LOS ANGELES — UCLA coach Chip Kelly had six coaches, including four on defense, leaving the program and pursuing other opportunities in the offseason. These vacancies allowed Kelly to reshuffle the defensive staff with a vision in mind.
The hiring of defensive coordinator Bill McGovern and inside linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. has helped add a fresh perspective to defensive players this season.
“Just after some research, we wanted to get NFL style,” Kelly said of the coaching changes. “In bringing (McGovern) and (Norton) together, I think we’ve done a really good job.”
Norton, a notable UCLA alumnus, replaced Don Pellum, who retired after his contract ended.
Norton played for UCLA and in the NFL before working as a defensive coordinator with the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks.
McGovern most recently coached inside linebackers for the Chicago Bears before joining the Bruins. He was recruited after Jerry Azzinaro resigned this offseason.
Kelly, who signed an extension this offseason, did not publicly comment on Azzinaro’s departure until Tuesday.
“I think he tried to get his name in the 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 brought the (NFL style) here,” Osling said of McGovern’s coaching style. “He does a lot of league stuff and he’s very professional with the way he carries himself.”
McGovern received praise from defensive players, calling him 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-led meetings over the summer and spent 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 should see plenty of playing time alongside Osling and Stephan Blaylock in the secondary, which will be overseen by assistant head coach Brian Norwood.
“We need to do a better job on pass defense,” Kelly said. “So some of the hedging principles that (McGovern) and (Norton) have and the pass rush programs are what we were looking for.”
The Bruins’ pass defense ranked 107th in 2021, giving up 260.2 yards per game against opposing attacks.
Norwood was the only defensive coach to return from last season.
“I love Coach Norwood,” Hearn said. He is an extremely intelligent trainer. … He coaches the whole secondary and knows every position, so I learn what everyone does.
Blaylock and offensive lineman Jon Gaines II were the Bruins’ representatives for Pac-12 Media Day on July 29.
Gaines missed the first day of training camp to be with her 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. “Thanks to Coach Kelly and all the staff at UCLA, they sent me home right away, so I came back a little later after camp started.”
Gaines said his dad had little energy when he was there to visit after the transplant, but said he continued to improve every day and started telling jokes.
Gaines said how grateful he has been in the past for UCLA’s help in getting his dad to some of his Rose Bowl games and is thrilled to see his dad back in Pasadena for his senior season.
The Bruin credits teammate, offensive lineman Sam Marrazzo, for spreading the story and for his support when he returned to join them for camp.
“I remember years ago when Jon pulled us into a room and told us his dad had kidney cancer,” Marrazzo said. “So just seeing that and his dad on dialysis and everything, and then a few weeks ago Jon texted us…you can’t help but be extremely happy for him.”
“It was crazy,” Gaines said. “I was welcomed with open arms and the number of people who really cared about me showed how tight-knit this group is.”