In the article, Gold looks back at the 2011 season and analyzes what went wrong. The title of the article "UCLA Football in 2011: Much talent, little discipline" confirms everything BN said all season long.
Ridding the Bruins of the toxins of apathy, carelessness and indiscipline will be incoming coach Jim Mora's most crucial task in the coming months.
Here on BN, we have settled the issue numerous times that the problems with our football program was not the roster. Neu's recruiting class ratings speak for themselves. The Bruins had more than enough talent to compete with everyone they played and to finish far better than a .500 team in the regular season. If you want to separate the talent on the field from the talent on the sideline, then that's a reasonable argument, but even that is still the fault of the coaching staff. The level of talent was not the problem.
The problems during Neu's era had to do with teaching and playing fundamental and disciplined football, and employing schemes that allowed the players to succeed. Those directives should have come from the top. While that voice may have been there, the ability to actually get the players to follow was not. Remember Neu pleading "I can't be the only one who cares!" in week 2? No one will ever question Neuheisel's love and loyalty for U.C.L.A., but he was never able to inspire all of his players to follow. Without that central leadership from the head coach (or the AD and his dept for that matter), the role of filling the leadership vacuum fell onto the players, and they failed as a group. The true team leaders weren't able to overcome the pockets of selfishness and lack of commitment that permeated the program. The following quote from Johnathan Franklin, who was a team captain, is telling:
"The problem is a lack of leadership," Franklin said. "Even speaking from my perspective. I need to step up as a leader. The seniors need to step up as leaders. This program has lacked a great leader. Regardless if coach Mora is here or not, we need great leaders."
Credit to Franklin for recognizing the lack of leadership in the program and among the players and acknowledging his role in that failure. As a captain (along with Patrick Larimore and Tony Dye), it was partly Franklin's responsibility to hold the team accountable. Not being in the locker room or in the huddle myself, I can't definitively say why his efforts at leadership failed. My guess is that there were segments of this team who simply weren't listening to the captains or the coaches, but were only listening to themselves. The Over the Wall debacle supports this. Franklin obviously didn't want it to happen, but in the end he deferred to the seniors' insistence on this stupid tradition. As a leader, you must get others to follow and potentially do things they would not choose themselves. Hopefully, Franklin has learned from this and will be a stronger leader in the future for this experience. He is certainly setting the bar high going forward.
Don't ask these guys about going 7-5 next season.
"Nope, 12-0," Franklin said, and he sounded like he believed it. "It's hard work, commitment. It's leadership. We need leadership. And that doesn't come from one guy. Leadership is plural. We need every guy buying in to being great. The whole team wanting to win.
"We have to want these things and believe in these things."
Aiming for perfection, and expecting the team to do that as a whole, is the right approach. This does not mean that we are going to hold the Bruins to a perfect season, but that should always be the goal. Falling short of a 100% is likely to leave you in a better position than falling short of 80%. Franklin is saying the right things here and showing signs of being the vocal leader this program needs. I hope the rest of the team is listening carefully and acting accordingly.
The deference to the wishes of uncommitted seniors that Franklin fell victim to is another part of the culture at U.C.L.A. that has to change. We have talked endlessly here on BN about the crippling culture of mediocrity that Chianti Dan Guerrerror has allowed to develop and persist, and this is the most fundamental reason that he must be fired and replaced immediately. Fortunately for the program, many of the players are recognizing this fatal flaw. Joseph Fauria, who will be a senior in 2012 understands that the existing culture needs to change.
"That's what we're going to do -- but in the sense that we're going to cleanse the culture here. A new head coach, an NFL guy who is going to lead us into a different ... everything. We need it."
Once we get seniors like Franklin and Fauria setting the proper tone, this should get the underclassmen to understand how the culture should be from Day 1, and never let the bad habits of laziness and inattention and settling for good enough ever get ingrained in the first place. This should help develop leaders among the freshmen, sophs, and juniors at an earlier stage and help hold everyone accountable from the beginning.
I hope that Fauria is just using the coaching change as a landmark for instilling that change, because I don't want him simply to wait for Coach Mora to set that tone. While I understand the players naturally looking to Coach Mora to provide that leadership, I think that is still a bit misguided, and hints at deferral of responsibility. I know not everyone will be a Ray Lewis or Brian Dawkins type of guy, but that's the kind of role that we need guys like Franklin and Fauria to assume going forward. An outspoken and driven personality on the team would make up for a lot of holes in the coaching ranks above. This is especially critical because I still have reservations about Mora's true commitment to U.C.L.A. A line from Gold's article reinforces my concerns (bold text is mine)
Mora had not seen much of the Bruins before the bowl game, but he knew what to look for: Those who wanted to put that kind of play in the past.
"I want to see who can make plays," Mora said. "I want to see who plays hard. I want to see if I can get a feel for body language and how it might be able to interpret attitude. I want to see guys that fight to win."
The fact that Mora hadn't watched the Bruins before the bowl game bothered me a lot. It tells me that he was only looking for a job. Any job. He certainly wasn't focusing on U.C.L.A. as a destination, but rather moved on it when the opening came up. I think Mora will do a professional job as a head coach, but we all know the extra sense of commitment and enfranchisement we all feel when there is an emotional attachment to our task. There doesn't seem to have been that sort of connection for Mora before he took the job. I've said before that I have a hard time faulting someone for signing a $12 million contract. Heck, if someone offered me the job I would just reach for the pen. But I do have a huge problem with Chianti Dan offering just anyone a $12 million contract. In an interview process, I might have considered asking a candidate what he knew about our program, what attracted him to the position, what are the existing strengths and weaknesses of the position and how would he address them.? You know, unique and insightful questions like that. Unless maybe those are just basic responsible questions that anyone in a position to hire should be asking. Because if someone knew nothing about the position, that would be a pretty huge red flag to me.
As I've said elsewhere, I had strong reservations about Mora being the right choice and the hiring process. But now that Mora is the guy, it is not constructive to tear him down. So I will highlight his good moves and support him until he gives me reason not to. With that, what I want most from Mora if for him to be the man to break the blind and pathetic "What's wrong with Spaulding?" attitude. Though the new coaching staff's ability to teach and scheme and adjust remain to be seen, If Mora and Franklin and Fauria can be the leaders who get the critical culture change to happen, then half the battle will be won before we ever step on the field.
Finally, Chancellor Block's number and email: 1 310 825-2151 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Demand regime change. and do not let up until it's done.