As I mentioned yesterday nothing wrong with enjoying the euphoric win over Southern Cal, however we need to maintain our perspective on what should be the expectations for the football program at UCLA. And once again here is a great post from BN guest blogger Bruin Blue providing that much needed perspective. - N
It's almost two weeks now since the win over USC, and I think it's now appropriate to offer another view--or at least a more long-range one--to the dominant reality here. I will certainly concur that the win over the Trojans was a very gratifying one. We played a splendid defensive game--the best I have seen in a long while at UCLA. The victory can certainly do nothing but help the program.
However, the air of giddiness which I am witnessing makes me feel rather disappointed and sad. Because it has about it the sense of desperate exultation which comes from a program which really doesn't expect to ever be on USC's level. It feels like the wage slave who finally gets to see his boss make a mistake; the wimp who watches the bully slip on a banana peel as he is about to kick him once again. We knocked USC out of the national championship game! We pushed them into the Rose Bowl, where they will be playing the #2 or #3 team, in the second best Bowl game! Meanwhile, we surged to 7-5, and an Emerald Bowl game against a 6-6 team which finished in eighth place in its own league. But we're going to be on ESPN, and there are no other games on that day! I know that when you've been a nonentity for a long time, any measure of significance looks good; but how did it come to this?
Believe me, I know it feels good to be able to laugh at our USC alumni acquaintances, who ordinarily are obnoxious and arrogant. I have often thought that this is really all that most UCLA fans want--to beat USC every once in a while, so that their fans can't laugh at us. But--to me at least--this win is hardly one of the great UCLA victories of all time; not even one of the great wins over USC. Because we weren't playing for a national title, not even a Rose Bowl berth, which used to almost always be at stake when we played them. We won the game, and finished tied for fourth in the league. This is not '65 or '66, or '54, '82, 98. This win was for self-respect, and the Schadenfreudic pleasure we get from watching USC fall short of its national championship dreams. A program which wildly exults over such a win is one whose own dreams have greatly diminished over time.
Of course, this win could be a springboard to greater things for our program. I certainly hope so. Right now, we are heading for 8-5, and our coach will have a four-year record of 30-20. It's fruitless to argue about how we look, how we scheme; because people will believe what they want. So I will look at pure, cold facts. 30-20 for Dorrell; no BCS Bowls, no conference titles; highest conference finish third, and that only once. Silicon Valley Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Sun Bowl, Emerald Bowl. Not a Top 20 foe among them. The future may be brighter, but this has been four years out of all our lives, and in a football sense, they do not stack up very well, compared to so many other major programs. And they don't even stack up well as against our own history. Since people will argue that we can't compare ourselves to Ohio State or Oklahoma or even USC, let's compare us to us, over time, by looking at the relative achievements of the coaches who preceded Dorrell here.
Red Sanders we'll skip, as he is universally acknowledged as the best UCLA football coach ever, the only one who made us a national powerhouse. After his untimely death and the nervous breakdown of George Dickerson, Billy Barnes was forced into service. He was a mediocre coach, but in his first full year, he beat an undefeated USC team. Two years later, he took UCLA to the Rose Bowl, in a truncated conference. Then his program fell apart, and we hired Prothro. Prothro came on after three straight losing seasons, and in his first year, took UCLA to the Rose Bowl, beating USC in a thrilling game. He then beat the "unbeatable" Michigan State in the Rose Bowl. Now, that was a glorious victory. Prothro followed with a 9-1 season, and what should have been another Rose Bowl, but for a political vendetta which threw the vote to USC. Then in '67, he entered the USC game undefeated and ranked #1, only to lose because his placekicker missed three field goals and an extra point, when even a tie would have given us the title. In four of Prothro's first five years, we finished in the Top Ten nationally.
Pepper Rodgers was next, and he was pretty much a fun-loving mediocrity. But in his second year, he beat the previous year's national champion and consensus preseason #1 Nebraska. He went 8-3, with one of the losses being to perhaps SC's greatest team. The next year he went 9-2, once again losing to USC, whereupon he was essentially run out by angry alumni. Then Vermeil, who in his second year took UCLA to the Rose Bowl, where they trounced what had been considered one of the greatest teams of all time; Ohio State with Griffin and Johnson and Kern, Gradishar and Sensibaugh. Then we got Donahue, one of my least favorite coaches ever. But even Terry had us playing for the Rose Bowl against USC in his first three seasons, where he finished 24-9. And of course Bob Toledo, who took over after Donahue's 11-12 in the two preceding years; started with a 5-6, and then ran off 20-4 in the next two, with two Top Ten finishes and two conference titles. Toledo arguably was rather close to going undefeated in both seasons, and did win 20 in a row, of course.
Now, Dorrell. How does 30-20, no conference titles, highest conference finish third, stack up against his predecessors? Very unfavorably, unless you try to create a story which has him facing a task far more difficult than all those other coaches. I think such a saga would be revisionist fiction; but people are entitled to think anything they want, of course. Anyway, those are the black-and-white, won-loss facts; and this is why I am far less thrilled than some other UCLA fans at our current status.
But of course there is the future. Next year has the chance to be a really big season; as the schedule and returning experience should make us a Top Ten team. And if we are; if we go into the USC game undefeated, then this will be a major achievement, and of course credit will be deserved. There will be seasons after '07, obviously; and one wonders how well we will do then. We now have Erickson in this league, and he may be a jerk, but he can coach. There is still Carroll, or his replacement, who undoubtedly will be a really good coach. There is Tedford and Bellotti, both perhaps slightly overrated, but very good. There is Willingham, who is actually a good college coach, and Riley. And then, if Stanford somehow ends up with Fassel, there will be a lot of very good coaches in this league for us to contend with.
Of course, it all depends on what one's expectations are. Mine have always been that we have a Top Ten program, most years at least. I think that our history, our natural advantages, make us capable of that, though many would prefer for whatever reasons to deny it. Other people are happy with lesser results. Donahue did not do what I thought could be done here, and he lowered the bar to simply being a major competitor for the conference title. Now apparently the bar is a couple of notches below that, to where just being in the middle of the Pac-10, and beating USC occasionally is a great thing. Well, if that's all UCLA fans want, then so be it.
I certainly realize that the win over USC gives Dorrell next year and probably at least two more, maybe five more. And now, should he somehow leave for the NFL (it is hard for me to believe that any franchise would seriously consider him at this point, but that's what we are told), we will undoubtedly hire DeWayne Walker. After all, he did a fine job with the defense this year, and he is here. There are plenty of respected defensive coordinators who were washouts as head coaches, but we tend to ignore such things, and learn the hard way. I continue to think that we are going about this the wrong way. I think that we should have hired either someone like Mariucci or Davis, a successful coach who failed in the NFL, and is unlikely to go back soon; or someone who has won at the college level, and who seems content to stay as a college coach. Someone like Tom O'Brien, who was obviously looking to leave, and has now ended up at NC State. Or Mike Dantonio, who is now at Michigan State. I think that the way we are going--Donahue, Toledo, Dorrell, Walker--is not the way to build a long-term power. I would wish that we could start all over, with a new approach, just like we have done in basketball, with a staff which has no former ties whatsoever to UCLA, and is building a new UCLA legacy. But such is apparently not to be--not for several more years, anyway, and perhaps never.
And for those who think that I cannot ever be satisfied, please note that I am thrilled at the stature of the UCLA basketball program. I will never lose my memories of Beban-to-Altenberg, Stiles stopping Apisa, Norman Dow's two broken-field runs, Sciarra and Tyler running all over Ohio State I will always carry with me the pain of Andrusyshyn's chokes, Beban's cracked ribs, the unconscionable pass interference penalty on Danny Graham, Frank Jordan's last-second field goal, Melsby's non-fumble. Those were great games, even the defeats, and the stakes seemed very high. What the stakes were for the game two Saturdays ago is yet to be known. Let's hope it turns out to be more than just meaning a one-year respite from the braying of the USC fans.