A lot of you know I like Steve Mariucci a lot, and I think (despite his atrocious performance in Detroit and an average one in San Francisco) he would be a good head coach at UCLA if he ever got the chance. However, I can tell you that, unlike some, I wasn't disappointed at all to hear the rumors (which was promptly quashed by Dan Guerrero) about UCLA talking to Mooch before the Southern Cal game. If anything, the way this story emerged and played out in the media, in comparison to how the Pitino rumors popped up during the Lavin era, should reinforce our optimism in DG.
There are two key distinctions between the Mooch rumors of 2006 and the Pitino story of 2001.
First, the Mooch story is just what we called it, a "rumor." It's not a report unlike the Pitino story of 2001, which was originally broken by Keith Olbermann on his show on Fox Sports Network. It wasn't leaked by some beat reporter of UCLA's rival who has a reputation (at least in the Bruin online sports communities) of being nothing short of a lap dog for the glorified substitute teacher.
Second, unlike the Pitino story in 2001, this time there was not even a hint of confirmation from UCLA athletic director. In contrast, when the Pitino story leaked, not only Pete - the tool - Dalis confirmed that he was talking to Pitino, but if you guys can recall correctly, he actually had a press conference about it. Here is a report following that surreal Pitino related press conference Dalis held at Morgan Center on Tuesday, January 9, 2001:
Dalis said Tuesday that the conversations, made at the request of a mutual friend, were brief and "none of them had anything to do with the UCLA job in particular."
In comparison, in this case, the reaction from DG out of the UCLA athletic department was swift, firm, and decisive, categorically denying there were even contacts between Mooch and UCLA.
So, instead of feeling down about this contact, I am going to note a few good things coming out of this development:
- The way this story emerged and was swiftly batted down should give all of us all of us some sense of comfort in the professionalism of DG on how he handles theses types of matters despite the glare of the second biggest media market in the US;
- As DumpDorrell.com observed poignantly, the rumor was telling us "Mariucci's side of the story", not the UCLA side. So it opens up the speculation that Mooch was not the only coach UCLA had on its roster leading up to the Southern Cal game;
- The spin (which we repeatedly undercut here on BN) that KD's job was safe no matter what happened during the Southern Cal game was just spin. The picture that somehow Dorrell's job was safe which his hard core supporters so desperately tried to project during the weeks leading up to December 2 was just fantasy;
- If this story was true, it just dismissed the absurd notion we have heard over the years about how UCLA is not going to play top $ for a good coach.
Obviously, here on BN we have been riding the euphoria of last Saturday. We are still riding it and will ride it all the way to Emerald Bowl.
However, we have not forgotten the problems of this program which has consistently showed up during Dorrell's era during last four years. His overall record is still not impressive, and not up to par by UCLA's standards, even with that win against Southern Cal.
We still have an offense which has been vanilla, predictable, and frankly ineffective during three out of Dorrell's four years. And we are not going to forget the pattern of clock mismanagement, cowardly playcalling, and just general game mismanagement which popped up all throughout the season leading to disgraceful losses against the Washington schools, and the heart breaker in South Bend.
But I think even the harshest Dorrell critics (and I am one of them) need to concede that we have seen discernible progress in defense, not just in their Godly performance against Southern Cal, but in stats based on the entire season. We are still disappointed that Walker got out-schemed by Oregon and Washington State, however, given what we saw last Saturday and how the defense performed in our last three games, I think it would be intellectually dishonest for anyone to assert that UCLA didn't "grow" and "develop" at least on the defensive side as the regular season came to an end.
Yet, one game doesn't make a season. No doubt Dorrell earned his first big win last Saturday. However, unless he follows it up with another impressive win over Florida State, and finishes the season with 8 wins, we will be back to square one, and all the old frustrations concerning this program will boil up.
For now, though, I think we need to stay positive (it certainly worked leading up to the Southern Cal game when I was urging everyone to think positive ... didn't it?).
I think, if I am reading the tealeaves correctly from DG's comments, the Mariucci rumor, and the subsequent reactions from the UCLA athletic department correctly, then I think they confirm my reasons for optimism in DG. He is not going to sit back idly if our football program doesn't live up to our expectations of winning the Pac-10 and beating Southern Cal.
Anyways, we will get to Florida State next week, and don't you worry, we are not going to stop holding Dorrell and his coaches accountable if the Southern Cal game turns out to be nothing short of one of Lavin's "Stanford" moments.
But, I have to tell you that my gut tells me right now that it wasn't one of those Lavin flukes. The way our defense methodically dominated and wore down the Trojan offense, they looked like a well-coached defense. And now, if we can sustain that high octane defensive intensity in game after game, and also put together "A" level performances on our offense, we may be on to something.
Meantime, I think we should feel good that DG, along with us, is watching our football program very closely.
So, now let's all get back to enjoying the best football week we have all experienced since November 1998:
Photo from CNNSI
Now, if that image alone doesn't send a tingle up your spine and cause you to wear a shit-eating grin, then I can't help ya. ;-)
Again, stay positive everyone. Nothing wrong with enjoying all of this.