Trying To Explain the Dorrell Phenomenon

Bruin Blue follows up Menelaus' home run by going yard himself. GO BRUINS. -N

Well, I said it wasn't going to be pretty.  Of course, I was referring to the rest of the season; but Saturday's game was a good metaphor for it. Since the oddsmakers actually put up Oregon State as a $1.50 to $1.00 favorite, I'm now up $342 betting UCLA on the money lines this year.  But that's certainly not said to impress anyone, but just in case one of the Dorrell loyalists wants to accuse me of rooting against the Bruins.  Actually, I, like most of us, would trade the money for a really good football program.  Of course, I don't think we've had one since Prothro left, except for that giddy moment of exhilaration when Vermeil absolutely steamrollered the #1 team in the nation in the '76 Rose Bowl.  So it gets to the point that one doesn't ultimately expect to have one, one way or another.

It figured to be very difficult to oust Dorrell after this season, which even his biggest critics like me figured would be no worse than 10-2.  But after Utah, it almost looked for an exciting moment that Dorrell's incompetence was  going to ruin even this campaign, and that we could start the process of looking for our first good coach in 30 years right now.  But we should know that it's never as easy as that in Westwood, where the mentality of the athletic department and the majority of our football fan base is always working against our hopes.  Anyone who saw Terry Donahue drudge his way through 20 utterly turgid years cannot have a great deal of optimism that the mindset which kept him around so long has that drastically changed.  Our current athletic director has shown a willingness to fire coaches, but never one that HE has hired; so one wonders if his own ego and stubborness is part of the problem.  Surely, virtually every single comment that Dan Guerrero has made about Dorrell's work over the five seasons has been more positive and supportive  than it needed to be.  If Guerrero did indeed watch the Oregon State game from start to finish, and really was impressed with our "halftime adjustments," then that has to make one really doubt his capacity to understand the sport of college football, and coaching. It is not inconceivable that Guerrero actually does think that Dorrell is a good coach.  If so, we are doomed to another 20-year, Donahue-like regime.

How does Dorrell always manage to save his bacon?  Two reasons, both inextricably interwined.  First, Dorrell is simply an incredibly lucky person, in his professional career, at least.  Were it not for the eternal obtuseness and insularity of the UCLA athletic department, he would probably have toiled out his career as a perennial assistant coach, unless he would have been willing to have taken a low-level head job, where he would have undoubtedly have failed miserably, to never get another chance. Consider that in 1975, Terry Donahue was the other finalist for the Oregon State job which went to Craig Fertig; and then, after Vermeil suddenly left, he was fortuitously in the right place at the right time.  Otherwise, he would have failed like Fertig in Corvallis, and that would have been his career.  So these two, Donahue and Dorrell, are amazingly fortunate people; but of course it's the UCLA athletic department which is there to help them cash in; like a foolish gambler who enables the hapless protagonist to get rich, just when things look bleakest.  Dorrell reninds me of two fictional characters; neither of which I will specifically allude to, for fear of insulting any of his cult of supporters (but for clues, think Robert Zemeckis and Jerzy Kosinski); with his almost unbelievable capacity to move ahead in spite of his obvious intellectual limitations.  But of course we must always remember that it's really not so much metaphysical, as simply the fact that Dorrell, like Donahue, like Lavin, owns better talent than most of his opponents.  Better talent usually wins, despite coaching; at least enough to have the kind of success that is apparently all Dorrell needs.  Dorrell does not have the ability to win championships, just like Donahue and Lavin did not; but he does have enough of a talent edge over most teams he faces, to get his average of seven wins a year.

At the big-time schools, it would not be nearly enough (John Cooper, Ron Zook, R.J Slocum, Dirk Koetter, among others, would be happy to testify to that); but at UCLA it somehow is--and that's our so-called curse; which isn't really a curse at all, just the endless combination of top-twenty talent and bottom-twenty coaching.  And though it is certainly legitimate to expect that when we finally start playing the better teams in our league, we will start a losing slide; I still think that we have better talent than almost all of them; and why should we be surprised if we somehow beat at least two of the three of Oregon, Cal, and Arizona State at home?  Remember, Cal is suffering from severe attrition, while ASU is really probably a year away from being really good.  Even USC is losing players every week--who knows what their roster will look like when we get to play them?  I don't think we'll beat the Trojans, but it sure wouldn't stun me if we won most of the other ones.  The magic number here should be 10, but somehow it seems to be 8--and it would take a total idiot not to win eight games with our talent.  Not that we don't have one in charge, but even so.  The sad fact is that the percentages are against us--just as they have been for many years here.  Not that they can't be surmounted, but it's hard.

What alternately amazes and appalls me is the willingness of so many purported Bruin fans to support the Dorrell regime.  It doesn't take immense football wisdom to realize that Dorrell is a very poor coach; who additonally plays a style of football which is almost unwatchable.  Given that, one would expect immense dissatisfaction; but there are far too many people who are actually hoping that he stays for more seasons.  Why is that?  Well, I will take the liberty of playing amateur psychologist, and list some of the reasons, and "types" which account for what I see is almost a cult of Karl Dorrell. I had actually written this before I had read Menelaus' very effective typology of the Dorrellistas, so this might seem a bit repetitive, but it's worth leaving in simply for emphasis, if nothing else.

1.  People Who Simply Don't Know College Football.  I have always thought that UCLA had smarter basketball fans than USC, but much more ignorant football fans.  I have been to games where USC fans congregated; and putting aside their unbearable arrogance, most of them understand college football.  For example, almost all of them I know, realize that Dorrell is a terrible coach.  Some actually feel sorry for us because of it.  But watching a game with them, one can appreciate that they usually understand what they are seeing, while too many UCLA fans do not.  And this isn't just a function of the Dorrell regime; this has been going on for years.  Year after year, Donahue would take a team loaded with talent and turn it into a plodding, ultraconservative unit, and get away with it.  And remember all the  UCLA fans who actually applauded the Dorrell hiring, while I felt like staying in bed for a week, because I knew that we were doomed for the foreseeable future.

2.  People Suffering From Cognitive Dissonance.  Cognitive dissonance is simply a psychological theory which propounds that when confronted with two seemingly discrepant facts, the mind will seek to cast out or alter one of them so that the mental conflict is extinguished.  So many people love the Bruins and want so much to believe that the athletic department knows what it 's doing; and that the future is bright.  And then when they see the team lose and play badly, the thought that perhaps things are not rosy, and that there are real problems with the culture in the Morgan Cernter, conflicts with the first; so that they do all sorts of mental gyrations to "prove" that Dorrell really is a good coach, and that our losses are a result of other factors.

3.  People Who Become Emotionally Invested In the Argument.  That can be true of both sides, of course; but the "Blue" side conveniently ignores what is right in front of them, because their mental makeup refuses to concede the argument, and let the other side "win."  For them, it's a battle that they have for some reason taken on, to fight for Dorrell; even though I think that some of this group don't really like him that much, but now find themselves "stuck" on that side of the gulf.  Many of these same people fought vociferously for Lavin, no matter what; making threats and accusations, misrepresenting facts and history--anything to keep Steve around.  Once they had made all these pro-Lavin comments, they found it very difficult to change course.  Of course, once it was out of their hands, and Lavin was fired; that fire mysteriously disappeared, and they  now tranquilly enjoy the Howland years, and admit that, yes, perhaps they were in error before. But now, with Dorrell, once again their need to win an argument on which they took the wrong side at the outset, has for them transcended logic.

4.  People Who Are "Afraid" Of UCLA Success.     This is a strange one; but I believe this group exists.  I continue to read comments attempting to downgrade our potential, to make all sorts of excuses as to why UCLA really can't be a power in football.  I vehemently disagree with that position; but even so, why not test it out?:  Why not try to hire a big-time coach here, and see what happens?  These people don't want to even try--why?  Because they are afraid that if we do really well, then their long-term support of Donahue and his successors will be shown to have been foolish, and they will have to mentally admit that we wasted 30 years?  Because if we get really good, we will become a "football school," and somehow reek of philistinism and lack of respect for academics?  Because if we win a lot, then people will expect it, and they won't be able to  "have fun" just going to the games, hanging out, and not feeling any pressure or expectation?  It's surely something weird in UCLA's makeup, given that so many programs have made the effort to enter the big time in football, while we seem content to exist in this strange lethargy of low expectations and lower results.

5.  People Who Are Invested In the Race Issue.  For some people, having a Black football coach is a major plus for UCLA.  I fail to see why; for while I certainly do lament the comparative paucity of Black college football coaches, I don't see it as UCLA's responsibility to have one, unless of course it would be someone with top credentials.  If there were a Black coach who had coached at a smaller school with great success; then of course he should be considered here.  But some individuals seem invested in the supposed cachet which having any minority coach seems to give us.  Apparently that's why so many liked to write about how DeWayne Walker would be an ideal replacement if Dorrell should leave or be fired.  It may be part of the reason for why Dorrell has lasted so long here. It's a delicate issue, to be sure; but it's another reason why some people seem so invested in Dorrell staying.

6.  People Who Like the Status Quo.  Maybe they think that if we become a football power, their ticket prices will go up; or they won't even be able to have any.  Perhaps they like their position of feeling "connected" or close to the inside, and think they'll lose that with a high-powered football coach.  Perhaps they like that Dorrell apparently is friendly to the staff at Morgan Center, while our great basketball coach is too busy and focused to spend too much time on amenities.  I know that part of the Lavin "appeal" was the fact that he was apparently never too busy to hang out and schmooze with well-wishers.  Donahue was a friendly guy on the golf courses, too; while Prothro was aloof, and Sanders could be acerbic.  "Happy time," as exemplified by our pathetic sports broadcaster Chris Roberts, has long been the culture in Bruinland.  Changing that to a more determined, driven mindset, is threatening to them.

There are probably other reasons as well, to account for the almost astounding measure of support our football coach gets, when virtually every fan of every other school realizes that he is a lightweight at best.  And of course there is his strange capacity for doing so badly at the outset that his bar is lowered to where he can essentially step over it and survive.  I remember when in his first year, many people were talking about 9-3; and then a championship bid the next year, because of all the talent that we had on hand.  Suddenly, after Dorrell went 6-6 and 6-7 in two years, expectations were drastically scaled back, and all sorts of excuses were made.  For this season, most predicted ten or eleven wins; and even said that he should be gone if he didn't achieve it.  And these were not just the critics, but most of the fans and alumni of all viewpoints. But after the Utah debacle, now somehow eight wins seems to be sufficient.  Toledo (who certainly wasn't the right coach for us) made his big mistake by winning 20 in a row over his second and third seasons, thus raising expectations, and then failing to meet them.  In 2001, he made the mistake of starting 7-0, so that the ultimate 7-4 was a bitter disappointment to all.  Ironically that record was better than Dorrell's in three of his four seasons; and so was the 8-5 which resulted in his getting fired.  So the coach who was hired to "raise the bar" here (essentially Guerrero's words), has systematically managed to deflate expectations through his own ineptitude, so that it is almost certain that he will have achieved much less than Toledo, and yet is still allowed to coast along; with his arny of enablers in the press apparently thinking it is rather amusing, or feeling sorry for him.  It's an amazing saga, but it's going to continue for some time longer, it appears.  Do you remember when UCLA signed up for that home-and-home series with Notre Dame  over a decade ago; and Terry Donahue said something about being glad that he didn't have to be here to face those games?  Somehow Dorrell now gets to play the worst Notre Dame team in about 50 years, just like he played Stoops' worst Oklahoma team two years ago, and Utah right after Meyer left. Simply amazing.  Well, we'll just have to watch how it ultimately plays out.  At least the people on BruinsNation exhibit a refreshing degree of insight and literacy, as they respond to this sorry saga.

-Bruin Blue

<em>This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.</em>

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