With summer now upon us and football season coming into view, now is a good time to take another look at the changes near the top of the football program during this off season. After the disappointment of the 2010 campaign, and the unfolding of the year prior, change in the coaching staff - near if not at the top - was a given. One of the changes was a bit of a surprise, even considering his unit's lackluster performance, while the other had been on the hot seat at Bruins Nation for some time, with the question being when, not if he would be asked to move on. All in all, the changes certainly look to be upgrades over last year's staff.
At first glance, the name Mike Johnson might not have meant much. While he started his coaching career in college, he spent most of the past decade in the NFL ranks, culminating in being named offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers during the 2010 season. Being associated with the 49ers offense during the Mike Singletary era in San Francisco is not exactly considered a mark of distinction, but his brief time in the job was not thought of poorly. In a vacuum, finding out that Mike Johnson was brought in to replace Norm Chow to run an offense would seem to be a very risky move. But, with the performance of the offense over Chow's tenure, even retaining as highly respected a coach as Norm with those results would have been risky.
Despite the recent history of the Bruin offense, bringing in a coach with little collegiate experience is a risky move, albeit tempered by a versatility that Johnson has showed through his career in terms of the types of offenses that his teams have run. Particularly relevant to his new job is his prior experiences with the pistol and the spread option offenses. Helping both Neuheisel and Johnson in this adjustment is the hiring of former Nevada running backs coach Jim Mastro onto the staff, with the official duties of coaching the F-backs and tight ends, but also bringing his wealth of experience with the pistol offense to the Bruins, a resource that Neuheisel and Chow did not have during last year's ill-fated debut of the UCLA pistol.
More after the jump.
While the pistol will still be an integral part of this season's offensive game plan, Johnson's main task will be making UCLA's passing attack relevant again. As Bellerophon noted earlier this month, Johnson has at least begun to instill a more aggressive and attacking mentality, though implementing the mindset, and getting the returning players to adjust from the old ways may take time that Neuheisel and his staff might not have. As we discussed earlier, an opinion on the offensive changes is still incomplete, but there was more turnover on the staff to come.
On the defensive side, the mere fact of a change in coordinators may have been the least risky thing that Coach Neuheisel did during the offseason. Chuck Bullough created few admirers with his "leadership" of the Bruin defense; considering the performance of last year's defense, the departure of Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore and the presence of a large number of young players with time to grow under new leadership, the time was right for a change. After a long search, with candidates ranging from highly experienced to WTF!?!, the selection of Joe Tresey was not in of itself a risky endeavor, but opened up Neuheisel to some criticism.
Meriones discussed Tresey's hiring and came to the conclusion that he was if not a home run hire, at least a solid choice who was well-qualified and looks to bring a more aggressive attitude to the squad. After spring practice, ESPN blogger Ted Miller noted that even with the loss of Ayers and Moore, the defense would be "sneaky good", thanks in part to Tresey's defensive scheming. Looking at the immediate-post camp depth chart, there is a good deal of talent for him to work with.
The upcoming season is going to be a significant one for both Coach Neuheisel and the UCLA football program as a whole. Earlier in the offseason, SI.com's Stewart Mandel wrote that Neuheisel is "running out of time" in Westwood. With that article, we discussed the make or break season ahead, as well as the thoughts shared regarding the new hires on the staff. Given the exceptionally critical nature of the coming year, making these sorts of wholesale changes to the coaching staff was a pretty risky measure to take, but given what we had seen in the last couple of years - as well as the perceived state of the program as described by Tresey after his hiring - stability would have been the riskiest thing of all.