The Coaching Search

Our friend Bruin Blue has been so inspired the ongoing discussions here on BN and elsewhere in the internets wrt to the Thinker of Westwood, that he emailed us another classic post. Enjoy. The two caveats I’d like to add to this great piece is that we at BN have not settled on a set of top candidates for UCLA head coaching positions. Second, I have a little bit of hope wrt to next coaching search given how DG executed the search of our hoops head coach which he was in charge of unlike last search for football head coach (and which was not as simple as it appeared on surface). Anyways, I personally share BB’s concerns about Chow, however, I do think Peterson could be a very good choice. So here you go. Enjoy. GO BRUINS. –N

I usually limit myself to writing one essay a week here, but I am fired up. This is our time, and the tide is turning. I am now convinced that Karl Dorrell is on his way out, thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of Nestor and the other fine contributors to BruinsNation and DumpDorrell. When Lavin was the problem, in those bleak early years, I sometimes felt as if I and a few other people were like the Spartans defending Thermopylae against the hordes of Lavin loyalists. But the opposition to Dorrell has been much more organized and effective at the outset, and it has made a difference. Of course, Dorrell's ineptitude had to continue for it to bear fruition, and it has. I suppose that there is a mathematical chance that he can pull something out to salvage one more sorry season, but it's doubtful. In fact--and I would certainly never wish this--if Pat Cowan cannot go at full strength, UCLA is likely to lose every single remaining game, because Bethel-Thompson, a really good kid, cannot play major college quarterback; and Rashaan could only play it in a completely different system, not run by WCO fanatics. A healthy Cowan would help, but I doubt if it would make enough difference, not with Dorrell seemingly imploding before our very eyes, and all sorts of rumors of player discontent. So I am really starting to believe that it's almost over.

And that will lead to an event which used to be really exciting for me, but which I now approach with a feeling of near-dread: the UCLA coaching search. I had thought of writing a whole history of UCLA coaching searches of the past, but it would take too much time away from my main point, which is our need to demand a high-quality hire now. Let me just say that UCLA has undoubtedly conducted some of the most pathetic coaching searches of any major school ever; in fact, most of the time there is no search at all. When J.D. Morgan ran things, he had so squelched alumni input, that he was a virtual monarch here, and simply chose anyone he wanted. Sometimes he was right as with Prothro, Vermeil and Larry Brown; other times he was completely wrong as with Bartow, Rodgers and Donahue (in my view, anyway). After that, Fischer and Dalis chose out of ignorance and political correctness, such people as Farmer, Hazzard, Toledo and Lavin, without any sign of a search or interviews of other candidates (except that Dalis did make an all-out effort to get Gary Barnett before he hired Toledo). The only real coaching search was in '88, when Hazzard was fired; and Dalis of course screwed that one up, helped by Larry Brown's incredible turnabout. Then we finally got Guerrero; and he made a very legitimate search when he fired Lavin; looking at Williams and Montgomery before fortunately or perspicaciously choosing the best coach in Howland. In football, of course, there was an absolutely pathetic search, limited to Dorrell, Greg Robinson and Mike Riley. Compare this to the searches of other major schools, and the difference is embarrassing. So what is it going to be this time? I cannot be confident, though I remain hopeful.

I am quite concerned at the rumors circulating that Guerrero wants to hire Norm Chow as head coach. A recent newspaper article had mentioned that Guerrero was interested in an NFL assistant to replace Dorrell. I actually thought it was Bill Musgrave; but then I see that on another forum someone who purports to be in the know mentions that Chow is in Guerrero's sights. Now, I never give too much credence to such posters, except that it comports with the newspaper comment. And I want to say that if Guerrero hires Chow, I am going to be beyond upset, because it is a horrible idea. Why? Because Chow is a 61-year-old assistant coach who has never been a head coach anywhere, and who apparently hates recruiting and does not have a winning personality; not that the latter is essential, but combined with the other aspects, it is more than worrisome. Why has not Chow, clearly an offensive genius, never been offered any significant job? Why would UCLA want to consider making the experiment now, when no other program, even those in desperate straits, has ever done so? Yes, Chow is an offensive guru; but so supposedly were such people as Ted Tollner, Paul Hackett, Gary Crowton, Cam Cameron, Norv Turner, Ron Turner, among many others. Calling plays from a press box by no means can be extrapolated into being the kind of leader, motivator and total game-planner which is necessary to be a top head coach. And while virtually all head coaches once were coordinators, I would much rather go after a young, dynamic one than someone who has been passed over for decades, and who would not have more than a few years of tenure even at his best.

What I am worried about is that Guerrero simply might not have the acumen to be aware of other possibilities. He might have been impressed with Southern Cal's offenses under Chow; while he doesn't really know much about other programs in other parts of the country. Is that an unfair supposition? We'll see. He might think, as some UCLA fans do, that since Chow and Carroll parted on bad terms, it would be exciting to bring Chow in to try to beat Carroll--except that he is unlikely to be able to do so. Worse than that, he might be thinking that he can bring Chow in and keep Dewayne Walker as defensive coordinator, and then let Walker have the job when Chow retires. What a nightmare scenario that would be; the next fifteen years accounted for with almost guaranteed football nonentity status. Part of this scenario might be his feeling that if he hires Chow, an Asian-American, and keeps Walker, an African-American, he would be defusing any possible racially tinged criticism of the Dorrell firing, as well as possibly exciting UCLA's large base of Asian-American students. If he is thinking in that way--and I have no proof of this, except it's often the way UCLA administrators think--this would be disastrous. Now, I cannot absolutely guarantee that Chow would fail as UCLA coach, but I think it is likely; that the combination of no head coaching experience, and a personality which has proven at least prickly, could lead to an absolutely miserable tenure. And even if I were wrong, at the very best, we would only get four years or so of his regime, anyway. So someone please tell me that I am worrying about nothing, and that there is no chance that we would make such a poor hire. Or at least help to exert the same pressure we have brought to bear for a coaching change, toward a replacement choice which is far better for our prospects.

Some might feel that this conjecture is premature, but I do not think so. Our history has been that coaching searches are quick and narrowly focused. I think that if Guerrero is strongly considering a change, that he will have the successor in mind by the time the firing is announced. UCLA has a preternatural fear of feeling embarrassed by a prospect turning down an offer. I don't know why; because it happens all the time to major schools, and they just go on to the next choice. Billy Donovan turned down Kentucky, so they hired the fine young coach Billy GIllispie. Apparently Frank Beamer and others turned down Alabama, so they went all-out for Saban and landed him. Ohio State actually tried to hire Bob Stoops before they ended up with Jim Tressel. The only disgrace is in not shooting for the moon, not in having someone say that he is happy where he is, and will not take your job. But that's not how UCLA thinks; they apparently would rather ask the homely girl to the prom because they can be sure that she will not say no, and will not expect you to spend to much on her. So I think that Guerrero will have one or at most two candidates in mind, and quickly move to hire him. Therefore, we should exert whatever influence we have now, and not wait for the Dorrell firing, by which time the imminent hiring may well be a virtual fait accompli. And I think that Guerrero may well need a little help with this search.

Therefore, I suggest that we hire Chris Peterson of Boise State. Is he the best candidate out there? Maybe not; but I really do not have faith that Guerrero has the ability to find a bigger or more appealing name, so I would be happy enough to settle for Peterson. Now, I do realize that other Boise State coaches such as Koetter and Hawkins have either failed or struggled after they left; but I think that Peterson may be different. The story always was that Peterson was the brains behind Hawkins' offense at Boise. And how could anyone not be impressed with last year's undefeated season? Yes, the schedule is lightweight, but I like the fact that Boise actually played some defense under Peterson, where they had not before. And we all remember the great Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma--what was so impressive to me about that was the fact that this wasn't some fluke win as the result of lots of turnovers, but that for at least 30 minutes, Boise was controlling the line of scrimmage against Stoops'; team, which was just stunning to me. Only at the end did Oklahoma's superior athletic talent start to wear down Peterson's team, so that it took those glorious trick plays to win it. This year, I was disappointed at the loss at Washington; but it looks as if Peterson will run the table the rest of the year. I see no reason why he cannot be at least as good a coach as Tedford and Bellotti, and perhaps better. Now, we will have to compete with other schools for him--Michigan, perhaps; or any of a number of SEC programs which will change coaches. He is the hottest name out there, but he is on our coast; and we could very possibly get him if we made the effort. But will we?

As to other possibilities, many have been suggested; and of course everyone is entitled to his or her suggestion. But I think we should at least focus on someone who has shown that he can win football games against significant opposition. Brian Kelly of Cincinnati, and before that Western Michigan, looks like a comer. I always thought that David Cutcliffe did a great job at Mississippi, before being fired for some strange reason. Now he is OC for Fullmer at Tennessee. How about Jim Fassel, who I actually thought did a good job for the NFL Giants, but was fired as every New York coach is ultimately fired. He has a Southern California background, too. Jim Leavitt of South Florida has been mentioned, but he will be tough to pry away. How about Ralph Friedgen of Maryland; portly to be sure, but a fine offensive mind, who actually took Maryland to a BCS Bowl? He is at his alma mater, so it might be difficult to get him. If age really isn't an issue, there is always Mike Price, who is a pretty good coach, took WSU to the Rose Bowl, and has done a nice job at UTEP. There's always Mike Leach, but I don't like his personality nor his inability to coach defense or beat teams he can't bully. Gary Pinkel has been mentioned, but he took an awfully long time to get Missouri to its current level; and I think we can do better. Is it absolutely impossible that Butch Davis would consider leaving Carolina after one year for this challenge? Now, I see Rich Brooks getting some play, but consider that he probably should have been fired at Kentucky before now; and that he had a number of insipid seasons at Oregon after early success. He certainly did not do as well there as Bellotti, so why would we want him now? Because he coached at UCLA once? Spare me. Let's see if we can pick someone that Terry Donahue has no more than a nodding acquaintance with, at best.

You may be able to suggest others, and I urge you to do so, as long as they are of a similar level; i.e., coaches who have shown some ability to more than hold their own against major competition. Wouldn't it be wonderful to actually hire someone at UCLA whose hiring would make a major splash in the media; so that we would hear Chris Fowler saying or Mike DeCourcy writing, "It looks like UCLA has stepped up and hit a homerun with its new hire of _____."? It would be infinitely better than taking another flyer on someone with questionable head coaching credentials, and once again proving to the college football world that we really have no realistic idea of what we are doing in this area; or that we are simply a basketball school which makes the occasional stab at football success, continuing to hire coaches based on hope, wild extrapolation, or political considerations. If it's going to happen in the right way, to make all of everyone's efforts so far ultimately worth it, we have to really focus on this process now, before it gets away from us again.

- Bruin Blue

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.

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