UCLA hires Chip Kelly as football coach with a five-year, $23.3-million contract

Long known for hiring football coaches who either had ties to the school or were fallback options, UCLA veered sharply away from tradition Saturday.

The school hired offensive innovator Chip Kelly, its top choice to replace Jim Mora and a coach whose arrival in Westwood signaled a dramatic shift in the athletic department’s commitment to winning. Kelly signed a five-year contract worth $23.3 million, more than double the five-year, $11.235-million contract Mora signed upon his hiring six years ago.

Kelly, who turned 54 on Saturday, will be introduced at a news conference on campus Monday afternoon. His hiring only six days after Mora was fired triggered elation and near-disbelief among players and alumni of a program used to more modest results from its coaching searches.

“The world is upside down,” said Scott Altenberg, a former Bruins walk-on who coaches at Gardena Serra High. “This is the first time UCLA is getting its top choice. It never happens.”

Oregon to the national championship game after the 2010 season as well as three conference titles in his four years at the school.

The Bruins have not won a conference title since 1998, which also was the last season they appeared in the Rose Bowl game. UCLA’s only national championship came in 1954.

“I am thrilled to welcome Chip Kelly to Westwood,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement announcing the deal that includes a $9-million reciprocal buyout. “His success speaks for itself, but more than that, I firmly believe that his passion for the game and his innovative approach to coaching student-athletes make him the perfect fit for our program.”

Dismissing Mora last week before UCLA’s final regular-season game allowed school officials to pursue Kelly, who also was being courted by Florida to fill its coaching vacancy. Guerrero thanked senior associate athletic director Josh Rebholz, mega donor Casey Wasserman and former star quarterback Troy Aikman for their roles in helping bring Kelly to campus as part of the search committee.