Even though I disagree with Bruin Blue's impressions on Dan Guerrero (read my takes on DG here), nevertheless another superb post UCLA football every Bruin should read. -N
I'm not talking about the nightmare of this particular season, whch after all is no different than Dorrell's six-win campaigns of '03 and '04. I'm not even talking about the nightmare of Dorrell, though I think he was the most ludicrous hire by a major football program that I can think of. I'm focusing on the endless nightmare which is UCLA football; the hopelessness, futility and laughable/tragic sameness of its journey to nothingness. I'm thinking of the season after season of no real accomplishment, no real tension, just the plodding along until the schedule runs out and it's time for basketball.
There are so many of us who went to UCLA at least partially because we loved UCLA sports. Maybe it was a bad idea for me, who could have probably gone to an Ivy League school or a little private college back East which didn't even have a football program. But I loved Tommy Prothro's teams and of course John Wooden's; and my father would tell me stories of the great Red Sanders clubs which used to beat Stanford 72-0 and USC 34-0, and were feared and even hated by the other conference schools; and I wanted to be a part of it. And the academics here were fine; and I met many nice people; and yet I hitched my wagon to an athletic administration which has combined obtuseness, smugness, defensive insularity and condescension to a degree unparalleled in the college world. I've gone through Farmer and Hazzard and Lavin in basketball; and it's only now, after almost 30 years of this, that we finally have gotten around to actually hiring a real basketball coach. In football, though, we have no clue at all.
J.D. Morgan wanted us to be a national football power, and he did try, with Prothro and Vermeil. Pepper Rodgers was a poor choice, but even he won some big games. The fateful decision was the rushed hire of Terry Donahue in 1976, in an effort to save recruiting. Donahue did win his seven games a year, but he relentlessly lowered the expectations of UCLA football to where that seven wins was to be considered respectable. And after his run in the mid-'80's, fueled by USC's foolish hire of Ted Tollner, things became very bleak, with three losing seasons since '88, and the total disaffection of most of the students, alumni and fans. Finally Donahue decided to leave us; and it is testament to his pernicious effect that after having dreamed of his departure for so long, it almost didn't seem to matter by then. And we did our usual haphazard coaching search, and settled on Bob Toledo, a retread offensive coordinator, whom no one else had offered a job to since his stint at Pacific 20 years earlier. And yet even he was able to show some early zest, opening up the playbook and playing to win; and so we had our little rush of '97-'98, and we were actually a national power for those two years. But then of course Toledo's basic mediocrity manifested itself, and we regressed to the level of Donahue's last ten years, when football season was just something you endured; spent hoping that somehow, some way, the coach would be fired.
And so our new Athletic Director got rid of Toledo; and then treated us to a coaching search which was even more pathetic than those of his predecessor. I remember that almost giddy period of about two weeks in early 2003, when we actually deluded ourselves into thinking that Guerrero and his staff were actually working hard on unearthing a great new coach for UCLA; when actually the two weeks were just the time it took to set up the interviews with the three insipid names which hapless Bob Field had come up with. So while other programs try as hard as they can to hire the best coach they can get at their level, UCLA is so mired in its own mistaken sense of self, that it thinks it can bring in a man with no head coaching experience, not even any play-calling experience, and actually compete at a high level. But of course, UCLA knew it could always fall back on the myriad of excuses which Donahue helped perfect for them--the academics are too stringent; the other programs cheat; our players are better people than at the other schools; seven wins a year is something to be proud of--even if we didn't do any better. So now here we are, four years later, and all we have done is to have wasted another four years of our precious life spans, watching a program which goes nowhere, does nothing, and yet takes a certain perverse pride in the monotony of its sameness. "We are UCLA; we are what we are, and you had better like it, because it is all that it is and will ever be." What other university treats its students, alumni and athletic supporters which such ill-disguised contempt?
I can't imagine why I still even follow this treadmill to oblivion. Perhaps because it is a bit of sublimation, an antidote to focusing on the many anxieties and miseries of the current state of the world. And there's that tiny little part of me which hopes that something will change; that the disaffection of the support base will reach critical mass, and that there will be a sea change in how this administration thinks about football, and that we will actually do what it takes to compete with USC and now Cal, and Texas and Michigan. But then I look around at the assorted bureaucrats and Donahue hacks which populate it, who announce the games and do the postgame call-in shows, and repeat the endless stupid mantras of "we don't quit" and "we are rebuilding," and "even if you don't like it, Dorrell is staying, so you had better get used to it," and I realize that it's pretty much futile. But still I hope a little, and have the remaining curiosity to see what will actually happen.
But as I've said before, if we're going to do anything in the next three years, we have to do it now; because your maiden aunt could win nine games with next year's team and schedule. So while I know some think that this is too drastic an idea, I would strongly urge a boycott of the game against Oregon State. Yes, it doesn't show support for our players, blah, blah; but I guarantee you that unless Mr. Guerrero gets this kind of figurative slap in the face wake-up call; making him realize that if he keeps Dorrell, he is facing sizeable loss of revenue, he will just smile and utter the homilies, and take his vacations, and figure that next year will help validate his Dorrell choice. Letters and e-mails and phone calls can be ignored or shuttled to a secretary; but 30,000 fans in the Rose Bowl is an embarrassment and a loss of money, and even a threat to his comfortable job. So even if you've never considered such a thing before, I would urge you to sit out just this one game, to make some kind of a meaningful statement.
The worst thing of all is that even if the longshot were to come in, and Dorrell were to be replaced, what are the chances that we would be smart enough to hire the right coach here? As long as Bob Field is involved to help Guerrero, who apparently doesn't know much about football, the chances are almost nil. The only hope would be that the most powerful donors would absolutely demand a certain coach, and that the administration would so fear the loss of major support that they would cave in. But even then, the only "big name" out there is Butch Davis, and it looks as if he has already decided to go elsewhere. A really good athletic director could unearth the best of the college or pro assistants, or find that diamond-in-the-rough head coach at s smaller program who is not mostly sizzle and no steak, but who actually coaches and improves and builds. But the odds of this group being able to focus on such a coach are almost non-existent. And so, perversely enough, the very incompetence of the athletic administration becomes another argument for staying the course, because why bother to do anything, when you don't know what to do, anyway?
Assuming that Dorrell survives this season, with his current 26-20 record, 16-15 conference mark; one winning season out of four, I do not think you will see me here next year commenting about the proceedings. Next year will be the "Blues' year," (we have one of those every once in a while; even though they really don't amount to much of anything. Still excitedly reliving last year's third-place conference finish and Sun Bowl win over Northwestern?), and they can have it. Things will regress to mediocrity soon enough. Maybe by then, another great coaching prospect will become available; maybe we'll finally have a new permanent chancellor who actually cares about fielding a winning football team. Maybe by then the Athletic Director himself will face extreme pressure; though these seem to be life-tenure jobs at public relations-obsessed UCLA. Anyway, one can retain at least that small vestige of hope. And nightmares are supposed to ultimately end--at least the ones you have while you're sleeping.