First Fan Post here on BN, so if I've ran afoul of BN rules please let me know. This post can also be found on my blog, apatheticandenergetic.blogspot.com, where I discuss everything from UCLA sports, to Boston sports, Politics, and Law School.
For the first time since I can remember, both UCLA basketball and football are stuck in the middle of seasons that are not just disappointing, but downright embarrassing. UCLA football, which dominated Pacific Conference play in the 80's and 90's, has become the laughing stock of Division 1 football. Unfortunately, unlike years past, Bruin fans can't look to basketball for reprieve. After 3 final four appearances in a row, UCLA basketball has had a string of mediocre seasons, culminating in losses to Loyala Marymount and Middle Tennessee State to start this year.
There's no excuse for UCLA to not have, year in and year out, top 25 football and basketball teams. UCLA is surrounded by schools that produce some of the highest ranked recruits in the country. Not only are athletes given the opportunity to get a world-class education, but they do so in beautiful Southern California.
So, given all of that, what's wrong with UCLA? Put simply, the Athletic Department has fostered, and embraced, a culture of mediocrity. This starts at the top, with (inept) Athletic Director Dan Guerrero. When Guerrero goes on the record as being "proud" of an appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl you know there's something wrong. Why is it that UCLA, located in beautiful Southern California, the second biggest media market in the nation and a recruiting hotbed, can't attract elite college coaches? Because the Athletic Department is not willing to pay for them. Rick Neuheisel is the 50th highest paid coach in the country (keep in mind this is only for public institutions, which are required to release employee salaries. Surely, schools like USC and Notre Dame are paying more than UCLA as well). If you want an elite football team, you need to pay for an elite coach. UCLA wouldn't dream of ponying up the 4 or 5 million/year required for an Urban Meyer, Chris Petersen or Mike Leach.
Not only is Dan Guerrero unwilling to pay for elite coaches, he's also unwilling to demand excellence. How long would an Oregon, Notre Dame, USC, or LSU tolerate a losing record? With the exception of the 2005 season, UCLA has had a string of disappointing years. And, mark my words, if UCLA wins 6 games and goes to a bowl, Neuheisel WILL NOT be fired. Accepting mediocrity like that is why UCLA will never be an elite football program under Guerrero's tenure.
As for basketball, one can only wonder how long Guerrero will allow Ben Howland to stick around. Granted, Howland put UCLA basketball back on the map with 3 straight final four appearances, but since then he has produced (1) a sub-500 season; (2) lackluster tournament play...if the Bruins even make it there; (3) lackluster recruiting classes, and (4) a string of players who either transfer or leave early for the NBA draft. Why is it that UCLA basketball players are willing to be second round picks in the draft as opposed to coming back and playing for Howland. It's common knowledge around Westwood that players hate playing for Howland. His defensive-first style of play is boring to watch and, from all accounts, he's an asshole. I don't mind a slow style of play and an asshole coach...but only if we're winning.
Once again, what would schools like Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina or Duke do after 3 (and, by the looks of the first two games this year, 4) mediocre seasons in a row? They would make changes. They would make changes because they EXPECT greatness. Guerrero does not.
Unfortunately, as long as Guerrero is in charge of UCLA athletics, neither the football nor basketball teams will be held to a standard of excellence.