The UCLA "Culture" Straight From DG's Mouth

BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 09: Head coach Rick Neuheisel of the UCLA Bruins looks on against the California Golden at California Memorial Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Berkeley, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

There has rightfully been a lot of discussion recently about Athletic Director Dan Guerrero's role in the struggles of our two most visible programs. Yesterday, Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA.com caught up with the embattled AD and got some interesting responses:

Guerrero has never been a flashy, in-front-of-the-cameras guy; but mostly it's because all anyone ever really wants to ask him about is what's happening with his struggling football and basketball programs.

"Those are the economic drivers. Those are the ones that draw the most attention in our fanbase and from a national perspective. I understand that," Guerrero said.

"I'm the first one to know what people think. When the clock hits zero at a football game we lose, my BlackBerry's on my hip and it starts buzzing and it doesn't stop for about 50 buzzes … which means that people have already written the e-mail and are just waiting to push send.

"One day it might explode on my hip. I get it."

There's nothing wrong with being behind the scenes. However, the way it's written certainly does make it seem as if he's hiding out from the big questions many of us have about the plans for both our football and basketball programs going forward.

Guerrero chose Neuheisel to be his head football coach three years ago for a specific reason.

"I know he understands UCLA," Guerrero said.

...

"He understands the unique aspects of this culture," Guerrero said. "I can assure you with the highest degree of confidence that a lot of these great coaches that are out there, if they came to UCLA they'd struggle. Because the things that they can control, they can control. The things they can't control, they can't control."

Neuheisel is the second football coach Guerrero has hired. Karl Dorrell was the first. Guerrero fired him after he went 35-27 in five seasons. Neuheisel is lagging way behind that pace with a 15-22 record through three seasons.

A little cryptic, no? Here's where things get interesting. I'm sure regular readers and contributors here need no reminders about what makes UCLA a special place, but in this context it's just confusing. UCLA is a university, and it faces many of the same challenges and struggles other places do. Why is it that understanding UCLA has to be a big enough deal that one bases a hiring process off of it? Is that code for "we're cheap, and we're not going to pay you much"? To emphatically come out and say that great coaches would come in and struggle here; how is that not an indictment of the athletic department and the rest of the administration all the way up? What does that even mean? Is anything being done to change that, because it seems like a negative, does it not, Dan?

I wish that Ramona had followed up on that line of questioning, because really I think that gets to the heart of what Bruin fans want to know. If DG cannot use his own influence in his position to free himself from whatever shackles coaches and makes them unable to do well in our "special" environment, then it's time to reveal those roadblocks for the world to see. Whether it be the Pauley renovation, the neverending DC search, the restrictions on direct athletic department donations, or even the mythical/mystical alleged higher academic standards for recruits, the time for long suffering Bruin fans to finally get some answers is long overdue. What would it hurt to update Bruin fans on Pauley? Maybe generate at least a little buzz and help fill the alleged gap in funding. Why is it that Cal can accept academically NCAA qualified athletes but we can't? Are we that unwilling to make sure that student athletes get the help that they need to pass their courses? So far, it seems like the UCLA culture is based on misinformation and innuendo.

In a related piece, Shelburne also reveals that Guerrero has hitched his wagon to Ben Howland:

But Guerrero's respect for the coach that took UCLA to three Final Fours in four seasons is evident.

"People don't really understand Ben. They don't really see him. They don't have the opportunity to see Ben Howland in practice, for example," Guerrero said.

"There's a difference between a hammer and a teacher. There's a difference between discipline and someone maintaining focus. Ben is an educator. He really is.

"By his own admission, he made some mistakes [in recruiting]. But I'm going to work with him. I'm not going to crucify him for those mistakes. Because Ben Howland is a hell of a coach, and anyone who understands basketball, anyone that's been around him, that knows the game, has the utmost respect for what he does as a coach.

And Guerrero is probably wise to show support for the man. There's no reason for DG to interfere with what Howland does best, but even beyond the records, he has to know that teaching and coaching aren't all there is to being head coach at UCLA. If DG wants to help, he's going to have to help identify the root causes of what's going on with the program and "suggest" some corrective actions. Howland may be a master sculptor, but the clay he's working with is problematic. DG has the nation's greatest college basketball program in his hands, and it is floundering. Bruin fans want to know how we were able to parlay the momentum of three Final Fours into the dysfunctional mess of last year.

But all anyone wants to talk about is what's ailing the basketball and football programs.

"I understand that," he said, neither asking for nor expecting sympathy.

He took this job with eyes wide open, knowing the distinct educational and financial challenges UCLA will always have to deal with.

He also embraced it.

"A lot of the successes I've had, they don't just happen," he said. "They happen because I'm a grinder. Because you're able to deal and fight through adversity. You're able to take one on the chin and fight back and prove people wrong."

Be careful, Dan. The boxer that takes too many on the chin gets knocked out. It's a good thing that he doesn't expect sympathy, because I don't see a lot forthcoming, not with his two most visible products publicly struggling under his watch. However, I'm sure he would at least receive some understanding if those that were blasting him knew exactly what it was that makes UCLA such a difficult place to work, yet the silence continues. How many times must we see these challenges vaguely referred to before getting some clarification? Are we supposed to take it on blind faith that they exist? Or is it a shield used to cover people's asses when things aren't going well?

The bottom line is that Bruin fans have had questions and concerns for a long time, and the answers have never come. Transparency can be a bitter pill to swallow at first, but it's sure as hell better than fiddling while Morgan Center burns.

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