Another must read guest blog post from Bruin Blue, which gives us a little dose of reality. GO BRUINS. - N
And I mean that in every context. There are many more games to be played. No matter how much many people might want the season to be over, it is not. And with more games of course comes at least the theoretical chance for Karl Dorrell to save his hide. We've seen it happen before here, in both football and basketball. UCLA doesn't like to fire coaches, and particularly this one. Dan Guerrero has to this point done everything possible to support and keep Dorrell around. Most of us wouldn't have dreamed of hiring him in the first place, but he did; and he can't pass the buck to Chancellor Carnesale for that. And he kept him around after 12-13 in his first two years, and after 29-21 for four seasons. So who can say what Guerrero's calculus might be as to what it would take to end this regime. Would 8-4 keep Dorrell around? How about 7-5 and a minor Bowl win? Probably not; but after our history of maintaining bad coaches (can anyone still imagine that we kept Lavin around for seven years???), I cannot be confident. Dorrell still has time to save himself in Guerrero's eyes.
Considering how absolutely awful we looked against Utah, it wouldn't seem likely that we could still win eight or nine games. But we are simply not as bad as we looked--almost no team is as bad or as good as their last game. Obviously, I overrated our team, and particularly our quarterback. And even I underrated just how bad our head coach is. (You'll be happy to know that I finally decided against betting the "over" on season wins, and decided to play it game by game. With the Utah odds so high--7 to 1!--a wager was prohibitive, so I am literally minus $1 on UCLA so far, and consider myself very lucky). But there is still talent on hand--it didn't just go away. And perhaps Pat Cowan will be back in a week or two, and he'll change the dynamic, and we'll be at least as good as last year, with an easier schedule. Maybe I'm just girding myself for the possibility of having to see Dorrell around for another year, but would it be that surprising if we beat Washington at home, Oregon State at Corvallis, and then Notre Dame here? If we did that, we would be 5-1, with all the "Blues" solidly back on the bandwagon, and the team full of confidence once again Now, I don't know if any of that would be enough against Cal or Oregon. It certainly wouldn't seem to be against Southern Cal. I would figure that 9-3 is the best we could hope for, and it could get much worse than that, depending on possible internal friction. And it may well be that a loss as devastating as Saturday's cannot be recovered from. But we've seen Donahue's teams get humiliated, and good old Terry bounce back for one of his patented 7-3-1 campaigns. We saw Lavin get massacred at Maples, and destroyed at Durham, and at the end of the year he was still standing. This may well be different, but I'll believe it when I see it.
But let's assume that Dorrell flounders to such an extent that Guerrero is absolutely forced to make a coaching change. That would be a major step forward--except that then we would be faced with our familiar bete noir--the coaching search. We have failed at this time and time again in football; and it was only after all those bad hires in basketball that we finally got it right with Ben Howland. For a supporter of a program, a coaching search with a chance at a fresh start can be exhilarating; but at UCLA it is something else entirely. It has more often been a nightmarish process, filled with stupidity, insularity, lack of imagination and financial wherewithal, and exhibiting a just plain failure of nerve .It's easy to see that most other schools upgrade to as good a coach as they can obtain at their level. Bama goes all out and gets Saban. Florida does the same for Meyer. Arizona State gets Erickson; Michigan State grabs Dantonio from Cincy; NC State lands O'Brien from BC. North Carolina, which has virtually no football history, somehow comes up big to get Butch Davis, the coach I always wishfully wanted in Westwood, but knew we would never hire. But UCLA, time and time again, not only settles for, but actually goes after untested lightweights, such as Donahue, Toledo (okay, there was a bid for Gary Barnett, but when he stayed at Northwestern, they went immediately to Toledo), and then, in one sickening feat of outdoing even our own miserable hiring history, Dorrell. I don't know exactly what it is--a combination of influential alumni who apparently know little about football; athletic directors who don't seem any better in that area; an insular "we want Bruins!" attitude; cheapness and sanctimonious political correctness--perhaps all of these .As closely as I follow college sports, I cannot think of one major school which comes close to us in the ineptitude of our coaching searches. Well, we finally changed that in basketball,; but that is a different sport; and we were so very lucky to have one of the nation's best coaches actually desiring this job. In football, it's not like that, and we would have to do the groundwork to find and then land the right coach, because it's unlikely that the football equivalent of Ben Howland is going to be actively campaigning for the job. Are we capable of doing this right, just once? We can all hope, but our history does not inspire us with confidence.
And the "right" coach is exactly what we desperately need here. It is almost certain that any hire will be better than Dorrell, but that hardly makes it the right hire. We can easily be fooled by the next guy (as we were sort of fooled by Toledo), simply because whoever he is, he will come in and at least have some idea of how to run an offense, so we will look better. But rest assured we need much more than that . Just we did in basketball, we have let the rest of the conference catch up to and pass us over the last decades. Southern Cal of course is in another league. California has gone past us, and Oregon essentially has, too. And they both have very solid coaches, almost certainly better than any "okay" coach we would hire. It's no longer the case, as in the Donahue era, where we could count on our talent advantages to allow us to be a conference power even with a mediocre coach in charge. And don't forget Arizona State, as Erickson is a proven big winner in the college game. That's not to mention Oregon State with a fairly solid Riley; Washington with Willingham, who is much better than the people at Notre Dame think; and Washington State with Doba, who usually beats us. The truth is that if we don't hire a big-time coach here, we are going to be stuck in the middle of the Pac-10 for years. We already have seen just what talent deficits Dorrell's unique brand of recruiting has left us with. What kind of year can we expect to have next season, or the one after, even with a solid coach in here?
Which brings us to names of potential coaches. Maybe it's early for that, but I don't think so. It's ironic; I like to pride myself on my ability to find the best potential coaching hires; but somehow we have waited so long that many of the people I would have wanted a few years ago are unavailable. Butch Davis might well have been a major name mentioned, had we jettisoned Dorrell last year, but no more. When the bogus coaching search of five years ago was made, I mentioned Les Miles, then at Oklahoma State, and Tom O'Brien at BC; but we're not getting either of those now. I was very impressed with ex-Tressel DC Dantonio at Cincinnati; but he's already gone to Michigan State to turn that program around. Petrino might have been a longshot for us; but he's gone, too. So what are we left with? There is no Howland-type coach (someone who has won big in a major conference) that we could get . That leaves us with coaches who have shown success at smaller programs, or highly touted assistant coaches. My guess is that we will not go after the latter, simply because we have hired so many assistant-types here.That might be a mistake, because the next Urban Meyer or Bob Stoops could be out there; but it's very unlikely that Guerrero would have enough contacts and acumen to unearth him. Our mistake was always in hiring from the Donahue tree. but it has probably made us gunshy of hiring someone who has never been a head man. Now, of the former group--current head coaches at lesser programs--we have such possibilities as Gary Patterson of TCU; Mike Leach of Texas Tech (I will mention that I would not want his gimmick-offense, no defense style here, and yet I think that he may ultimately be the actual choice, because he wants this job, and people remember that he beat Tedord in a Bowl); Chris Peterson of Boise State, perhaps Jim Grobe of Wake Forest. Of that group, I would probably prefer Peterson, because of what he showed us last year. I think that the failures of other Boise State coaches Koetter and Hawkins shouldn't be a negative against him. And then of course there is Rick Neuheisel, but I doubt that UCLA would hire him at this stage. And Steve Mariucci, who is intriguing, but may be more image than substance. And that unfortunately may be the entire list--unless we look at Mike Riley again. What are the odds that Guerrero and his search committee is going to find a diamond in the rough that most of us had never considered, but who could be the next Bob Stoops or Meyer? (Meyer of course might well have come here in 2002, but of course we were busy compiling our list of Dorrell, Greg Robinson and Riley). The sad thing is that right now I can't think of someone that I would be really excited about--someone who would actually make Pete Carroll sit up and take notice. Even if Carroll leaves, you can bet that Garrett will make a big hire; and we need to have someone here who is as good a coach as there is in the conference; otherwise rest assured we will take a backseat to those schools which have better coaches, just like we did in basketball, until we got the best coach in the league in Howland. The name UCLA doesn't mean enough any more--we have to have the right coach here.
Because finally, it should be obvious that we do have a long, long way to go to get where we want to be, among the very best football programs in the nation. For too long there has been a myth that too many UCLA fans and alumni have deluded themselves with--that we are a solid football program, albeit perhaps not in the very top echelon. But the truth is that in the last twenty years, we have had six losing seasons, and a few other ones where we barely broke even. We have not won anything better than the Cotton Bowl in over twenty years. We have played in only one BCS Bowl since the format began. We go to Emerald Bowls and Vegas Bowls and Silicon Valley Bowls--and we can't even win those. How many times since that glorious battle with Southern Cal in '67 have we gone into the last game of the season with a legitimate chance to win the national title? Just once, when we played Miami in that fateful game in '98. We are not close to the level of an Oklahoma or Ohio State or Florida, LSU or Texas, not to mention our ever-present crosstown rival, who likes to laugh at us. Those are the schools that play in the big games, while we delude ourselves because except for the annual battle with the Trojans,we don't have to play such teams, and so we think that beating Washington State or Stanford in the last minutes, or Northwestern in a Bowl game is something to be really proud of. It's lucky for us that there is no football playoff, because we would never, ever be in it. It is so bad, that there is a legion of Bruin fans who are utterly convinced that we should be content with seven or so wins a year, and trying hard. It will take a long time, and a really good coach, to change the football mindset in Westwood. I have always held out hope; but even I am not sure it can be done at this stage. But I am certain that if there still is that hope, then we had damn well better get it right this time, or there might not be much of a next time, considering the commitments which so many other schools have made to hiring the best coach available, and to spending the funds to bring their program to the highest possible level,.while our athletic deparment and too many of our fans don't seem to have any realistic conception of what is necessary.