UCLA Can Get A Big Name Coach: Part 1 - The Problem At The Top

As we have discussed in depth over the past week, the current state of the UCLA Football program is at best mediocre; given their roles in the failure, Rick Neuheisel and Dan Guerrero need to resign immediately or be relieved of their duties. While calling for the dismissal of an under-performing football coach is an easy call, figuring out the viable candidates to replace him is a bit trickier. Achilies wrote a post last week laying out the BruinsNation criteria for Neuheisel's replacement. While this presents a solid foundation from which to identify candidates for the job, I will be looking at the issue of why such coaches would consider UCLA to be a attractive option thoughout the week.

There is an all-too common theme expoused by members of the media, message board posters and even some members of Bruins Nation which states that UCLA simply cannot attract a quality coaching candidate to take the job in Westwood. That factors inherent to the football program, Morgan Center or to UCLA's administration either make the job radioactive to coaches throughout the country, and/or prevent the university's leaders from even bothering to go after top-level head coaches or promising assistants to take over the program. I can understand how those thoughts have developed - in the past 2 coaching searches, Dan Guerrero and Morgan Center have not demonstrated creativity in terms of the range of coaches considered to lead the Bruin football program nor have they shown the ambition to go after a truly program-changing leader. However, the past failures of Dan Guerrero cannot excuse a failure to make the correct decisions now, nor should Bruins preemptively justify such a failure by pointing to the past without calling for a change in the decision maker.

After experiencing the past decade of UCLA Football, I have no confidence that Dan Guerrero is willing and/or able to make the not-so tough choices that are needed to dig Bruin Football out of its current mess. Note that the responsibility for making these choices rests on Dan (if he remains on the job during the next coaching search), and not on Gene Block or Morgan Center as a unified entity, or on folks like Bob Field and Pete Blackmon, who have been long said to have an outsized influence on UCLA Football. Given that Dan Guererro's title is "Director of Athletics", he is the man paid very hansomely to wield ultimate control over all of UCLA's athletic programs, answering to Chancellor Block. While blaming the old guard, the Donahue tree, or whatever you call the persons invested in the status quo at Morgan center might seem to be a convenient way to explain the epic failure of UCLA Football in the past decade, any influence that they have over the football team or the athletic department is with Dan Guerrero's consent, and the consequences of their actions must be laid at DG's feet.

The prior failures lie with Dan Guerrero and the administration that serves under him inside Morgan Center. While this claim does naturally implicate leadership at UCLA, the factors that are commonly inferred to prevent UCLA from bringing in a top-flight football coach are not systemic to the university's nature. That is, nothing prevents the person in charge of the Bruin athletic department from taking steps to make the Football program more attractive in the eyes of an elite head coach, or a well-regarded coordinator looking to make the leap up in responsibility. As I will discuss later this week, some changes are well within Dan Guerrero's (or whoever holds the AD position at Morgan Center) ability to make, and others are well within his ability to put into motion. Others may require that he grease the wheels a bit with other parts of university administration, whether it be Gene Block and the main leadership, or the Academic Senate (with Chancellor Block's help). These changes need to happen, and now.

In short, any failure of Dan Guerrero and Morgan Center to hire an upper-echelon candidate to become the next Bruin head coach will not be due to a systemic failure inherent to the university, but due to a failure of ambition, of creativity and of will of our athletic leadership. A failure by Dan Guerrero to create within the UCLA athletic department an environment that can attract and support a head coach while he restores the culture of Bruin football, or the failure of Gene Block and other UCLA leaders to put someone in charge that will do so will be yet another dark mark on their tenures in Westwood while setting up the football program for a second decade in the wilderness.

There are several factors that a coach likely takes into consideration when deciding whether or not to take a job. Some of these may be more personal in nature: such as whether a coach prefers small town life (having his team be the center of a region's sporting life) to a large city with several pro teams to compete with in the public eye; ties that the coach or his family has to a school or to a city/region; personal salary and such. Others have a direct bearing on the ability to create and maintain a competitive football program: such as the salary pool for assistant coaches and other staff, facilities, ties to a quality recruiting pool as well as the ability to get prized recruits into the university and on to his football team.

The common reasoning given to support the defeatist argument that UCLA cannot attract a top-flight football coach involves some of the above points, those issues that are in the control of the Athletic Director and those willing and able to support his vision for the program, particularly those involving money (in all aspects) and facilities, as well as the issue of academics - specifically admission standards. Later this week, I will discuss these points, what effect they have on an outside coach's desire to come to Westwood, and what changes, if any need to be made to those factors to help attract a top-flight candidate to take the job.

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