Dan Guerrero's Self-Created Dilemma

DG finds himself in between a rock and a hard place and as Bruin Blue notes this was his own doing. Once again to echo Menelaus below a very Merry Bruin X-Mas and Happy Holidays to everyone in this blue and gold bleeding Bruins Nation. GO BRUINS. -N

We are all still hoping that Dan Guerrero ends this extensive coaching search with a winning hire . And that might well still happen.  But I think it would be pollyannish to believe that the ultimate choice is going to be someone who is met with consensus approval, or whose name immediately gains us much-sought national respect for both the process and the hire.  It is tempting to simply hope that the man who brought in Ben Howland will do it again; but it is equally easy to believe that this search has been mishandled and compromised to such an extent that however it ends up, there are going to be some very unhappy people, and some immediate problems to deal with.

As I said the other day, no one is certain as to whether there are any "big name" candidates left with whom we would have a reasonable chance. At this point, I think it's doubtful, though not impossible.  There is a good chance that the three candidates who will shortly all have been interviewed twice--Rick Neuheisel, Al Golden and DeWayne Walker--are really the final list, barring some real deus ex machina in the next week or so.  And if those are indeed the three finalists, we can look at the problems we will face, some of which were actually created or at least accentuated by Guerrero.

By letting Walker coach the Bowl game, Guerrero gave him a chance to "audition," in an almost "can't-lose" situation, since the fact that we were using our backup QBs would be a pretty good excuse for a loss.  And a win, or the close loss which we got, would inevitably be used as major ammunition by the corps of Walker supporters who have been pushing for his hire since midseason.  Letting Walker handle the gathering of recruits a couple of weeks ago gave the media a chance to collect quotes from some of them about how much they hoped to play for Walker.  Now we are seeing various current players push for Walker.  This is very common, as players and recruits always want to play for the person they know best.  But it is part of the media narrative which drives the Walker campaign.  And now, if Guerrero chooses Neuheisel, there are going to be some unhappy people, a lot more than there would have been had these situations not been allowed to occur.  And even worse, if Neuheisel coaches and Walker remains as defensive coordinator, is there not a very real possibility that sides are taken by some of the players who would have preferred Walker?  And if the offense initially struggles while the defense is the stronger side, could this not cause real internal discord and dissension?

If Guerrero chooses Walker, he will anger the group of boosters which supports Neuheisel.  Guerrero will have chosen a man who has coached one game (0-1) over someone who has coached 96 (66-30), and has actually won a Rose Bowl.  If the team gets has a bad season next year, how ridiculous will Guerrero look, particularly given that he will have once again done the opposite of what he said he would do--bring in someone with head coaching experience?  At that point, Guerrero would be in the UCLA hall of shame along with the incompetent Peter Dalis.  And after Guerrero waxed rhapsodic about how UCLA's increased revenue under his tenure has allowed them to be very competitive in the football hiring marketplace, how could he credibly sell Walker as the best choice for UCLA?  And would anyone mind that a school as academically prestigious as UCLA would pay its second highest salary--far more than that of any professor--to someone who "graduated" from an online "university" known as Excelsior College?

If Guerrero goes with Golden, he will anger both the Neuheisel and the Walker factions, all in support of someone who may have fine potential, but who currently has a lifetime record of 5-19.  Some programs--really bad or really good--might be able to get away with this kind of hire; but can UCLA, at this point?  If the team struggles next season, the outcries will grow louder.  Walker would likely not stay if Golden is hired, since Golden's specialty is defense.  Golden would be stepping into a minefield here.

So any of these choices now come with significant risks--not just on-field risks, but internal risks.  And here is where Guerrero has painted himself into a corner.  Had he gone with Neuheisel last week, there of course would have been some criticism, but it would have looked like Neuheisel was his clear choice; and of course Neuheisel's on-field record, while hardly spotless, is pretty solid.  But then came the Bellotti bombshell, making it look like Neuheisel was certainly not the main choice.  It may have been bad timing there--that Guerrero had wanted to speak to Bellotti, but that Bellotti had only granted access late last week.  Whatever was intended, this episode managed both to hurt Neuheisel's image and to make UCLA look rather futile in its search.  Then, of course, by not hiring Neuheisel before the Bowl game, he allowed Walker to try to enhance his case.  He has now granted Walker a second interview, this with the Chancellor included.

I have always said that an athletic director should never be afraid to be turned down by a coaching prospect, or even two or three.  Too often in the past, we have seemed unduly afraid of being turned down, so we have gone for the safe choice.  I do not at all blame Guerrero for seeking out Bellotti, even though the latter would not have been one of my top choices.  But with the various leaks and rumors (some undoubtedly false but some very possibly valid), it looks to all the world that UCLA is casting about frantically to find a coach.  We hear that Steve Kragthorpe was contacted but declined interest; similarly for Chris Petersen.  We have heard various things about Steve Mariucci; he's interested, he wants too much money; we're still talking to him; negotiations have broken down, etc. We have heard that there was an interest in June Jones, but that he is either not interested or that he wants to take his entire staff with him, and we have insisted on Walker being retained.  Most of the reasonably fair part of the national media, such as CoachesHotSeat Blog, are seeing UCLA looking like a program which can't attract anyone of prominence, so will have to settle for another assistant, an alumnus who desperately wants the job, or a very young coach whose current claim to fame is winning four games this year.  Now, that may not be at all fair, since I happen to think that both Neuheisel and Golden have good credentials, but that's how it looks to most.  We are not in the business of placating the rest of the country, but I am also tired of being looked at as a national joke.

Well, the proof is always in the pudding.  Whomever Guerrero hires will have a chance to vindicate it by doing a really good job.  As always, he will be given a chance to do so; though I think that the patience of Bruin faithful has now worn very thin indeed.  Right now, it looks to me as if Guerrero was either not prepared for the rigors of this hire, or that he severely misjudged the landscape.  It appeared that he was not certain that he was going to fire Dorrell until after the USC game.  The search firm seemed to be hired late.  The amount of money that we originally came to the table with (by all accounts about $1.5 million a year) would have been impressive five years ago, but is at least 30% under market value today.  The apparent insistence on having the new coach keep Walker as defensive coordinator may well have turned off those few current coaches who didn't balk at the salary.  There are legitimate questions as to whether Guerrero had the knack for "selling" the job, as a good AD must have.  Going after some big names is commendable, but not so much if nothing was broached to them that would make them really consider the job.  If the final list does indeed come down to Walker, Neuheisel and Golden, can anyone say that the list is appreciably better than that in 2002?  And if not, does it not enhance what the critics and carpers always love to say: that UCLA is not an appealing place for a coach, and that our program is destined to always have to settle, while the other schools go after and often land the big fish?

I personally think that Neuheisel is still a very credible choice.  But the longer we extend this, the more it looks as if Guerrero wants to go in another direction.  And the more it appears that he might be looking for the excuse to take the easiest way out and hire Walker.  If he does that, I can comfortably predict that UCLA will lose a good 25% of its booster and alumni support base.  It's not a good position for an athletic director to be in; and we will soon see what the final decision will be.

- Bruin Blue

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