Season-Ending Thoughts--Where We Are Now (from Bruin Blue)

Here is our guest blogger Bruin Blue's final post on the 2006-07 football season. FWIW, the "Blues/Cranks" reference from Bruin Blue in this post is a reference to a phenomenon (Dorrell supporters=blues; skeptics/realists=cranks) which is unique to the communities of Bruin message boards. Obviously, we don't have those artificial divisions in our reality-based community here in Bruins Nation. Anyways, many thanks again to Bruin Blue who has let us feature his wonderful and poignant thoughts on Bruin football to share it with rest of Bruins Nation. It is yet another must read. GO BRUINS. - N

Well, another UCLA football season has come and gone. We went 7-6. This means that Karl Dorrell has lost six games or more in three of his first four seasons. I will pretty confidently say that there is not another major football program in the entire country which would not fire a head coach who had three six-loss seasons in his first four years. Not one. But of course, this program would have to be the one exception.

Believe me, I am not taking pleasure in this latest defeat. Actually, I was foolish enough to make a little wager on UCLA, ignoring the fact that the right bet in any UCLA game is the underdog; and that under what I used to call the "Pepper Rodgers theory" (which I developed while he was at Georgia Tech), mediocre coaches with good talent play wildly unpredictable games. Anyway, I lost, the team lost, we all lost, and here we are. And I know very well that if only we had done this, or if this other hadn't happened, we might have won. Of course, that is the way in many football games. We could have easily lost four more games last year. We could have lost to USC this year, or we could have beaten Notre Dame. But here we are, 7-6. The final black-and-white result is 7-6, fourth place in the Pac-10, loss in a third-tier Bowl to a 6-6 team, a finish well out of the Top Thirty. When you play 13 games in a college football season, all of which count significantly, you have to focus on the bottom line.

But Karl Dorrell still draws a great deal of support from many Bruin fans, which is a phenomenon in itself. I've puzzled and pondered about that many times here. Perhaps it's some sort of cognitive dissonance--Dorrell is here, and we want him to do well, so we have to convince ourselves that he is doing well, or about to do well; or otherwise we have to admit that the program we care about made another foolish hiring decision, and we have wasted our time. Or it's that insular aspect I've noted: Dorrell went to UCLA, and all of Donahue's ex-player cadre likes him; so we should, too. We would just rather have "a Bruin" than someone with no ties to the program. That must be the reason that every time we try to make a hire in football, our short list has only those who either played or coached at UCLA. Me, I'd desperately look for someone outside the program, who could bring in a much-needed infusion of a new winning attitude; but I get outvoted each time.

I'm under no illusion that the most recent loss has changed many attitudes, or that it will help hasten Dorrell's departure. Everyone knows that we will have a very good season next year. We return almost everyone, with a year more of experience. We have a much more favorable schedule than last year. And with the wins, will come all of the optimism, and the Dorrell support again. My guess for next year is 10-2; with one surprise loss before USC exacts its revenge. 10-2 is a good year, except that we won't win the league, and that it will be the best record we will have in a while. The following year we will go back to something like 8-4, and so on. The key fact which keeps getting ignored is that we have more talent at UCLA than most of the teams we play; and better talent wins often enough, that we can average seven wins a year under ANY coach. The oft-mocked Toledo did it, Donahue did it, Pepper Rodgers (with a 10-game schedule) had the same relative success. It goes on and on, but doesn't really get us anywhere significant, which is the tragedy (if you can use "tragedy" in a sports sense) of UCLA football.

Even with all this, I can't fully understand the wish of so many UCLA fans to like Karl Dorrell as a coach. My honest view is that he is pretty much a figurehead; someone who never called plays as a coordinator, someone who really is not particularly well versed in the complexities of so-called X's and O's. His postgame comments (and in four years, we've heard enough of them to gauge) are an embarrassing mixture of meaningless cliches and some kind of pseudo manager-speak, never about the actual intricacies of what happened on the field. "We need to keep doing the things we're doing, working to get better." "We need to get everyone on the same page." "The effort out there shows that we are definitely going in the right direction." (After fifty games you have coached, we are "going in the right direction?"). Does it not occur to you that Dorrell makes such comments because, a) he doesn't know what else to say; and, b) he thinks it sounds good to his bosses, this sense that it is a long, hard road we are traveling, but that we're slowly making progress? Haven't you ever come across people in management, who weren't accomplishing much at all, try to hide it under such meaningless corporate gabble? It cannot do for Dorrell to admit that we have ever taken a major step back; it has to all seem like just another glitch in what is clearly a positive course. Given the realities of major college football, such a stance is laughable, but he seems to get away with it, as attested to by the unwearying faith of so many UCLA supporters.

I always enjoy the literate and insightful writings of Charles Chiccoa, but I think even he would admit that this "Blues/Cranks" thing which he invented has taken on a life which he never intended. It implies that there are simply irreconcilable factions which for whatever reason (birth? breeding? temperament?) will see things through their own peculiarly colored lenses. It's become like the Cavaliers vs. the Roundheads; the Royalists vs. the Jacobins; the Red-Staters vs. the Blue-Staters--twains which can never, ever meet. This allows one side to just ignore or dismiss the arguments of the other side as predictable, repetitive or biased, without even trying to examine cold, hard facts, such as season records, conference success, Bowl results, national status. In none of these four, has the Dorrell regime been any kind of success; and yet here he is, ready to set forth on season number five, with the backing of a good portion of the alumni and fan base. To me, this either means that many of them don't really have much in the way of expectations; they have blinders on; they have attained a certain comfort level with the kind of coaches we hire, and don't want to risk going outside it by making a play to become really big-time; or perhaps some of them have a personal relationship with the coaches, and value that above all.

I often wish that there were indeed multiple universes, because then the Dorrell supporters could inhabit the one where their man was here forever, with all of his coaching style and postgame comments, and the entire ethos of his regime. Meanwhile, I and others could inhabit the world where we had Butch Davis or Tom O'Brien, or someone who has proven he can win as a head coach, and we could enjoy all of that. But of course it doesn't work that way. You who continue to champion Dorrell force the rest of us to put up with him. In my less generous moments, I wish that all the people who fought and clawed to keep Steve Lavin here for so many years; who said of those of us who told them from the outset that he was an incompetent and a charlatan; that we were damaging the program, that we were closet Trojan fans, that we we didn't know anything about basketball; would have to inhabit a world in which he was still coach, and could not enjoy the benefits of having Ben Howland. But of course they get to enjoy Howland, too; even though in some sense they did everything they could to keep him from ever having the chance to coach here. And similarly, I see the most fervent of Dorrell's supporters of helping to perpetuate a situation which keeps us from ever having the chance to actually have an astute, knowledgeable, highly competent football coach here. And that bothers me greatly, as we take leave of another season.

Now, it's on to basketball, which is light years removed from our football program. There, we have a proven, topflight head coach and staff, which has already achieved major success last year, and now has us ranked Number One in the country. Imagine that; and they said it couldn't be done, that the times had passed UCLA basketball by. I've seen many lately say "Thank heavens for Ben Howland," or words to that effect. But if we allow our much-deserved basketball enjoyment to lower our rightful expectations for Bruin football, to allow a regime which has fallen short in all respects of what even the Athletic Director had indicated were the minimum requirements for the program, to blithely continue along acting and thinking like it is doing just fine, then we are doing a disservice to all of us, and cheating ourselves out of the wonderful fun of actually having a great football program. Needless to say, after so many years of this self-imposed futility, my long-term hopes are not very high that any of this will change; but there is still a little bit of hope there; and I do wish that more of you would urge that the necessary changes in perception, expectation and coach be made.

-Bruin Blue

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