This week has been the worst week of my life as a UCLA football fan.
Worse than USC putting up 66. Worse than Utah knocking UCLA from 11 to unranked in 2007. Worse than Oregon embarrassing us on Thursday night last season. Worse than Arizona knocking us out of any BCS discussion in 2005.
Worse than the fact that this team hasn't beaten a team that finished with a winning record since Tennessee in 2009.
It is unacceptable to have these problems for such a long period of time.
Being embarrassed by a football team is not unfamiliar to me. I suffered through quite a few bad Tampa Bay Buccaneers teams in my 21 years of life. My high school football team went 0-10 my sophomore year (had 5 upperclassmen, one of whom was the kicker). After two relatively successful seasons, I graduated and went to play at a Division 3 school here in the Inland Empire. I played for the University of La Verne for two seasons and went 1-17.
The most embarrassing thing I have ever been through was not losing, or margin of defeat, or that feeling after you've left your heart and soul on the field and knowing it wasn't enough to win.
No, the most embarrassing thing I've ever been through was being a part of a team that quit on its coaching staff.
I still have trouble admitting this to anyone. But it happened last season at ULV.
This is a personal issue with me, so I have to preface this next part: I am not even attempting to make excuses because what happened was inexcusable and will be with me a long, long time. It is simply a quick background of the situation.
Our head coach was an awful fit. He was extremely passive. He was reluctant to ever reprimand any of us for any wrongdoing. He had no previous head coaching experience. There was a clear divide between coordinators and the head coach. We went into games expecting the worst. All of this in addition to losses created a culture of mediocrity around the program.
How is this relevant to UCLA football?
Randall Carroll (per Jon Gold): "Not everyone was into the game...as usual."
Reports from Peter Yoon and Jon Gold that there were skirmishes in the locker room following the game. No names were leaked, but I believe those reports with zero hesitation for reasons I'll list later.
This, along with the nonchalant attitude this team has shown in every single game this season to some degree (sometimes to an alarming degree) confirms my fear for the second most important football program to me.
The UCLA Bruins have quit on the coaching staff.
The most common responses when someone drops a bomb like that are:
1. Instant agreement
2. What makes you say that?
My position coach my freshman year, who was also our DC (who most of our team wanted to be our head coach because he was the antithesis of our Head Coach), gave me this grain of knowledge about tough times in general:
"If you have to ask the question, the answer is probably yes or close to it."
Before pinning blame on a group of anti-Neuheisel players who aren't giving everything they have on the field, try to look at this from a player's perspective.
You are between 18-23 years old. You are insanely talented and were recruited by schools all over the country, a great deal of which are Top 25 programs. You are surrounded by other talented players, who you spend almost all of your time with year-round. You live together, work out together, practice together, party and pick up girls together. These guys are your brothers, your family. These are the guys who get you through the tough times and celebrate the good times with, in all things not just football. You see the talent and ability all of your brothers have every day, on and off the field.
You get through a mediocre or a bad season. It is easy to pin the lack of success on injuries to key players or a tough schedule. You get basically an entire new coaching staff after that season. You're revitalized. Obviously, it was on those coaches. You'll reach your expectations now.
Then the season starts. And, at a certain moment, you realize that nothing has changed.
That moment is tangible. It is a distinct moment in time.
I can still pinpoint the exact moment that I realized what had happened to my team.
We had just lost to Claremont, 20-14. For me personally, it was my 12th loss in a row. For the upperclassmen, it was the 14th. We had lost in the 4th quarter. One of those games that winning teams find a way to finish and losing teams find a way to let slip away. I was shook up pretty bad, as was almost every guy on our team. We gathered up around our coaches and took a knee. This was the moment that we needed something to spark us and keep us fighting. He proceeded to give the exact same spiel he'd given us almost every week. "Stay positive, we're right on the cusp of turning the corner. Pick me up guys." For some reason I broke my eyes off of our coach and I took a look around and saw the disheveled faces of my teammates switch from distraught to disgusted.
He'd lost us.
Now, I don't profess to know more than anyone else about UCLA football. I haven't been around as long as guys like Fox71 or Class of 66. I'm not a UCLA student like so many of the great front-pagers on this site.
But I know what this team is going through because I've been there. It feels like I'm watching a Hollywood version of my team's story every week on FSN or PrimeTicket.
Everything fits so perfect. There are probably shoving matches and hostile shouting matches in the locker room a few times a week. There is probably dissent amongst the players. It is directed at the coaches and at the situation in general. These are hyper-competitive, testosterone-fueled, flat-out fed up players. All that emotion gets bottled up for the good of your brothers, the good of the family.
But, somehow, it comes out. Whether it is in the locker room, to the media, in the classroom, at a party, maybe just venting to your parents.
That is the kind of emotion that leads a team, seemingly without any fight, to get into a bench-clearing brawl at the first opportunity.
There is only one resolution to this kind of a situation. A regime change to change the culture and path of football at UCLA.
No performance from this team should change this. A team that has quit on its coach can still compete and win. We won and competed in all but 2 of the games following that moment, both games we were over-matched talent-wise to start. This was in spite of our leader, not because of him. And had it not been for a team meeting with the Athletic Director, the performance at the end of the season would have merited another year under the previous regime. She was fully prepared to bring back the entire staff to finish out their contracts. We opened up in that meeting and made ourselves heard. Our voices led to a change.
Check out this article on the current state of my program. La Verne Making Big Strides
Culture change can lead to quick results at a program without multiple top 15 recruiting classes full of 4* and 5* athletes.
It is well-known that UCLA has the talent to be a factor in the Pac-12 and nationally. The voices need to be heard at UCLA. The administration needs to be made aware of what is so obvious to anyone watching the product on the field.
UCLA desperately needs the leader.