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"Blues Win": Another Bomb by our Friend BruinBlue

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BruinBlue, one of the more outspoken and well-reasoned "cranks" in the "blue-crank" debate, (and this does not refer to arguments regarding the bodily organs of Smurfs) has shared another beauty on the culture of mediocrity that pervades the UCLA football program.  For those that are not familiar with the "blue-crank" debate, BruinBlue provides a sufficient description in this piece. It's long, but as always, well worth the time to read:

Blues Win

That was really the essence of my lengthy post the other day (and I appreciate all the comments, particularly the well-reasoned ones). The Blues (and of course the very choice of appellations: Blues [nice color associated with UCLA); Cranks [calls up the image of querulous curmedgeons like those two old guys on "The Muppet Show] is reflective of the bias of the debate) always win at UCLA. That's why we kept Donahue for 20 years; that's why we hired Toledo and Dorrell, and Farmer and Hazzard and Lavin. There's not a chance in the universe that a school like Texas or Ohio State would hire such coaches; and those that have made the mistake once or even twice (Notre Dame, USC, Florida,et al), will not make that mistake again. We blithely do it all the time; "that" being hiring a head coach for one of our two major programs who has no head coaching resume, nothing to extrapolate from; just the fact that he seems like a nice guy, and that he went to UCLA; and, oh, yes; it really seems to be a plus if he is a minority; which to me does not seem a valid reason for hiring a head coach, unless you are more concerned about making a political statement than in hiring the best coach reasonably available.

So anyone who follows the entire college football and basketball scene knows that UCLA has ordinarily made the "easiest," least dramatic hires of any so-called major school in the country, over the last 30 years. It didn't used to be that way. Red Sanders was SEC coach of the year at lowly Vanderbilt; Tommy Prothro had won conference titles at Oregon State; John Wooden was the greatest player of his generation, and had done exceedingly well at little Indiana State; even the lamentable Pepper Rodgers had taken Kansas to the Orange Bowl; and the equally ill-placed Gene Bartow had gone to the NCAA Finals with Memphis State. But then, after Rodgers was essentially run off (he was 17-5 his last two years, but couldn't beat USC), we took a shot with Dick Vermeil, who was considered one of the brightest young assistant coaches in the game. That was a gamble, but it did pay off; and of course, Vermeil was so good that the NFL grabbed him after only two years of actual head coaching. But then, because Vermeil left so late in the Winter of '76, J.D. Morgan felt rushed, because he thought he couldn't afford to risk one recruiting year; so he quickly narrowed his coaching list to Lynn Stiles and Terry Donahue. Given those paltry choices, he took Donahue, who was on staff then, while Stiles wasn't. And thus began the pattern of hiring someone on staff, whose personality is considered much more important than any coaching history from which to extrapolate. Of course, the one notable exception to his almost inviolate pattern is Ben Howland, who rebuilt two basketball programs, and was a national coach of the year. That is the kind of resume UCLA should look for; and of course Howland has validated that background by his great work here, taking over a squad with a losing record and little talent, and winning the conference and going to the NCAA Finals in his third year. That's how most major schools hire; but here it is undeniably the exception, for a variety of ridiculous reasons, which I will not analyze now.

The key point is that given our predilection for hiring based on UCLA ties, supposed favorable personality traits, and youth; we have developed a fan base which has seemingly introjected these traits, and now can scarcely imagine another way. Perhaps because of cognitive dissonance, these fans mentally create a scenario in which the new coach is taking over under dire circumstances, and thus any incremental improvement is seen as noteworthy. I happen to remember these things: I recall how the so-called Blues were saying that Toledo had taken over a bare cupboard when Donahue left; that the once-idolized Terry had stopped recruiting; and so Toledo needed a very long leash. They are of course saying the same thing about Dorrell; that Toledo left him with little talent. This of course is in direct contrast to the countless posts which were written in all good faith on this Board prior to Dorrell's first season, in which fans and alumni were predicting a 9-2 season and maybe better. If anyone has the ability and the inclination to research that, it might prove very interesting to see how somehow that has been revised over time to an argument that Dorrell took over a team bereft of talent, and so he needed the first two years to slowly rebuild. I'm not here to dispute the various merits of the players on that first Dorrell team; merely to point out that the goal posts conveniently move here at UCLA, to support the inherent "Blue" nature of the fan base. It's a game that our head coaches almost always win. Remember that Peter Dalis has said that he wouldn't have fired Toledo; and of course he never fired anyone except Hazzard, whom the players hated. Guerrero is supposed to have a much quicker trigger finger, but he has almost never fired a coach whom he has personally hired. That is why I am certain that Dorrell will be here many more years, unless somehow UCLA absolutely collapses on the field. And history has shown that with our natural talent base advantages over most of the schools on our schedule, that never happens for more than one year at a time. A student of this entire situation would do well to note that EVERY UCLA coach past Billy Barnes (who would have won except for the crushing PCC penalities levied on UCLA) has had a comfortable winning record during his regime. I'm convinced that you or I could coach UCLA to winning records; all we'd have to do is hire some decent assistants, play a fairly conservative game, and let the talent edge win the six or seven games necessary to keep our job. That's essentially what Donahue did here for 20 years. It's really not nearly as hard as some of you would like to make it.

What is hard is to somehow catapault this program to real national stature. And here the Blues win again; by arguing that it is not reasonable to expect much more than last year's #13 finish. (It is very telling that for a 10-2 team to finish that low, the coaches and writers must have realized just how cellophane-thin that record was). And how can one argue with that? By pointing out what Prothro did; what Vermeil did and was set to do; even what Toledo did in his second and third year? Those arguments are breezily dismissed, in favor of a view of UCLA football which makes every excuse in the world--we don't cheat, they do; they use steroids, we don't (Donahue's favorite); the LA riots hurt our recruiting (another one used by TD one year); our players are more noble and "clean" than theirs (yearly proven to be nonsense); our academic standards are too high; we don't use the needle (a new one; I guess that's why Arizona and USC pummelled us last year, and Washington led us with three minutes to go); other schools are apparently racist, and only hire Caucasian coaches, while we prefer to strike a blow for racial equality; and a variety of others. Terry Donahue once famously said that "Winning a national championship is not a realistic goal at UCLA." To me, and many others, that is not only an inane comment, it was precisely said to validate Donahue's inability to seriously compete on a national level; simlar to Lavin's constant comments about unreasonable expectations and "pathology." But far too many fans and alumni have bought this, hook, line and sinker. Can I PROVE it otherwise? Of course not; it would all be based on extrapolation and comparison to what other programs have done. The key point is this: As long as people buy this argument, there is really nothing more to be said. Unquestionably (to me, at least), Dorrell will be able to do as well as his predecessors in having winning seasons and occasionally winning the conference, without making a serious blip on the national screen. And for those who believe that is enough, he will certainly validate their arguments that he is a fine coach. For those, like me, who do not think it is enough--that we could do so much better--he will be another in a series of mediocre UCLA coaches. And never the twain shall meet; outside of a national championship, or an 0-11 season. So the "Blues" have won again. They won when Dorrell was hired. The fact that the AD said that the goal was to play in BCS Bowls is conveniently dismissed; and besides, the Rose Bowl is a BCS Bowl, so if we win a conference title every seven years or so, that should do it. The "Blues" always win, because they set the bar; they buy most of the tickets and make most of the donations. They have a right to demand as little as they wish from this football program, and to be as happy as they like over comeback wins against Stanford and Washington State. I keep wishing it were otherwise; but 20 years of Donahue insipidity pretty much inured me to the reality of UCLA football. Probably Chiccoa is right: go out to the practices, have a good time; we only have one life after all; and it doesn't matter all that much what kind of football record or national prestige we have. As another notorious Blues comment goes, we are what we are. Don't I know it.

We feel your pain BB. Keep fighting the good fight.