The UCLA Bruins football players renewed a long-standing tradition Tuesday when they sprinted off the practice field and jumped over a wall surrounding the facility just before practice began, ending the session just after pre-practice stretching. [...]
About 90 percent of the players participated, while a handful of players walked dejectedly off the field and the coaching staff stood at midfield and watched in bewilderment.
Mike Johnson, the interim coach in the wake of Rick Neuheisel's firing and in advance of newly-hired Jim Mora taking over, said he knew about the tradition but wasn't aware the players were going to bolt Tuesday.
"I had practice scheduled, but if there is a tradition of jumping over the wall, then I'd rather have it happen today," Johnson said. "You don't want to lose the day of work, but at the same time that's what the last two weeks were for. We covered a lot in those last two weeks."
The tradition was supposed to have ended last year when last year's seniors got the team not to engage in the silly practice during pre-season. Since the Bruins didn't make it to a bowl game last year, the team never got to do it rest of the year. This year the team stayed away from it during pre-season but it appears that old habits crept into the team during this bowl week.
In some ways interim head coach Mike Johnson missed a big opportunity to send a pre-emptive message to the team. If he had warned the entire team that there would have been consequences for the guys participating in this stunt, the follow up would have been interesting. It may have helped him in his ongoing job search process for new opportunities. However, there are few other angles to this story.The whole stunt is silly but at the same time we have a group of players who have never had any leadership or sense of accountability in this program for years, stemming from the very top. Perhaps they are just college kids who are looking to blow off some steam after what has been a tumultuous year in the program:
Cornerback Andrew Abbott, one of the team leaders, received an earful from defensive coordinator Joe Tresey as both returned to the locker room after the stunt, but said there was no harm in renewing the tradition of going over the wall.
"It's just a tradition for the Bruins," Abbott said. "If people can't understand that, then hey. It's just a little fun."
I have a lot of respect for Abbott as I think he is one of the hardest working kid in the entire program who played his rear end off in every game. He is certainly not someone who can be dismissed as a "bad apple" in this program. Also, don't forget Bruins also did the same thing prior to the Eaglebank Bowl game and they ended up winning that game. I am not justifying any of the action from today but trying to understand where huge number of these players were coming from.
Still it all goes back to a sense of discipline in the program. We all appreciated Rick Neuheisel's love for UCLA but as has been documented over the years he never was able to instill a sense of disciplined that was badly needed in Westwood. Despite all his preaching of "culture change" it never really took place following the Karl Dorrell era in Westwood. It appears now that Jim Mora will have an opportunity right away starting next season to establish a culture of accountability.
What is potentially encouraging is that there are juniors on the team who are not happy about the situation:
"The seniors wanted to do it and get together later for a team activity," said running back Johnathan Franklin, a team captain. "Whatever the team wants to do, you have to do it."
Even if that means you miss out on a day to get better and take one step closer toward pulling the program out of mediocrity?
"It was the seniors call," said Franklin, a junior. "In my opinion, if I'm here next year, it won't be happening."
A handful of players were visibly upset. Safety Dalton Hilliard did not go over the wall and walked off the field shaking his head as his teammates ditched. Prince said he tried to implore the team not to do it, but was overruled.
"I tried to voice my opinion about it but the seniors wanted to do it and ultimately it's their call," Prince said.
Well Prince may or may not be the starting QB next year. However, he can start playing a big part in leadership by making sure all the returning players adopt the mindset of he and his other team-mates who were upset about the stunt. As for JetSki I think development like today is just one more reason for him to come back. If he comes back and helps usher in a new era where there is a real sense of discipline and accountability prevailing through the entire program translating into solid season on the field, he will leave with a legacy that will better prepare him for the next level.
Hopefully JetSki, his team-mates who were upset today, and most importantly new coach Jim Mora will take advantage of this opportunity to usher in a much needed culture change at UCLA. Clearly we are not going to get this kind of strong leadership from Dan Guerrero. So at least for the time being we hope it will be Mora who will step up in a big way next season.