Here we go ladies and gentlemen. This is our last game week of 2010-11 football season. Let's start with the following from a local paper in Colombia, Missouri (that's right Missouri) to get an idea of the national image around current state of Dan Guerrero's football program:
UCLA had to petition the NCAA to be allowed to compete in the Fight Hunger Bowl, because, after losing the Pac-12 championship game, the Bruins have a 6-7 record. The NCAA was willing, but it appears that UCLA is even less excited about playing the game than we are to watch it.
First, the school withheld the expense checks from several players who hadn't attended voluntary workouts during finals week and hadn't turned in their academic exit forms. The players revolted via Twitter, saying they needed that money to eat because the school dining halls were closed over winter break. The irony of starving their players in preparation for the Fight Hunger Bowl eventually dawned on UCLA officials, and they cut the checks.
On Tuesday, those fat-and-happy Bruins participated in the 30-year-old team tradition of going "over the wall." After stretching with their teammates, a group of players, led by seniors, climbed over a wall, skipped practice and probably, you know, caught some waves or married a Kardashian or something.
Ouch. This follows an AP wire story lampooning the Bruin football program as a national joke, which Bellerophon flagged in our X-Mas edition of Bruin Bites. So with this backdrop which includes a core of group of seniors - most of whom haven't showed much discipline on and off the field - Chris Foster from the LA Times ran a story of seniors' reflecting on UCLA's future. Taylor Embree leads it off:
"We need to establish a winning culture around here," senior receiver Taylor Embree said. "We need to create a culture that will allow us to compete with Oregon, Stanford and USC."
This is the same Embree who fired off absurd tweet in defense of over the wall lameness, saying how it had been his "dream". It's the same Embree who equated winning Eagle Banks Bowls with winning Rose Bowls. And yet here he is talking about "creating a culture" that would allow UCLA to compete with Southern Cal. Simply unreal.
So these seniors do not exactly have a lot of room to talk when it comes to opining on the future of our program. They are representing yet another group of players from last 10+ years who are leaving behind a sad underachieving trail of embarrassing losses in winnable games and humiliating defeats that sullied the four letters.
Nevertheless like previous years we do have a student athlete here and there, who stand out as what a UCLA player should be all about. Derrick Coleman is one of those kids, who picked up the mantle left behind by ATV (perhaps those geniuses at WAF should have thought about Coleman for this). Coleman also made some interesting observations in the same piece that are worth sharing. Lets' get to them and couple of other notes after the jump.
Like few others in the LAT piece Coleman mentioned the need for improving facilities. That is not news to us. It is something we have been discussing in detail for a while. If you have not, you should Odysseus's full briefing on this topic here, here, here, here and here.
What stood out to me were the following Coleman's comments on "discipline":
"The discipline outside football has to improve," Coleman said. "I'm not saying it was bad, but it can definitely go up a notch."
Coleman also mentioned players' use of social media as one of those minor problems that are "bad for the program."
He said, "You can't just have a team meeting and talk about it. You see one person bad-mouthing the program, you really have to enforce it."
Coleman's comment on social media is interesting. In case you guys forgot already Jim Mora in his first day as the UCLA coach in Westwood did have a "team meeting" during which he according to one player, "asked the team not to tweet about the school."
I think Coleman is essentially letting Mora know that we are going to need more than just talk from the new regime. If you look through old posts on BN, you will see us getting excited about Rick Neuheisel's comments about the need for "culture change." We all saw how that worked out. We want Mora to succeed badly in Westwood (despite of incompetence and failed leadership of Chianti Dan). However, we are going to need more than new coach rhetoric this upcoming season, starting on January 9th.
It will be interesting to see how Mora not only enforces discipline in this program but also get total buy in. Otherwise 2-3 years from now we are going to read about another group of outgoing UCLA seniors talking about what needs to change with a new coaching regime in Westwood.
Speaking of seniors, who got it done, stumbled into this oldie yesterday on YouTube. This is a preview package of 1995 Bruin football program, featuring Jonathan Ogden, Donnie Edwards and Kevin Jordan:
Note the highlight package against the team from over there. Someone should show that to Mr. Embree and clue him in about how all of that was a little "different" than winning Eagle Bank bowl games.
Let's end the roundup on a positive note though. Despite all the negativity that has engulfed this current group of seniors since they arrived in Westwood, they are getting one last chance on Saturday. A confident and secure coach would have suspended lot of these guys for their last game for the stunt they pulled last week. Johnson is letting these guys off the hook and giving them another chance (they have gotten off easy a lot during their careers in Westwood without having to pay any consequences).
Perhaps these guys will show up at bowl week practices a little humble from the humiliating publicity and come out focused and hungry (no pun intended). If they can finish their career off this Saturday with a clean, disciplined and a solid victory over Illinois, it will be immensely helpful to the efforts of Mora and his new regime to bring back a winning mindset in Westwood.
Talk is cheap. Let's hope these seniors can get it done on the field. It'd be nice to see someone like Coleman walk off the field from his last Bruin game a "winner."