Jerry Azzinaro, the embattled UCLA defensive coordinator and longtime Chip Kelly lieutenant, has resigned, according to multiple reports, providing an opportunity for the Bruins to upgrade in the one area in which they have consistently struggled the last four years under Kelly.
Azzinaro’s departure comes with UCLA trying to finalize contract extension discussions with Kelly, who is on track to enter the last season of his deal Sunday when his reciprocal $9-million buyout expires. It was not believed that Kelly faced any demands about staff changes as part of an extension agreement.
UCLA finished 8-4 last season, propped up by a prolific offense, while its struggles came primarily because of a defense that gave up 26.8 points per game, ranking No. 74 nationally.
UCLA’s defense has been a nagging sore spot under Kelly after giving up an average of 34.1 points in 2018, 34.8 points in 2019 and 30.7 points in 2020, leading to calls for Azzinaro’s dismissal.
Kelly remained steadfastly loyal to Azzinaro, defending his results on the field as well as his prolonged silence; Azzinaro, who made $700,000 last season, did not speak with local beat writers once in his four seasons with the Bruins.
“I think it’s his choice,” Kelly said in November. “It’s the United States of America, we’re not going to force anybody to do anything, so that’s his choice that he doesn’t want to speak to the media.”
Last season, Azzinaro guided a defense that ranked No. 70 out of 130 teams nationally in yards allowed, giving up 384.4 per game, and No. 107 in passing defense, giving up 260.2 yards per game.
The defense’s strength was in stopping the run, yielding just 124.2 yards per game on the ground, No. 23 nationally.
Azzinaro, 63, has been by Kelly’s side for more than a decade after joining his first Oregon staff in 2009 as defensive line coach. He followed Kelly to subsequent stops in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers before accompanying him to Westwood before the 2018 season.
Widely praised for his work as a defensive line coach, Azzinaro has enjoyed far less success as a defensive coordinator. He had held the former title in stops at American International, Massachusetts and Duke before coming to UCLA.
Azzinaro’s move comes at a time of widespread turnover on Kelly’s staff. UCLA needs to find an offensive line coach after the departure of Justin Frye and a tight ends coach after the departure of Derek Sage, who also coached the Bruins’ special teams before leaving for Nevada.
The Bruins already hired Chad Kauha’aha’a to coach the defensive line and Ikaika Malloe to coach outside linebackers after the departures of Johnny Nansen and Jason Kaufusi.