The Autumn of Our Discontent

Bruin Blue with another gem. GO BRUINS. -N

This is going to be a very long two weeks for all of us who care about the UCLA football program.  And it is by no means just because we lost to Notre Dame in another  of Karl Dorrell's milestones of humiliation.  In that pantheon we now have had losses to Fresno State and Wyoming in two bottom tier Bowl games.  We've been embarrassed 52-14 by Arizona and 66-19 by USC, in Dorrell's one "good" season. We went through nexplicable, horrible losses to Washington and Washington State last year.  Just three weeks ago, we amazingly managed to lose 44-6 to Utah.  And now, we have lost to a winless Notre Dame team suffering through its worst season in at least 40 years.  It has gone beyond humiliation, beyond laughability, beyond ridicule.  If the UCLA athletic program really wants to go further with the Karl Dorrell experiment, they should seriously consider keeping all of the games off TV and radio, so that we will not have to broadcast our awfulness to the entire nation.  Or, perhaps even consider giving up football altogether, like the University of Chicago did in the 1930's; playing the intellectual superiority card; telling everyone that at UCLA, we are above caring about this antediluvian sport.  Anything other than admitting the truth: that we really do want to have a good football program, but that our administration is so unimaginative and insular, and too many of our fans are simply too foolish, to realize that we don't have the first clue about how to obtain it.

Of course, I'm not talking about the vast majority of the readers of, and contributors to, BruinsNation.  But as we all know, there are all sorts of UCLA alumni and supporters who are the chief enablers of this pathetic state of affairs.  They were the ones who were so excited when Karl Dorrell was hired; because he was a Bruin!  And because he brought back memories of the Terry Donahue days which so many of them think was some kind of wonderful era; instead of what it was, a dreary 20-year journey where we essentially wasted some of the best college talent in the country.  And of course they were thrilled because all of Karl's buddies, and Terry's former players, lobbied so hard for him.  And to top it all off, he was an African-American; and wouldn't that be such a great thing for UCLA, to be one of the few schools in the country to have a Black head football coach!  And nothing that I or the others who knew better said, made the slightest difference to them.  They backed Dorrell from the outset; scorned and criticized those who kept trying to point out that Dorrell's credentials were essentially non-existent.  Then, when the 6-6 and 6-7 seasons rolled in, they were right behind the administration in supporting Dorrell.  They made every excuse imaginable for his incompetency; blaming the players (whom they always like to tell us how much they support), various assistant coaches, academic requirements,  injuries, the program across town; anything to avoid admitting they were utterly, totally wrong again.  Watching seven years of Steve Lavin wasn't enough for them, because they were ready to stay the course with another pathetic coach, while the remaining credibility of UCLA's football heritage got torn apart some more.  And here they remain, most of them still hoping that somehow Dorrell can save himself.  For what?  For another year like this, or another ten?

The crux of all of our discontent is one simple fact:  What we want for the UCLA football program may not at all be what the athletic administration and the Chancellor want.  We know what we want, of course.  We want a program which is one of the elite in the nation--top fifteen every year, at the very least; with a legitimate chance for a national title bid in most years, just like those in the top group.  Ohio State, LSU, USC, Florida, now Cal (?!)--why should these programs always be better than ours?  It's not as if there weren't a time when UCLA was actually one of the premier programs in the land; under Sanders in the late '40's and early '50's, and under Prothro in the mid-to-late '60's.  Donahue had the talent to be there, but not the coaching ability.  Even Toledo had us there for two of his first three years.  So it can and should happen again, and that's what we want.  But what does the administration want?  And when I say "want," I mean "want" in a way that one's actions legitimately attempt to achieve that desire; not "want" like some people might say they want to be billionaires, or to date a movie starlet.  That's idle, wishful thinking; and when people say that, they are just pleasantly daydreaming.  Now, when Dan Guerrero says that "Our goal is to win conference championships and play in BCS Bowls," did he mean that, "This is a reasonable goal for UCLA, and we are going to do everything possible to achieve it"; or did he mean, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could do those things; and we'll talk about it, to satisfy the alumni and fans; but I'm not really expecting that, or holding anyone to it."?  Or is there a third answer--that he meant it, but simply lacks the acumen to make it happen, because he does not know how to go about hiring the kind of top football coach which is necessary for UCLA to get to that place?   Whatever the truth, it is abundantly clear that Karl Dorrell hasn't come close to achieving those things which Guerrero said were principal reasons for firing the previous coach, and yet he is still here.  Or did Guerrero just want to act important and make a change from the previous administration when he fired Toledo (it had been reported by a reliable source that when Guerrero was hired, he was told that he had absolute support if he chose to fire both the basketball and football coach), and simply wanted a credible rationale to present as his reason for doing so?

It has been said countless times of course; but it still must be repeated:  Karl Dorrell was completely unqualified to have been hired as UCLA football coach; and once hired, has achieved nothing which should warrant him still being around.  We all know that he wouldn't be around were this Texas or Ohio State or Alabama, or any one of thirty or so schools which strive for football excellence.  Maybe the football broadcast media, many of them ex-coaches, don't like it; but the truth is that football coaches are now paid immense amounts to be successful; and when they are not, they are now fired quickly and summarily.  Except at UCLA, of course.  Which is obviously a major part of the reason why we are where we are right now.

And where we are is a very bad place.  Not only is this season essentially ruined; but next year looks even bleaker.  We will lose a lot of senior talent; and the schedule is much tougher, considering the road games on tap.  And we now see Arizona State under Erickson already making a major move to become another Pac-10 program which will be better than we are every year, just like USC and Cal and perhaps Oregon are.  This is a serious danger, and it will not be solved unless we not only get rid of Dorrell, but make sure to replace him with a homerun hire, who is every bit as savvy and knowledgeable as Carroll, Tedford, Erickson and Bellotti.  I continue to be appalled at some of the names being brought up as potential replacements; as if we can just put a pretty decent coach in here and everything will be all right.  It won't be; unless of course "all right" is still being defined in "UCLA terms," which means being decent, somewhere in the seven- or eight-win range, with a minor Bowl opportunity.  If that's the goal, then by all means hire Mora, Jr. or Hauck or Leach or Chow or Prince or really almost anyone else.  But if you want to actually see UCLA play in BCS Bowls, and not just dream about them, then we had better aim higher than that.  It is amazing for a program which hasn't really achieved anything of note in many years; but we are incredibly cavalier about the way we look for football coaches, and the names we suggest for consideration.  Maybe it's just that too many UCLA fans don't really understand college football; or is it that they think that we have so many natural advantages that anyone reasonable will do?

This is the last time that I am willing to go through this.  I thought that the last coaching "search" was the most pathetic I had ever seen, even for this school's administration.  I thought that Dorrrell was an absolutely horrific hire.  And I have had to put up with him for five long years, after putting up with Toledo for seven and Donahue for twenty..  Some people must think that they are going to live 500 years, given how willing they are to hire just about anybody with a modicum of credentials, for this position.  Every mistake costs us not only the tenure of that coach, but probably two or three more when the right guy (given that we somehow hire the same) is given the job.  Ben Howland, one of the true rebuilding geniuses of college basketball coaching, needed three years to get our cratered program back to where it should be.  Make another mistake in football, and I'm not sanguine enough to sit around watching the inevitable unfold for another five years or more.  Worse yet, keep Dorrell around because political correctness somehow is felt to dictate that he needs to have an absolutely horrible season to actually be fired; and the administration is simply digging this program into a deeper hole from which it will not necessarily climb out.  Do you remember when Nebraska actually had an elite-level football program?

Sadly, despite everything that we might write or say, the ultimate decision is golng to rest in the hands of Guerrero as to what it will actually take for Dorrell to be mercifully axed; and then in the hands of Guerrero and Field as to what kind of a coaching short list we come up with, and whom we actually choose.  I'm still thinking it will be Mike Leach, but I sure hope not.  At this point, I'd probably be reasonably pleased with Chris Peterson; otherwise there aren't many homerun names easily available.  At least we'll get to watch Butch Davis turn North Carolina into an ACC power over the next few seasons; too bad Guerrero couldn't have gotten rid of Dorrell last year, and let the alumni pony up the money to lure Davis.  No, we were too focused on what a big year we were going to have this season.  Someone might have some of Guerrero's quotes from the offseason available--the ones about "We are now ready to take the next step," etc, etc.  "The next step" is not 8-4, as some pundits are now saying would save our coach's job.  The truth is that Dorrell might be able to achieve that result, since with a healthy Olson or Cowan, we still have enough talent to win four more games.  How about three more, and a big Bowl win over Indiana in our home away from home, El Paso?  Is that good enough, Mr. Guerrero?

Maybe it is good enough for him; as we've drawn an average of about 80,000 fans to our first two home games; and I imagine that Cal, Arizona State and Oregon are good enough draws to keep our average up there.  So, if the sad truth is that good attendance, a profit, and more wins than losses are enough to maintain the status quo here; we may be stuck in the mire for a long time.  I know that it's fun for so many Bruins to go to the games with their family or friends, and I would not want to spoil that pleasure by telling them that in some ways they are helping to enable the administration to get away with their way of doing things--that the only thing which would really wake them up would be massive loss of revenue. But as much as I have castigated the UCLA mindset over the years, I still cannot believe that there isn't some measure of pride remaining there; and that Guerrero will ultimately step up and do the obvious thing, at long last. And he should wait until the end of the season, because the very last thing we need would be an "interim" coach who might be able to win a few games and then turn that goodwill into a bid for a long-term contract; or does the Steve Lavin saga not remind you of that possibility?  Never forget that this is UCLA, and that any opportunity the administration is given to take the easy way out is always taken.  But even if Dorrell is finally terminated,, we must mute our celebration with the knowledge that just as in 2002, getting rid of a bad  coach is only the necessary first step--that whether or not we finally make the homerun hire is going to determine whether the next five years are as dreary and depressing as these last five have been; or whether a new Bruin golden football era is going to begin.

- 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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