Regular readers of Bruins Nation know how we are all huge fans of Brian Dohn, the UCLA beat writer for the Daily News. Dohn's coverage of UCLA sports and college athletics in general is simply one of the best in business. And we are not talking best as in traditional media circles of Southern California, we mean Dohn is one of the very best sports reporters in the country. No one provides more thorough, detailed coverage of UCLA and college sports, while maintaining a healthy perspective on the big picture in the LA area than Brian Dohn. Sure we may not always agree with him but we can always count on him for solid reports and wonderful takes on UCLA, which makes the Daily News coverage of UCLA the best in Los Angeles. So recently Brian was kind enough to give us an online interview and answer 10 questions on various issues concerning UCLA football and basketball. Here you go:
BN: There is a lot of mixed feelings here on the Bruins Nation about last year's "10 win" season. Even though the Bruins posted a 10 win season for the seventh time in school history, the current mood is more than sour because of the late season drubbings at the hands of Arizona and USC, and because of a feeling that the Bruins got lucky thanks to a schedule which was the easiest in last 30 years. Overall, has Karl Dorrell overachieved, or underachieved? Can we expect continuous improvement, or was last year as good as it gets, in your opinion?
Dohn: I think Karl Dorrell is right where he needs to be at this time, but something must be done to close the gap with USC. And this is the year to do it. Debating whether it was a good 10-win season or bad 10-win season, to me, is silly. They won 10 games. Luck plays into it. The Arizona loss was a debacle, but the USC loss was even worse because expectations were for UCLA to at least be competitive. The Trojans could have scored 100 points that day. The key is closing the gap with USC. There was so much positive energy in 2004 when UCLA played the Trojans tight at the Rose Bowl, and a repeat scenario is important.
UCLA, I don?t believe will be a 10-win team again, mostly because they will be breaking in a new, albeit darn talented, quarterback in Ben Olson, and the middle portion of their schedule is brutal.
However, with a few bye weeks before USC, and the fact the Trojans will not be nearly as strong offensively as they have been the last few years, Dorrell?s hold on his coaching tenure could become tenuous with another bad loss in the rivalry.
BN: There is a lot of excitement among UCLA fans about the new defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. What are your predictions on the performance of UCLA defense this upcoming season?
Dohn: The defense will be better, but that means absolutely nothing considering how atrocious it?s been the last two years. What plays out in training camp at the linebacker spot will be paramount to whether this is a good defense or not. There is experience and talent on the defensive line and in the secondary, but inexperience and, again, relatively little depth at linebacker. John Hale will be sophomore and play on the outside, but some confidants within the program wondered to me whether he played too upright to be a solid linebacker anywhere but in the middle. Eric McNeal made the move from safety (about two years too late) and brings speed and the ability to hit, but he needs to learn the angles of playing linebacker and get used to the speed so close to the line of scrimmage. Then, there is Christian Taylor and Reggie Carter in the middle. I know Walker loves Carter, but there is a real concern within the program whether Carter knows the defense well enough to be the top guy in the middle. Taylor knows the defense, but doesn?t have the physical tools many of the other middle linebackers across the Pac 10 possess. The last time UCLA was good defensively was when Brandon Chillar was a senior, Justin London was a healthy sophomore and Spencer Havner was an unknown sophomore. In other words, strong linebacking is the key to defense, and UCLA isn?t quite there yet.
BN: Speaking of excitement, let's talk about Ben Olson - the former prep. Blue chip phenom. - who a lot of our readers have already tabbed as "Southpaw Jesus". Is it reasonable to conclude that Ben Olson is the most talented quarterback talent to come into Westwood since Troy Aikman in 1987?
Dohn: Talent, to me, is only half the story of being successful in college. You need it, but that is not all. To think Olson is going to have a great year, I believe, is foolish. He hasn?t played in four years, went two years without really picking up a football, is yet to get hit, is running a complicated offense, doesn?t have a standout receiver or tight end, and will facing defenses begging UCLA to show it can run the ball as it goes with more one-back sets than previous seasons. Yes, Olson is incredibly talented ? so much so every school in the nation drooled upon his return from a Mormon mission ? but he is a sophomore who hasn?t throw the ball at a meaningful time in four years, playing in an offense that takes two to three years to master. If he threw 20-22 touchdowns and was intercepted 10-12 times, I think that would be a good year, all things considering.
BN: On a scale of 1-10, ten being the best, where would rate Karl Dorrell's performance over his tenure? If 10 is the likes of Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, etc., what record would you expect a coach of that stature to attain with the players Karl Dorrell has had over the last three years? This year?
Dohn: I?ll give Dorrell?s performance a 8, because the loss to Wyoming will never be forgotten. But I don?t think people realize how bad the talent was inside the program when he took over. And on top of that, the attitude was awful. Remember, in places like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Miami, LSU and USC and so on, attendance at ?voluntary?? summer workouts is 100 percent. No questions asked. At UCLA, those workouts actually were voluntary. When Dorrell arrived, the players were ecstatic so many hung around to work out during the first summer. And how many is so many? How about 50 or so of 100? Yes, that?s how far behind UCLA was in attitude.
And that attitude carried over into practice, where players used to spend the pre-practice time playing games of touch football or stickball, rather than actually working at getting better as football players.
Certainly, Dorrell made plenty of mistakes his first few seasons, but his hands were tied by what was left. Remember, this was a program that had six senior defensive linemen, then no one behind them to step in the next season. There?s a reason more than 20 kids were either kicked off the team, transferred or quit playing football in the first two seasons Dorrell was in charge.
As for this season, I think UCLA could go anywhere from 7-5 to 9-3. It will depend on Olson?s development, and whether the linebackers can perform.
BN: In the abstract, how long is a reasonable period of time to judge a college football coach's performance?
Dohn: I think a coach needs at least six years. Yes, six years. Look at Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, or Bill Snyder at Kansas State. It takes time to filter out the old recruits, build a foundation and create the proper attitude within the program. Then, it takes a few years of recruits, and time to build depth. This is Dorrell?s fourth season coming up, and a few of his first recruits will be seniors. But in healthy programs, those kids would have red-shirted and now been only red-shirt juniors. Instead, many of them had to play immediately (Joe Cowan comes to mind) when red-shirting was the preferred option. Finally, this incoming recruiting class is helping build depth, and the offensive linemen are a great example. Each one is expected to red-shirt, and by the time they are sophomores, they could play big roles. And by the time they are sophomores,Dorrell would be in sixth season.
BN: Shifting gears to basketball, who do you think will be the most improved player in Ben Howland's lineup next season?
Dohn: Tricky question because so much of it is reliant on health. But if Alfred Aboya is healthy, look out. He will out-hustle and out-will guys for rebounds and loose balls, is 21 years old and has a mature body, has a full off-season of practice under his belt (he missed last off-season because of knee injuries) and understands Howland?s system. He can defend and is athletic, but he needs to show he can make a 12-foot jumper to soften up defenses so the guards can penetrate and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can rebound.
BN: Give us the names of your top-5 college basketball coaches in the nation?
Dohn: Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Jim Calhoun, Connecticut
Rick Pitino, Louisville
Tubby Smith, Kentucky
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Why no coach K? He?s a great recruiter, but no one loses more NCAA Tournament games against inferior teams than he does.
BN: The entire medium of sports journalism is gradually changing due to the boom of the internet and electronic information distribution. We noticed you have your own blog on the Daily News posting about your preparations for the marathon. Are we going to see more of these new features from the Daily News? More specifically, can we look forward to a blog from you giving us inside perspective on UCLA just like your colleague Scott Wolf who maintains a Daily News blog covering USC?
Dohn: Right now the Daily News loves blogs. It?s all the rage. Blog this, and blog that. How else can some schlep train for a marathon and get his paper to run a blog about it?
As for one on UCLA, it is in the works. I?m not sure when it will start, but I would guess sometime in August. That is, unless something changes between now and then.
BN: How do you think blogs fit into our new media landscape? What role can they play? Should they play?
Dohn: To be honest, I don?t like the concept of blogs as it relates to covering a beat. My feeling is, if it?s not important enough to put in the paper, it?s not important enough to include in a blog. The way I see it, blogs are another way of writing rumors. I don?t deal in rumors. I deal in fact. I don?t print rumors. And I also don?t think it is anyone?s business whom is dating whom, or which player hosted the best weekend party.
BN: What is your impression about how athletic departments of major colleges communicate with the traditional media? Are they fully incorporating even late 20th Century technology into their media relations? Do you think an athletic department can attain a competitive advantage over other athletic departments through the use of communications technology?
Dohn: I?ll answer the second part first. Yes, there can be a competitive edge if an athletic department knows how to use technology. Case in point, Dorrell was emailing with Ben Olson for months before Olson returned from his Mormon mission. Emailings are covered only vaguely by the NCAA. If other schools don?t think of it (and plenty did), that gives UCLA an advantage.
As for the first part, media relations departments are cooperating and communicating just as they did 15 years ago. Cell phones and email make it easier to get information to reporters, but the relationship is important because, as of today, newspapers provide more depth of coverage and knowledge than television, and reach more readers than websites. It is in the school?s best interest to have a good relationship with print media.
BN: Thank you so much again for kindly taking your time and giving us these thoughtful responses. We look forward to reading your reports on UCLA this season and certainly wish you luck in the marathon. Please feel free to cross post on BN anytime about the progress of your marathon.
Dohn: No problem. If there is anything I can do for you in the future, let me know.