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How Chip Kelly’s departure from UCLA could impact Texas

It’s open season on the Bruins roster, where Johnny Nansen coached the defensive line in 2021.

UCLA vs Cal in Pasadena, CA

Even past National Signing Day, the coaching carousel continues to turn around college football. Boston College Eagles head coach Jeff Halfey left to become the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, leading new Ohio State Buckeyes offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to leave Columbus after three weeks and UCLA Bruins head coach Chip Kelly to make the unusual if not unprecedented decision to become the offensive coordinator for Ryan Day, pending that move becoming official.

If Kelly leaves as expected, his departure would allow players on the Bruins roster 30 days to enter the NCAA transfer portal, and that could have an impact on the Texas Longhorns.

It’s too late for any of those players to enroll for the spring semester, but Texas does still have a remaining need at nose tackle and a tie to that roster — new co-defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen was the defensive line coach at UCLA during the 2021 season, just recently enough to have recruited several players.

Although 247Sports doesn’t officially list Nansen as the recruiter for senior nose tackle Jay Toia, he did coach the 6’3, 325-pounder for one season. An Inglewood product, Toia initially signed with USC as a member of the 2021 recruiting class and spent the spring semester with the Trojans before entering the NCAA transfer portal.

“The 2020 pandemic was tragic to so many that lost so much,” Toia wrote on Instagram announcing his transfer. “For me and especially my parents, we felt forced to make a major decision signing with USC based on limited information because of COVID-19 restrictions. We were not able to take any official or unofficial visits to any of the other schools on our short list such as Michigan, Utah, UCLA, Miami among others.”

Toia landed at UCLA and spent the 2021 season playing for Nansen, appearing in 12 games and making eight tackles. Over the last two seasons, which Nansen spent as the defensive coordinator at Arizona, the Tonga native started 24 combined games, recording 30 tackles with three tackle for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble in 2022 and 28 tackles with four tackles for loss and one sack in 2023.

According to PFF, Toia also made 10 defensive stops last season and played 154 of his 383 snaps in the A gap, although seven missed tackles significantly hurt his overall defensive grade.

Still, Toia is young for his classification because he enrolled at USC when he was 17 and didn’t receive the benefit of a redshirt season, suggesting some remaining upside if he can become more consistent.

So the big UCLA defensive tackle is a player to watch in the coming days given his ties to Nansen, who didn’t arrive at Texas until after the winter transfer window closed, and the lack of experience on the roster replacing T’Vondre Sweat — the two returning nose tackles, redshirt sophomore Aaron Bryant and redshirt freshman Sydir Mitchell, combined to play just 68 snaps in 2023.

Nansen also recruited another UCLA defensive lineman, Keanu Williams, though since Williams signed with Oregon, the new Texas assistant never coached him. Williams graded higher than Toia this season and spent some time lined up at nose tackle, but 2023 was his most productive season with just 10 tackles, so it’s not clear that he would even project as much of a rotation player for the Longhorns.

If Texas isn’t satisfied at the linebacker position, Kain Medrano had a breakout fifth season in 2023, his first as a starter, finishing second on the team with 56 tackles while adding seven tackles for loss, two sacks, one forced fumble, and a blocked kick.