After months of blogging and reading articles, it has become quite apparent that many of us Bruins are seeking a homerun hire, just as Coach Howland was. I often recall reading posts that state, however, that there is no such person right now. That the "Ben Howlands" of College Football are either out of our reach, not available, or nowhere to be found. Need I remind you that this is UCLA: The winningnest collegiate athletics program in the country! May that lay to rest any talk about us not being able to convince high profile coaches to come here. Not to mention that DG has made several recent remarks in regards to money and that it WILL NOT be an issue in this hiring, and that this is a university that CAN and SHOULD compete for PAC 10 and national championships. Obviously, we have a long way in convincing the rest of the country that we are serious about football, but those remarks are quite promising coming from the AD himself.
For those of you that say there is no such candidate comparable to Coach Ben Howland...you're correct. Ben Howland is one-of-a-kind. There is no comparison...as far as character and love for the school and program are concerned. However, in terms of having previous experience and success at various schools...there is ONE candidate that pops into my mind. That candidate is Paul Johnson.
According to Wikipedia and the Navy Football website, the guy has 20+ years of experience at the collegiate level (10 of them as head coach). He has a 107-39 record as a head coach at Georgia Southern University and Navy (.744 win% is 10th all-time). He won two divison 1-AA championships in 1999 and 2000 while at GSU and he has 2-2 record in bowl games with Navy. Prior to his arrival at Navy in 2002, the team had posted a combined record of 1-20 in the previous two seasons. Since his first year at Navy, Johnson has not posted a record less than 8-4. Considering the strict academic (and physical) guidelines at the Naval academy, that is pretty impressive. Surely at a BCS school, especially here at UCLA, Johnson would have a much larger recruiting base which in turn would probably translate into more wins. I've also heard from others that Johnson ran a completely different offense (frow what he now runs, the triple option) at Hawaii when he was offensive coordinator there. Whether this true or not, I don't know. But if it is, then it clearly demonstrates flexibility in his coaching and an ability make the best use of his talent.
Here are some more tidbits on Johnson's team this year (courtesy of cfbstats.com). Navy had an average of 39.9 points per game. Their offense averaged 6.1 yard per play. They were 52.2% on 3rd conversions, 69.23% on 4th down conversions, and (get this) 100% on 2 point conversions! Sure it was only 4 attempts, but that's incredible! Also, Navy had an 84.3% success rate in the red zone (and they weren't just field goals). About the only area that wasn't too impressive was the passing where they had just 67 completions out of 122 attempts (7 of which were touchdowns). Perhaps with more talent and options Johnson would open up the passing game a bit more though. I don't have any defensive numbers, so if you have them please post them so that we may have a more complete view of Johnson's coaching ability.
In any case, I think these figures stand for themselves. He might not be Ben Howland, but he's clearly a proven winner. Sure he has a contract at Navy underwhich he makes $1 million per year, but that doesn't mean we can't make him offer. As DG stated, money will not be an issue. Perhaps our biggest challenge in luring him here would be his lack of west coast ties. Johnson seems to be a Southern boy. But as I mentioned, this is UCLA and there is no better place to be. The battle in convincing candidates (and the rest of the country) about our football attitude begins with us. So let's stop making excuses and go out and find ourselves the best damn coach we can get. Let's go out there and bring Paul Johnson to Westwood!