Pregame Guesses: Utah Utes Edition

Doug Pensinger

With conference play beginning for the Bruins, we still need to take another look at the coaching change across town.

Bruce Springsteen - Live At Passaic - 6. The Promised Land (via MrMaiden321)

(I have to apologize. The short week and a trip out of town this weekend left me with a little less time than usual to pick a video for the guesses column. Oh well. Try to guess why I picked The Promised Land by Bruce Springsteen.)

Jerry West is universally regarded as one of the best executives in the history of organized, professional sports. If you're unfamiliar with the history, he was the front office architect behind the Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/Magic Johnson and the Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O'Neal championship eras.

West's fans (rightly) credit West's basketball acumen for much of the Lakers' success. He knew who to draft, who to trade for, who to sign as a free agent. He also knew who to hire as coach, whether it be Pat Riley or Phil Jackson. But West was not perfect, no one is. He once drafted Billy Thompson out of Louisville. He signed Benoit Benjamin as a free agent. He hired Randy Pfund as head coach. And what I believe really put West over the top as a great general manager wasn't his ability to make the right decisions, it was his ability to recognize when he made a mistake and then correct it. Sure, he hired Randy Pfund to be the coach. He also got rid of Pfund when he realized he wasn't up to the job. This is a UCLA sports blog so I won't walk you through West's various deals, just know that when West realized he'd made a mistake, he didn't wait four years hoping to see if it might work out. Rather he cut his losses and moved on as fast as he was able.

For the record, while West has been out of the organization for years, quick decisions are still part of the Lakers modus operandi. You can argue with their decision to hire Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson on the last coaching change, but at least credit them for moving on Mike Brown as soon as they realized he wasn't right for the job. Keep in mind, that coaching change cost the Lakers and the Buss family millions.

Compare that to our own athletic decision maker, one Dan Guerrero. Here is what he had to say in October 2011.

We'll evaluate at the end of the year like we always evaluate and make determinations (of) what we're going to do at that point. But right now, all this talk about him staying or him going, that does nothing for our team that is trying to regroup and go out there every week and play hard and try to win football games.

That statement was published on the SBN Network on October 21, 2011. Guerrero was talking about then-head coach Rick Neuheisel. UCLA had lost at Arizona the day before by a score of 12-48. The team was 3-4 on the year, Neuheisel's fourth on the job and had an overall record of 18-26 during Neuheisel's tenure.

Just for emphasis, let's say that again: Neuheisel was 18-26 seven games into his fourth season. His team was coming off a blowout loss to a marginal Arizona team and our athletic director's reaction was "Keep moving everyone. Nothing to look at here. We'll evaluate things after the season." (For the record, this has consistently been Guerrero's approach to things. Here is a link to him making the exact "wait and see" type of statement about Ben Howland -- who he would go on to fire after the season.)

One more comparison:

USC's Pat Haden made the decision to fire Lane Kiffin during the third quarter of the fifth game of his fourth season -- so basically two games before Neuheisel's loss at Arizona. The Trojans record on the year, including their loss last week to Arizona State, is 3-2. (Neu was 3-4, still being evaluated). Kiffin's overall record was 28-15, roughly the opposite of RN's record at the same point in their tenures. But Haden didn't wait to "evaluate Kiffin after the season." See, he knew it was all over. The last thing he wanted was for the Trojans season to just sink into the abyss. He also didn't want Kiffin to find some way to beat Notre Dame, maybe beat us and generate some momentum to keep his job. Haden knew and he made his move.

Decisive.

I'll acknowledge that the Neuheisel and Kiffin situations were not exactly analagous. Kiffin took over from Pete Carroll and had a lot more initially to work with than Neuheisel did. On the other hand, Kiffin had to deal with the sanctions that Carroll left for him and there is zero doubt at all that the loss of scholarships hurt the Trojans a great deal. Not sure if that makes it a push, but it's pretty close.

Does all of this mean that Pat Haden is a great executive and Dan Guerrero is not? No, not exactly. But I put it to you that one quality of a great executive is the ability the ability to make tough decisions. Another quality of executive leadership is the ability to decisively act when decisive action is needed.

I'll leave it at that.

~ ~ ~

Apparently, I've spent more time this week contemplating events cross town than I have our game against Utah.

As a result, I'm going to have to repeat a point I've made a few times on this blog, that conference games are just different than non-conference games. When you play teams that you face year in and year out, there is a natural equalizer that cuts both ways. Their guys have seen our guys plenty of times, there is no concern on their part that they can play with us and vice-versa. They've already been hit by our guys, already been beat by our guys. And vice versa.

The result is that conference games just play closer on the field than they do on paper a lot of the time. It's why even the highest ranked teams in the country sometimes have to work to beat teams they outclassed in the recruiting rankings. It's why a team like Oregon State is capable of giving us fits, even if star for star we've got them beat from a talent standpoint.

Despite our ranking, we haven't proved a thing this year. it's great to be unbeaten. It's great to be happy that West Virginia beat Oklahoma State and we get to move a spot in the polls. But the real season begins tomorrow.

Of course, we're a few weeks from Stanford/Oregon weekends that will ultimately tell us where we are as a program. Which means that strong performances against Utah and Cal are crucial. I know, I know -- we're not supposed to get ahead of ourselves, right? Wrong. It doesn't matter what some blogger has to say, I'm not on the team. I can look ahead all I want. And when I look ahead I know there is will be a huge difference between going into Palo Alto unbeaten and in the Top Ten or with a loss or two clinging to the back end of the Top 25.

And, with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Utah Utes edition:

  1. What number will be higher: UCLA's points at halftime or Jordan James' total carries in the game?
  2. Who will lead the Bruins in tackles tomorrow?
  3. Name a Bruin with 3 or more receptions tomorrow.
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