Honestly, I do not know how Rick Neuheisel did it.
The relentless optimism.
The passion bucket.
Dealing with the tonedeaf bureaucrats. Especially dealing with the tonedeaf bureaucrats.
While I did not care much for his coaching or the end results, I always respected his passion for our university and the football program.
Me? I began my UCLA undergraduate career in 2006, spent the best 4.25 years of my life in Westwood, graduated two years ago and I am already jaded. I am so damn sick and tired of being sick and tired. In the words of Rick Neuheisel, "I can't be the only one who cares."
Let me elaborate.
Every day, it seems like I wake up to a new disappointing UCLA headline. Whether it be the SI article, Shabazz Muhammad's eligibility, Pauley renovation fiascos or Gene Block building a hotel overlooking Spaulding Field, it seems like my university can do no right anymore.
When did my university become known more for scandals, gross mismanagement and PR crises than championships, Coach Wooden's UCLA basketball program and academic prowess? Since when did the university hancellor, Athletic Director and UCLA basketball head coach become synonymous with the 3 Stooges for their consistent boneheaded bungling of everyday responsibilities?
It wasn't always like this, you know. I am only 24 years old and I'm already jaded, reminiscing about better days.
As a kid who grew up in California in the 90s, UCLA was a mythical place. It was the Disneyland of colleges. It was the dream school.
The powder keg blue and gold, the UCLA stripes. The '94 and '98 Rose Bowl teams. The coeds. The West LA lifestyle. The O'Bannons, Tyus Edney and the '95 National Championship team. The academic prestige. Heck, in the early 2000's, Baron Davis and Earl Watson were the coolest cats in southern California, rocking the ultra cool Kobe Adidas shoes. The hip chancellor who would be on the field watching football games. UCLA had it all and it was reflected outside of campus, outside of Westwood and outside of Los Angeles. The kids at school would proudly wear UCLA shirts because that was the dream school. Proud alumni would walk around in football and basketball shirts. Southern Cal was an afterthought - that school was on par academically with UC Davis and their football program was a joke. Paul Hackett? Jokes.
Flash forward to 2002. I entered high school and the two universities diverged drastically.
Strike 1: UCLA hired Dan (Chianti Dan) Guerrero as the Athletic Director of UCLA. Southern Cal hired Pete Carroll. Meanwhile, I began to see a shift. Slowly but surely, the kids at school began to talk about Southern Cal football. Carson Palmer, Reggie Bush, Troy Polamalu. Meanwhile, Chianti Dan hired Karl Dorrell (first reaction: who?) The academic rankings shifted a little with Southern Cal moving up, UCLA moving down.
Flash forward to 2007. I was now at my dream school, UCLA and Southern Cal (while 13-9 was nice) was the premier college football team in Los Angeles. All of the bandwagon celebrities from Will Ferrell to Snoop Dogg (Lion?) were creating the Hollywood vibe in south central Los Angeles. UCLA basketball was great, the Final Fours were cool and we won games but the fall sure sucked and no trophy despite boasting a starting lineup that'd make a decent NBA squad.
Strike 2: UCLA hired Gene Block as chancellor of UCLA. Since his hiring, we've seen Southern Cal surpass UCLA in some academic rankings, which is unacceptable. Meanwhile, Dan Guerrero's first coach was about to flounder, leading way to Rick Neuheisel, who would lead way to the current head coach. Have you heard of any Athletic Director that survived a national basketball scandal, was allowed to hire and fire 3 different football head coaches, bungled not one but two multi-million dollar renovations, went on a booze cruise AND made more money than most professors? I didn't think so.
Flash forward to 2012. I feel like the UCLA fan base has become a fan base of diehards and zombies or corpses (to take a page out of WSU head coach Mike Leach's book). We diehards peruse this site and go to games hoping that a W here (Texas) or a W there (Nebraska) are signs that UCLA football has arrived again. We look for good news and then we're slapped in the face with bad news, then more bad news. The zombie fans go through the motions. Football Season. Tailgate. Game. Rinse. Repeat. Basketball Season. Game. Donate. Repeat. Go. Bruins. Slowly, we diehards are growing fewer in number. We are getting jaded and slowly losing passion. Why have so much passion when the leaders of the university are apathetic?
I don't know about your thoughts but I'm terrified to wait and see what the effects of strike 3 will be and I fear for the direction that UCLA is headed under Gene and Dan.
There is one thing I do know. I know we're capable of greatness.
My university deserves better than a puppet chancellor who will never understand what being a Bruin is about nor does he seem to care that undergraduate academics and athletics are what make UCLA, UCLA, not Duke or Virginia (no offense to both schools). I don't know about you but as an alumni, I would rather go to a UCLA football game on campus than check into a hotel to tour the hospital's new multi-million dollar wing.
My university deserves better than Chianti Dan and all of his follies. We, Bruins deserve better than a few e-mails a year from Gene, soliciting donations. As much as the Optimists campaign looks neat, we don't need optimists.
We need leadership. We need leaders.
It wasn't always like this, you know.