UPDATE:This post is getting around (now posted both on Bruinzone and Bruingold). Again if you are reading this for the first time make sure you use the tools at the end of the post to share it with anyone who cares deeply about the (pathetic) state of Bruin football. You can also make sure to email this post to Dan Guerrerro, UCLA's Athletic Director at firstname.lastname@example.org - N
Another Homerun from Guest Blogger Bruin Blue. If you love UCLA football, use the tools at the end of the post to share it with every family member, friends you know who care about Bruin football. GO BRUINS - N
For the moment, let's put aside what should have and have not been done over the last 30 years, much as I love to discuss that topic. Here we are, right now. We have a football program with absolutely no national cachet. Of the twenty or so teams which merit substantial discussion on the preview shows every Saturday, we are never in that list. We exist only as an opponent to show off the relative merits of the better teams. ("Tell me, Karl, who do you think is better; Oregon, Notre Dame or California?"). In our own town, we are an afterthought; and only covered because we are here, and because we have a lot of alumni who want to read about us. But while USC, in a "rebuilding" year, is still very much in the running for a national title, our story, very typical, is the dreary quest for the Sun Bowl, complete with the requisite weekly human interest pieces on the various players. There is no excitement, no tension, and none of that special element which enthralls college football fans from Columbus to Gainesville
But the program does make a profit, although not nearly as much as it might make. The off-field scandals have diminished, and we do not get bad press from the Times, which under Bill Dwyre was fixated on the ethics of college sports. After some years of diminishing attendance, we are seeing an increase; and even though we have to run special free giveaway programs to make the Rose Bowl look mostly filled, we don't seem to be in danger of suffering a financial implosion which would jeopardize our entire athletic operation of which we are so proud.
So we can really go on with this forever. We have shown that we can average at least seven wins a year, no matter who we have as head coach. Pepper Rodgers, Donahue, Toledo, Dorrell--any or all of them will do for that purpose. We have enough academic status, locale and climate advantages and national media access, to make it very improbable that the likes of Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona or Stanford, at least, would outrecruit us. We have downgraded our intersectional schedule so that at most, we play one national power a year, with the two others being almost sure wins. And some of the other schools in our conference--Washington, Arizona State, even Oregon and Cal--are not traditional football powers, or haven't been for years; and we ordinarily outrecruit them, too. It's not as if we are in the SEC, contending with a bevy of longtime football traditions. Any absolutely ordinary coach at UCLA should have six wins almost guaranteed before the season starts, with only a modicum of good fortune or good play needed to get to eight or even nine. That's really not uncommon in college football, to see all sorts of teams go 8-4 almost every year. The elite atmosphere of 10-win seasons and contention for national titles is reserved for about ten programs, which the others can either envy and try to emulate, or disdain as having the wrong priorities, or even as corrupt. UCLA has thrived on the latter approach, even though many of its alumni and supporters see no reason why the school cannot be one of the elite, along with Michigan, Notre Dame or Texas.
So the first question must be: Can we be satisfied with the status quo as it has been for decades? If so, it's end of story, end of debate. We have--we have always had--the coach in place who can keep us where we are and where we have been. Lots of seven- and eight-win seasons; the occasional "big" year, when we get to play the few conference powers at home, and we have a senior-laden squad. The level of a Purdue, say, or a Texas Tech or Georgia Tech. There is no reason that we cannot continue at this level forever. There is no suspense, of course; for we are what we are what we are. But the fans are loyal, and most of them will keep going and keep supporting and even hoping. And when we have that good season every five years or so, that is like a shot of rejuvenation, keeping them satisfied for the next five.
If we want something better, then it should be clear to any reasonable person that we have to make a major change in our approach. You cannot possibly still think that Karl Dorrell is going to take UCLA to any kind of elite status. You've seen him prepare, and scheme, and coach, and analyze after the game; and you cannot possibly imagine that he is suddenly going to turn into Tressel or Meyer or Carroll. And thus he is never going to beat the better teams, and never compete for anything meaningful--except for the once-a-decade surprise when all the stars are aligned just right. So if you want all the glory and excitement that comes with really competing in this landscape, Dorrell has to be fired. It might sound cold or cruel, but it comes with the territory, when you are making $850,000 a year for something more than just babysitting 70 young men and making sure that they don't disgrace the university. Plenty of other schools have made such decisions; and if we want to compete with them, we have to, as well. Just like that. No recriminations, no wailing of "What have we become?" Just the acknowledgement that to compete at a high level, we must have a high-level coach; maybe in fact, one of the very best, because our academic constraints keep us from bringing in all of the players some other schools can. We have had such coaches before, in Sanders, Prothro and Vemeil, but we were unable to keep the latter two, partially because we were not willing to offer enough money. But there are plenty of top college coaches who have spurned NFL dollars; and if we are willing to give them the kind of security that some of the big schools do, we can keep one, too. We can have our own Pete Carroll or Jim Tressel or Bob Stoops--if we are smart and resourceful enough to find him.
That latter is the biggest hurdle, really. UCLA seems less interested in, or less capable of, finding a top football coach than any major school. Our coaching searches have been woeful: smug, insular and stupid. Instead of looking for coaches with a proven record or an impeccable pedigree, we concentrate on people who have been part of the program, even though that program hasn't taught fundamentally sound football for decades. We want someone we can be comfortable with. We are told that our coach is a "great guy," as if that matters; when the very best coaches, while usually not bad people, tend to be tough and demanding and arrogant. We go against the character grain of what top coaches are; and then are dismayed when the one we hire isn't one. We have a mindset which is hopelessly bland, holier-than-though, pollyannish, insular, and weirdly smug about the whole thing; as if to say, "We are smarter than you; we know how to do this right; we don't need to do the kind of full-scale coaching search that you think is necessary." I'm sure that most of our rivals look at us with scarcely disguised contempt, grateful that we are victims of our own self-invented sense of superiority.
And as I said yesterday, if we are going to do something, se have to do it now, this year. If we let Dorrell stay, he will undoubtedly have a good year next year, with the talent returning and the better schedule. That will make it impossible to fire him for another two years, at least. He might turn into another Donahue, staying here for twenty or thirty years. If Dorrell goes 7-5 this year and loses to USC again, there wouldn't be too much negative press about firing him. Dan Guerrero said when he was hired that he wanted UCLA to win conference championships and play in BCS Bowls; and not doing so for four years would seem reasonable grounds for "going in a different direction," as ADs are wont to say. So it's decision time, step up to the plate time, right now. Not next year or three years after that. Show us that you weren't just blowing verbal smoke when you said that you wanted UCLA to be a national power in football. Stop allowing your head coach to hide behind his coordinators and by changing them, look like he is doing something. Fire Dorrell and end this ill-contemplated experiment.
That leaves us with the second part of the equation: Whom to hire? Well, if I were AD, I have no doubt I could come up with the best coach reasonably available. It starts with doing your homework; talking to other coaches and ADs about assistants at Florida or Ohio State or Notre Dame, looking to see if there is a "can't miss" prospect among them--another Bob Stoops or Meyer, perhaps. And if there isn't, then you must concentrate on finding the best current coach who would be willing to consider coming to UCLA. I tend to think that there are more of these than we might imagine, but I can't know that for sure, because I do not have the AD's access. But I would certainly look at Tom O'Brien of Boston College first. He has competed with the best, and come off very well. He is great in Bowl games, showing that with preparation, he can outscheme his opponents. He may not be a great coach, but he is very good; and with the added resources UCLA can bring, there is no reason that he could not make us a major national contender. After O'Brien, we would have to consider thoroughly, because there are not obvious choices out there. But you have to at least make a strong effort to interest Butch Davis, who actually has better credentials than Pete Carroll did for USC, and is a better person. It's possible that Davis is already locked up for Miami, but maybe not; maybe he would like a different challenge in a different locale. Let's think big for just once.
Other possibilities: Maybe David Cutcliffe, who I thought did a fine job at Mississippi. Joe Novak of Northern Illinois is a fine offensive mind. I'll give you another name, maybe an impossibility, but maybe not. Dick Vermeil. Would he consider coming back to UCLA to coach four years or so, to replenish the coaching staff, and maybe pick his successor? Would that be more challenging than doing commercials and commentary? Maybe not; but again, why not think really big? Why not do everything reasonably possible to not just bring in a decent coach, another nice guy, or someone with some limited credentials, but someone who would give us instant credibility with recruits and the national media? Someone who, like our basketball coach, would not be outcoached or outschemed by anyone, so that if we lose a game, it's because they had better talent, or the breaks didn't go our way. Someone who could live up to the expectations the Athletic Director expressed when he took this job. Someone who would make us proud once again to be UCLA football fans.
And, yes, this is a very long essay. But it's a lot shorter than the next ten years are going to be, if we don't do something significant now.
- Bruin Blue