Bruin Blue once again provides some required reading for Mr. Dan Guerrero. If you are reading this out of a computer in Morgan Center, please print this out and slip it either in Dan's mailbox or under his door. Thanks. GO BRUINS. -N
It's really not that perplexing a process, but UCLA somehow never seems to follow the template that most schools do. I won't speculate again about why this is so; all that matters now is what we do this time--assuming as I do that Karl Dorrell is not going to be around for next season. The AD is always going to have more information than I do, because he has the chance to do the interviews and more of the field work than I could from my position. But how he should do it does not seem all that perplexing.
First, indeed assuming that he decides that he needs a new coach, he needs to put out subtle feelers as soon as possible. Call it back channels, or just talking to friends (which I hope he has made) among other prestigious coaches and athletic directors. Sound them out as to who has impressed them from their own games, or even from what they have heard from others. You don't have to take anyone's specific advice, but you should give it weight. Most coaches and ADs are usually happy to help, particularly if it's a school not in conference. Guerrero has been part of the basketball tournament selection committee, so he should have met all sorts of people who could help him, assuming he himself is not a great student of football played outside the Pac-10. UCLA very much needs to consider coaches who are not of the West Coast, because there is a different (not better, just different) type of football played elsewhere. Some of the best coaches in conference history (Sanders, Prothro, Don James) originally had nothing to do with the Pac-10. A fresh approach might be very beneficial. All farmers know the benefits of occasional cross-pollination.
Obviously, you have to know what you can afford. This is probably somewhat flexible for us, within a range. I would imagine that we could easily come up with $1.2 million for a coach with a reputation. That is not enough to get a Meyer or Tressel, but it would interest several coaches, and we might be surprised. That of course is crucial--letting other coaches express interest; and giving them real consideration. That's something that we rarely do. There were stories that Guerrero himself ignored feelers from Mike Price and Mike Leach last time, because he was simply relying on Bob Field's coaching list. Peter Dalis was reputed to have round filed all sorts of resumes, because he thought he knew more than anyone else. That has to stop; we need to really do a full-scale search, the kind we always promise, but obviously almost never conduct.
The goal is to get the best possible coach available. Yes, personal characteristics cannot be ignored; but coaches are coaches, and we are not looking for saints. As long as he doesn't have major skeletons or a terrible personality, a candidate should be viewed on his coaching merits. There have been too many "nice guys" hired in Westwood, who achieved nothing on the field or court. Now, there are not many great coaches in college football these days. A reasonable list of those would include Urban Meyer, Bob Stoops, Jim Tressel, Pete Carroll, Steve Spurrier. Joe Paterno of course is in the pantheon, but you don't want to hire him now. I doubt that we could attract any of these, but Spurrier is an interesting possibility. UCLA is in some ways a more attractive job than South Carolina, where he is always going to be at a talent disadvantage to some schools. He'd probably say no, but isn't it worth a try? I have a personal hunch that Bob Stoops is not going to end his college career at Oklahoma. He's probably way too expensive, but it would be interesting to gauge his interest. You can never land on the moon unless you shoot for it.
Assuming that we can't get one of the greats, then we should carefully weigh the group of very good coaches. Obviously, opinions may differ. I'm not going to thoroughly analyze the pros and cons of various possibilities right now. I will say that Paul Johnson of Navy and Chris Peterson of Boise State are two coaches who in their own way have shown great promise. Peterson obviously is a great offensive mind and a dynamic young leader. Johnson has done wonders with talent-limited Navy. He almost never loses when he has the better talent on the field, which makes it likely that he would win very big here. He has coached the option offense at Navy, and Lou Holtz raves about the passing offense he developed as OC at Hawaii. Now, some will argue for other coaches, and that's obviously fine. Or some might say that Johnson or Peterson would not come. Perhaps; but I've seen over the years that when a creditable program makes a serious offer, most coaches listen. I'll bet that neither of them finishes his career where he is now; so why can't we be the school that makes the big hire, rather than waving helplessly as coaches go elsewhere?
The point is, that we start at the top and then work our way down if necessary, like most big schools do. We stop being so afraid of rejection that we don't want to ask anyone whom we aren't sure desperately wants the job. I could give you all sorts of examples of programs which got turned down by a really big name, and ended up with someone very good as a second or third choice. No one holds that against you. Our lists are usually only made up of sure things, as if that gives us some added prestige. The only ultimate prestige in football is how your program performs on the field, not that you aimed low and hit. So we should compile a list of four or five possibilities, and then assess both their interest and their relative abilities. Hiring a coach takes a fine insight; there are coaches out there whose reputation exceeds their real ability, and a smart AD can pick that up. Every mistake costs you at least five years; so every effort must be made not to make one. What we need is a "sure thing," much as Ben Howland was a sure thing. There was no way that Howland, who had rebuilt two programs, and taken Pitt to top ten standing, was going to fail here. The ultimate level of his success could obviously not be guaranteed; but you could be sure that he would do a very good job here. The same is true for Urban Meyer at Florida, Nick Saban at Alabama or Billy Gillispie in basketball at Kentucky. For once, we need an almost sure thing; not some hopeful, wishful hire based on propinquity or our assessment of whether a coach has a winning personality. We should have well learned the perils of that approach by now.
If I were AD, I would never choose someone who had never been a head coach; unless you were talking about a Bob Stoops, who was the most impressive assistant coach in the country. And I would never hire someone from this staff, no matter how much we might personally respect him. We have to stop trying to do this the easy way, thinking that if we just elevate someone already here, we can keep much of the current staff, and not have to start afresh. Starting afresh is exactly what we need to do. Enough of this tree whose roots go back fifty years: Prothro begat Rodgers, who begat Donahue; who begat Toledo and Dorrell; who begat Walker. Yes, Walker could be a good coach; or he could be a poor one, or something in between. A couple of years as a defensive coordinator is scarcely enough to judge. One of our assistants without head coaching experience may someday turn into a good coach, but it hasn't happened yet in either sport, so let's try a new way; the way that almost every major school employs. And hiring an assistant from a failed regime is not a good thing to do for many reasons.
If we follow this process, we will undoubtedly end up with a good hire, for once. It might be instructive, though perhaps too late, to see how a school like Michigan or maybe Tennessee is going to do it this time. Why should we always be the institution that has to do it the cheap and the insular way? We managed to hire Ben Howland; let's see if we can make a Howland-type hire in basketball. I know all the excuses and reasons given why we can't; but I think that they are easy and bogus. The AD has said that he wants to win conference championships and play in BCS Bowls. You don't get there by wishing and hoping; but by putting in the spadework, looking hard for a great coach who may want to leave his job; or someone who has shown the ability to be very successful at his own level; and then convincing that person that UCLA offers something special. If I see after several weeks that we have really tried that approach and not just with one candidate, but with several; and we still can't get anyone; then I will be willing to reassess our approach . But let's just try it my way for once and see if we can't break our own self-caused football curse.