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Bruin Expectations

I wanted to point you guys to a couple of good posts on expectations wrt to UCLA football and how they compare to expectations for another major powerhouse football programs. As pointed out yesterday, Jason, a Bruin and a (Georgia) Dawg fan (who is also a great contributor on BN) has put together his own blog: What's Bruin, Dawg. Recently, he put up this post concerning the curse of reduced expectations among certain segments of the UCLA fanbase:

UCLA's football program has been mired in mediocrity for years. And it will almost assuredly never recover from this abyss of mediocrity without extensive changes - perhaps I will be proven wrong on this, but I doubt it. Unlike the exhortations of national pundits, UCLA does in fact have a pretty proud football history - a history that includes the second-most Pac-10 championships in the conference (second to, of course, USC). This history includes Rose Bowl appearances in 1942, 1946, 1953, 1955, 1961, 1965, 1975, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1993, and 1998.

However, UCLA's football program has struggled mightily with the theme of 'reduced expectations'. It all started with Terry Donahue. Donahue had a handful of successful seasons - and by a 'handful' of successful seasons, I mean successful seasons in which this guy was playing quarterback. Apart from that, Donahue's tenure was marked by an inability to maintain any sort of momentum from year-to-year. That's typically the hallmark of poor coaching - not poor talent. For example, in 1978, Donahue led the team to a 8-3-1 record, which was followed in 1979 by a 5-6 mark.

In 1988, Donahue (Aikman) led the team to a 10-2 record; in 1989, UCLA dropped to 3-7-1, and essentially never recovered. Donahue's mantra was never to 'win national championships'; indeed, during the whole of Donahue's tenure, UCLA never seriously contended for the national title, despite ample talent. Donahue's stated goal was to compete for a Pac-10 championship, and nothing more. That's what UCLA achieved. As the years went by, all UCLA had to do was post 8 and occasional 9 win seasons, win the Pac-10, and appear in the Rose Bowl, and everyone was happy. This is what mediocrity breeds. It breeds contentment. UCLA football fans have become so complacent that merely 'competing', 'showing up', and stringing together a couple of good wins is more than enough.
Jason makes some good points here. But we are sure he is not generalizing when he is talking about the "UCLA football fans' becoming complacent with just merely showing up. We will concede that there is a segment of UCLA fans (Dorrell apologists) who in their zeal to protecting the coach (in the name of being loyal to the program) have gone out of their way to make excuses for Dorrell. They have gone out of their way to make excuses for underachieving seasons. Lot of these guys, again, are Dorrell supporters, or people close to the program with access to coaches and players, who are just happy with the status quo.

We submit that the growing majority of the UCLA football community is not happy with mediocrity. The results of our current poll is just the latest evidence and the same sentiments are being expressed by Bruin fans in the traditional media as well. There is a reason why this particular community has been experiencing explosive growth since it was launched a little more than a year and half ago. The majority of UCLA fans actually do expect our football program to compete for the Pac-10 championship for every year, and then make a legitimate run for the National title every 4-5 years.

Jason almost missed the point by saying that UCLA's program "didn't recover" after Donahue's 3-7 mark in 1989. That assertion completely misses the mark. The fact is that, following 1989, UCLA won the Pac-10 twice before Dorrell arrived in 2002. During that span, the Bruins also ran off an 8 game winning streak against the Trojans (which will never be matched in the history of this rivalry), and put together a 20 game winning streak, during which they were on the brink of appearing in the National Championship game.

Coach Toledo did change the Donahue mentality of being happy with Pac-10 championships, and established the expectations of competing for a national title. He just didn't turn out to be the right combination of a coach/chief executive that is necessary to put together successful programs in today's college football. However, he did show during that stretch from 1997-99 what can be achieved at UCLA.

FWIW these are my minimum expectations for a UCLA football program under any coach during a 5 year stretch:

8-4 (rebuild first year/ Sun Bowl)
9-3 (Holiday Bowl)
10-2 (win the Pac-10, Rose Bowl or BCS bid/)
9-3 (Holiday Bowl)
10-2 or 11-1 or 12-2 (Rose or BCS or a NC title run)

UCLA should be going to the Sun Bowl in rebuilding years, Holiday Bowl in above-average years, and Rose or BCS bowls in years with veteran groups of junior and senior leaders. UCLA should never, ever be happy or content with bowl games lesser than Sun Bowls during rebuilding seasons. And I really believe that comports with the expectations of the majority of Bruin fans (especially alums who are used to seeing this program contend for the Rose Bowl year in and year out).

So anyways, Jason makes some good points about reduced expectations and how some so-called fans have succumbed to the danger of reduced expectations, but he is missing the point, if he is implying that UCLA has a monolithic football fan base, which is just happy with a fluke or moral victories over Southern Cal, humiliations in minor bowl games, and no sign of competing for conference or national championships. Given the body of work we have built in the Bruins Nation, such a claim would be just silly. And we are sure Jason knows that. So, hopefully, Jason was referring to just a certain segment of the Bruin fan base when referring to people being content with reduced expectations.

Now, one guy who does have the pulse on Bruins Nation is Kyle from Dawg Sports. Kyle took note of Jason's observations above and also of Bruin Blue's guest post here on BN, and wrote up this analysis comparing Dorrell and Goff, former Georgia head coach (alum), who was fired for being mediocre:

Because Bruins Nation has drawn the analogy to other programs and the subject has come up before, I thought I would take a few moments to look at Coach Dorrell's time in Westwood and see how it compares to Coach Goff's tenure in the Classic City.

Both coaches got off to inauspicious starts, with each posting one .500 record and one losing season in his first two campaigns. Coach Goff began his career at Georgia with a 10-13 record, going 6-6 (with a Peach Bowl loss) in 1989 and 4-7 in 1990. Coach Dorrell commenced his stint in the City of Angels with a 12-13 ledger, going 6-7 (with a Silicon Valley Bowl loss) in 2003 and 6-6 (with a Las Vegas Bowl loss) in 2004.

Neither coach was helped by the fact that each opened with an 0-2 run against his local rival, as Georgia Tech peaked in the second half of the 1989 campaign before going undefeated in 1990 and Southern California claimed the A.P. national championship in 2003 before going undefeated in 2004.

In the finest seasons compiled by either of them, Coach Dorrell and Coach Goff each went 10-2 and claimed victory over a Big Ten squad in a bowl game with a fair degree of historical pedigree, as the 1992 Bulldogs beat Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl and the 2005 Bruins beat Northwestern in the Sun Bowl. Nevertheless, both seasons were marred by losses due to defensive lapses and the latest in a series of setbacks to conference rivals Southern California and Florida, respectively.

Coach Goff's last autumn on the job resulted in a 6-6 record in 1995, when the Red and Black concluded the regular season with a close win in a defensive struggle against nearby rival Georgia Tech but squandered the momentum thereby gained when they dropped a 34-27 decision to an A.C.C. squad, Virginia, in a Peach Bowl game played in their home state.

Coach Dorrell's fourth season on the sideline produced a 7-6 ledger in 2006, when U.C.L.A. wrapped up its scheduled slate with a close win in a defensive struggle against nearby rival U.S.C. but squandered the momentum thereby gained when the Bruins dropped a 44-27 decision to an A.C.C. squad, Florida State, in an Emerald Bowl game played in their home state.

Obviously, the analogy between the two coaches is imperfect, as Ray Goff spent seven seasons at his alma mater, posting records of 9-3 in 1991, 5-6 in 1993, and 6-4-1 in 1994.

However, the resumes of the two men are comparable, as the first four years of Karl Dorrell's stay at U.C.L.A. produced a 1-3 record against resurgent rival Southern California, just as the first four years of Ray Goff's time in Athens produced a 1-3 record against resurgent rival Florida . . . a team Coach Goff would not beat again for the remainder of his coaching career.

Furthermore, I sympathize with Nestor because I remember the point at which I came to the same conclusion about Coach Goff that a growing number of Bruins fans are reaching about Coach Dorrell.
Make sure to read the entire post from Kyle. Per Jason, Dorrell is not even worthy of comparison to a mediocre coach like Goff:
[T]here are some significant differences between the respective resumes of Goff and Dorrell, and I wanted to detail these before I get to the crux of my argument. Firstly, while Mr. Goff did have two non-winning seasons to start his career at Georgia (6-6 in 1989, 4-7 in 1990), he followed these records with marks of 9-3 in 1991, and 10-2 in 1992, ledgers which seem to imply that progress was being made. In contrast, Karl Dorrell followed his best mark of 10-2 in 2005 with a disappointing and pedestrian mark of 7-6 in 2006.

So, Mr. Goff did not have three six-loss seasons in his first four years, and showed marked improvement in years 3 and 4. There has been no such marked improvement with Dorrell's tenure. Indeed, the only consistent facet of Dorrell's tenure had been the maddening inconsistency of UCLA's play during these four years.
Well, we will let the Georgia fans hash out that particular point. FWIW Kyle concludes with this note:
Given the similarity of their respective resumes and the propriety of the regrettable fate that awaited Ray Goff, it is appropriate for U.C.L.A. to impose an expectation of "significant improvement" upon Karl Dorrell, much as Vince Dooley demanded of (but did not receive from) the man who succeeded, but could not replace, him.

If Coach Dorrell's Bruins underachieve next year as they have in three of the last four seasons, it will be time for a regime change in Westwood.
At least wrt to its end result, Kyle's analaysis is on the right track.

We are going to be writing post after post in the coming months setting up the expectations for the 2007 football season. And I don't think it is going to be a surprise for anyone in BN, that our expectations are going to be sky high. Going into this year our expectations were at least 9 wins and a victory over Southern Cal. Dorrell failed to live up to it. Nothing short of at least an appearance in a BCS bowl game will be acceptable for 2007. And right now we feel confident that if Dorrell comes up short again, UCLA is going to take action.

Word is getting around from coast-to-coast that the growing majority of UCLA football fans are getting sick and tired of mediocrity and the pimping of reduced expectations, which has been hallmark of the failed Karl Dorrell experiment in Westwood. We don't live in the Donahue (pre-internet) era any more. Times have changed.