The Greener Grass: Thoughts On Stanford, Michigan & UCLA

This is one of the exciting and nerve-wracking periods of college football.  Coaches are hired or fired or leaving or staying.  Of course this makes us look at the state of our own program where some big moves are currently on hold, and inevitably many of us start comparing UCLA to some other teams in the news lately.  So here are some of my extended thoughts.

Let’s start first with worries about recruiting.  Last year there were plenty of worrywarts who were freaking out about the low number of commitments CRN had garnered…only to watch him have possibly the best signing day UCLA has had in a long, long time.  CRN has proven his ability to recruit, something he was already able to do when the results on the field weren’t that great.  This year should be more challenging because there is more uncertainty, but many things work in UCLA’s favor:

1.      lack of depth at most positions

2.      proximity to recruiting hotbed

3.      CRN’s salesmanship

4.      UCLA itself

5.      exposure in a big media market

For those who worry about our academic standards being higher than other schools’:  they have always been that was and it hasn’t prevented us from getting the likes of Ogden, Aikman, McNown, MJD, etc.

CRN is still building up the depth chart on this team. Even if he had somehow been able to “plan ahead” for player injuries, the fact of the matter is that our roster was just not deep enough to have backups step up and do a decent job. Some of our starters wouldn’t even be second string on other teams. I’m putting that strike on KD, who put all his money on his large senior class in 2007 and underachieved greatly. His primary recruits were scraps left from U$C’s recruiting carnage, so imagine how bad his secondary recruits were.

Secondly, let’s take a look at the Harbaugh situation, the hot topic of the day.  Many have voiced their envy of his program, and understandably so.  They can join the voices of fans from every team that didn’t make it to a BCS bowl.  Perhaps the sting there stems from the belief that he could have been our coach, and perhaps that is true but it would still be hindsight. More after the jump.

Stanford had an amazing year in Harbaugh’s 4th year, helped tremendously by:

1. fifth year seniors on their OL, who have played together nearly as long
2. a QB who will be the #1 draft pick and was the runner-up to the Heisman trophy
3. continuity in their coaching staff
4. a coach who is arguably one of the best in the country at the moment

Any other program in the country, except perhaps for Oregon and Auburn, would kill to have that.  Certainly, if CRN had a good coaching staff, there would be continuity AND he would be considered a good coach. We should give some credit to Harbaugh’s staff in all this (after all, we are gunning for his DC) as much as we can credit Harbaugh for hiring them. 

Most of the time, a coach is able to instill his personality or specialty on his team:  Cheaty with his defense, Leach with his mad offense, Harbaugh with his smart QB and tough play.  I don’t think it is reasonable to expect a head coach to simultaneously 1) design innovative schemes on offense, 2) design innovative schemes on defense, 3) call the plays, 4) develop all the players, 5) decide which players should play. It’s just not possible to do all of those things at once, that’s what good assistants are for. The head coach’s job is to make sure those things happen, not to actually do all of those things himself.

CRN made bad staffing decisions, IMO, and he gets a chance to rectify it. It should be clear, rather quickly next season, if the right moves have been made (remember how quickly Walker improved our defense). If it doesn’t happen, it will show that CRN cannot evaluate a staff properly and should be let go.

I am just at a total loss as to what happened this last season, except when it comes to our defense where Chucky’s failure was more obvious. I don’t have enough information to blame it all on CRN, especially when the word going around is that Chow basically took it easy and hardly pulled his weight in his time here. Something unexpected happened this year because the team was on an upward trajectory last year.

Did anyone know that the Chow offense would be so unproductive? I don’t think anyone in the country expected that.  My personal beef has to do with installing the Pistol, which I didn’t like at the outset and like even less now. Whose idea was it? Unless our personnel was really so unqualified that this switch was required, I’m putting that strike on CRN because it was ultimately his decision.  In hindsight, it might have been a mistake to bring Chow, even though we ALL thought it was a coup. It was definitely a mistake to promote Chucky, but that is a byproduct of the Chow situation in having less money to spend on a good DC.

Finally, since the comparisons to the Harbaugh regime keep being made, here are the records:

Year 1: CRN 4-8, Harbaugh 4-8
Year 2: CRN 7-6, Harbaugh 5-7
Year 3: CRN 4-8, Harbaugh 8-5
Year 4: CRN ?, Harbaugh 12-1

After 3 years, CRN is 15-22, Harbaugh was 17-20. I’d love to see how Harbaugh would have done if Luck kept getting injured (but I’m not making excuses). No way for me to know if Year 3 was a fluke or a sign of things to come, I don’t have enough information.

I fault CRN for not lighting a fire under Chow’s seat, and for picking Chucky as our DC. Those were two big mistakes and I think he needs a chance to make it right. We all bought into the Chow hype, so I can’t really blame him for that. The Chucky hire however was uninspired.

The worrisome issue is the one related to our QBs.  We can all agree that the QB situation was a big fail this last year, and that strike goes on CRN and CNC equally since I don’t really know the inner workings of that decision. Yes, CRN should have been forceful in not letting an injured Prince play, but if QB guru Norm Chow says he’s good to go, perhaps he just trusted him.  Injuries and an inexperienced OL didn’t help, but what should have been an area of strength was instead a cause for concern.

Finally, let’s take a look at the Michigan situation, which on paper is similar to ours but in reality is worlds apart.  Here are the similarities:

  • both RichRod and CRN inherited teams with a depleted roster
  • both are 15-22 after 3 years
  • both are 0-6 against their main rivals (Ohio State & Michigan State, U$C and Cal)
  • both had a terrible defense

Here are the differences:

  • seemingly unlimited funding at Michigan (they will have spent $5 million just to hire and fire the guy, not including his salary!)
  • RichRod not a “Michigan man”, CRN is a Bruin

Rich Rod should never have been hired, that blame falls squarely on the AD’s shoulders. He ran a completely different system which would take time to implement and just he does not fit in socially with the Michigan crowd. I mean, not at all. The AD was blinded by Rich Rod’s record and wanted to make a splashy hire. Considering the payouts on top of everything else, that was a bad decision. Rich Rod was a known commodity and the only thing he had in common with Michigan was his team’s colors.

Many here would like our AD to act with the same decisiveness…but it is a completely different situation.  RichRod was brought to Michigan for one reason only: to win.  Michigan can spend just about any amount of money to get the coach they want.  UCLA can (will) not.

So yes, the neighbor’s grass can always be greener…but you don’t know which dogs have been there…


<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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