Has Anything Really Changed?

Another epic post from UCLA alum Bruin Blue. Use the tools below to share this post with every Bruin student, alum, fans you know, who still has any passion left for following our football program. Help us get the word out on reality of Bruin footballl. - N

I am seeing a number of rather strong previous Dorrell supporters, a few of whom had previously called me an idiot for criticizing Dorrell, turn almost 180 degrees after the Washington game. And that surprises me, because I had expected the normal rationalizations and soft-pedaling which we have seen over the years. And it is to the credit of those who are willing to take another look at just where our program is, versus where it should be.

However, I have watched this for many years, and I cannot be very optimistic of anything significant happening. The fateful step in UCLA football history was when Dick Vermeil suddenly left us in February, 1976; and J.D. Morgan, feeling rushed because he wanted to save recruiting (always a terrible idea to sacrifice a full-scale coaching search for one recruiting year), hired 32-year-old Terry Donahue, because he was on staff and easy to get. There's no sense in recounting the 20-year Donahue saga; but to me, at least, it was a dreary period of underachievement, minimal risk-taking and lots of excuses. Of course, we did win seven games a year, because we had more talent than most teams. Then, don't forget, Donahue ran Neuheisel off because he didn't like the whispers of those that wanted Rick to step in for Terry; and he hired Toledo. So Donahue essentially gave us Toledo; and then, seven years later, he pushed for Dorrell, as did a cadre of his ex-players active in the alumni association. So in essence, we have incredibly now had 31 years of the Donahue regime and legacy, so that so many people can't even remember what well-coached, smart, aggressive UCLA teams look like, and how to hire a coach who can produce them.

I've written about low expectations and overly sanguine fans, who are a major part of the problem here. That, combined with the fact that we still out-talent at least seven of our opponents every year, makes it almost impossible for us to have the kind of meltdown which would make a major change imperative. And so the years go on. We are certainly not as bad as the second half at Washington, just as we are not as good as the Utah game. We are somewhere in the middle, and we will win our share. After all, we have Stanford and Arizona and WSU at home, and we'll beat them all. Then, if Olsen improves some, and we get some decent breaks, we can still win seven or eight games. We might even beat USC, which is looking very human, although the odds are against it. The lowering of expectations which has just occurred will actually work in Dorrell's favor. If we win our seven, most Bruin fans will be a bit disappointed, but looking forward to next year. In 2007, with a more favorable conference schedule, in that our tough foes come here, we can win those nine games. Then, Olsen will probably leave, and we will regress to seven; then maybe eight; and so on and so on. Remember, I saw 20 years of this under Donahue, and why should we expect that the UCLA administration or the supportive alumni are suddenly going to decide that this isn't enough?

When Dan Guerrero was hired, he immediately fired Toledo; and said that he did so because he wanted to "Win Pac-10 championships and go to BCS Bowls." Well, we haven't done that yet; and we won't this year, either. But one day we will, for at least a year; because we give our coaches years and years to accomplish something; and then, when they have a good season, that buys them another four or five years. 2-10 would get rid of them, but we are too talented for that ever to happen. So unless and until there is a major groundswell which forces the AD to understand that 7-5 and even 8-4 isn't enough; we can look forward to many more years of Dorrell. And I've never yet seen such a groundswell, which makes it unlikely, though not impossible; which is why for some unaccountable reason, I keep holding out a sliver of hope.

But somehow getting rid of Dorrell is only the first step. The major task is to find the kind of coach who would revitalize this program; someone who could outscheme the opponents instead of being constantly outschemed; who would build teams which were smart, disciplined and consistent. There aren't many such coaches around anywhere; and they usually cost big money. We can't expect to grab a Tressel or a Richt or Meyer. We could look for a brilliant young coach a la Meyer a couple of years ago; but I don't really see anyone in that category right now. My fear is that we would go after Mike Leach, who I think is overrated; beats mostly inferior teams and rarely upsets a Big 12 power; and who additionally is pretty much of a jerk. We need someone who can stand up to Pete Carroll and actually match him in coaching acumen. Butch Davis is the perfect choice, but he's probably going back to Miami. UCLA waits and waits and thinks that when they are finally ready to make a change, someone good will be available; but that's not how it works; you have to find the person first and then try to make it happen, just as North Carolina, realizing Roy Williams was thinking of leaving Kansas, pushed Matt Doherty out before Williams could go somewhere else; or how Florida and Notre Dame, knowing that Urban Meyer was ready to make a move, fired their coaches to make a bid for him. Find the coach first, and then go after him. But it has to be someone of real ability, not just a decent coach/nice guy; or a second-tier coach like Leach or Glenn Mason. The other choice--maybe more feasible given the current crop--is to find the very best assistant coach in the country; someone who has worked with the very best and has shown something special. Like Bob Stoops at K-State and Florida, or Mark Richt at Florida State. That's more of a gamble, but maybe we'll find another Vermeil or Meyer. But it should be someone who has NO ties with UCLA or Donahue--someone who will bring a new, fresh, untainted perspective, and build his own program having nothing to do with the Donahue "legacy" and our learned sense of inferiority to the team across town.

Only if we do all this can we change the current reality. And if one were a betting man--which I am at times--the easy wager would be that nothing will change; that Dorrell will easily beat Stanford and Arizona; that we'll win enough to mollify the general fans for another year, which will be better than this....and so it will go--at least for another three or four years, at which time it might become completely apparent that we made another very foolish mistake in hiring someone whose major credentials were that he played at UCLA, that he was championed by the Donahue faction, and that he appears to be a nice role model for the university. But even then, will we be ready to spend the money and the effort to find the man who can harness the dormant power of UCLA football, and make us the Top Ten program which we can certainly be, if we stopped favoring image over substance and cheerful acceptance over legitimate high expectation?

- Bruin Blue

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