Kelly, 10 players entered the transfer portal. That further hurt a roster that already ranks in the bottom third nationally in terms of returning production for the 2024 season. UCLA also signed a 2024 high school class that ranks No. 88 in the 247Sports Team Composite, a new low point even for Kelly’s consistently lackluster recruiting efforts.
So where does Foster fit into all this?
Recruiting should certainly see an uptick. Foster holds a reputation as one of the most personable and well-respected coaches in the industry. He was clearly well-like by the players during his time with the Bruins, so he should be able to keep what’s left of the roster intact.
He’s also a jolt of energy for UCLA. There’s certainly a benefit to being a 44-year-old rookie head coach. He’ll bring fresh new ideas and innovation to a program that so desperately needs it, especially as a move to the über-competitive Big Ten looms on the horizon. Foster might not be the flashiest hire, but he stands out given UCLA’s circumstances.