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Preparing For the Inevitable?

Bruin Blue continues to speak up before its too late. GO BRUINS. -N

I have wagered on some football games in my time; had some great wins and some tough losses.  I have also had games where I felt pretty good going in, but before too long, I could see that things were not going well at all, and that I would probably lose.  As the minutes inevitably dwindle down, you start resigning yourself to the result, even though your mind cannot help but spin fantasies of some kind of miracle by which you can pull it out.  Finally, you either turn off the TV and find something else to do, or (more likely) you keep turning it back on just for a few seconds to see if something extraordinary may have happened.  It never does, though.

And that of course is a metaphor for how I am feeling about this coaching search.  It is not at all looking good.  Yes, nothing has been finalized; but once it is, it is then too late for all but recriminations.  And I might as well write about it now, because I just do not see myself having the energy to spend five or ten or twenty more years pointing out what we did wrong and how foolish we have been.  When Donahue was our coach, I was young, so I just figured I'd outlast his tenure.  Which I did, but then I got Toledo; at least he had a couple of enjoyable years.  Then with Dorrell, I had really vowed to give it up, because I thought that he, like Donahue, would be mediocre enough to last for more than a decade.  However, he turned out to be so awful that I could see some glimmers of hope, even though it took five years to get rid of him.  But one more stupid hire and I can personally see no percentage in hanging on some more.  Others will feel differently, of course; and I am glad of that, because I will at least enjoy reading their criticisms.  But for me, this feels like all-or-nothing.  I do not expect us to end up with an incredible hire, but at least need someone whom I can get behind, and feel hopeful about.

At this point, the only two reasons to hope are, 1) that the choice has apparently not been finalized yet; and, 2) that Dan Guerrero has said that he wants a program that will actually compete for a national championship.  But of course he said something similar the last time.  I actually do believe that he (and even the hopeless Peter Dalis) have wanted UCLA to win championships; it's just that they never have shown the acumen or the will to make it happen.  I'm sure that the Pittsburgh Pirate ownership would like to get into the World Series, too; but wishing for it or earnestly desiring it is far from making it a reality.  How anyone could possibly have dreamed that Karl Dorrell could "win the conference, and get us into BCS Bowls" (essentially what Guerrero said when he was hired), is unfathomable.  It's not just difficult to understand, it's far beyond that, into the realm of thinking that your plate of beans is going to turn into a full course dinner at the Ivy.  So it should not surprise anyone if Guerrero convinces himself that Chow or Walker or Chow plus Walker will give us that great shot at a national title which he says is our goal.

There usually aren't miracles in coaching hires--certainly there aren't any at UCLA.  Remember five years ago, when many of us could not believe that the three finalists were Dorrell, Greg Robinson and Mike Riley, and kept searching for someone below the radar?  Then we read that Dorrell was going to get the job, and it seemed like a terrible dream.  How could UCLA possibly fire Toledo and then end up with Dorrell?  Well, they did; and sure enough, most of the Bruin faithful got themselves all excited about it.  In fact, I spent at least four years foolishly bothering to argue with other UCLA alumni about Dorrell's capabilities.  Now, these are mostly fairly intelligent people; attorneys, doctors, professionals; who are capable in many areas of their life.  But they always astound me in their absolute inability to be able to discern who is a good coach and who is not.  I had to argue with them about Lavin up until the very end, which should have been enough evidence.  But here they were again, all sorts of them, telling me to give Dorrell some time; that he was on the right track.  One of them, a guy who donates a good deal of money, and goes to all the games, only half-kiddingly told me in Dorrell's third year that he ultimately would be a Hall of Fame coach.  So it should be clear that this kind of thinking gives our administration a lot of cover when it hires, because virtually any choice is met with enthusiasm and continued donations.  At many schools, of course, a hire like Dorrell would get the A.D. fired pretty quickly; but not here.  No one ever fired Peter Dalis, who gave us Hazzard, Harrick, Toledo and Lavin.

So let's go through the names again.  Remember, UCLA does not make startling hires, finding someone whom no one had really thought of.  Yes the coaching search is usually very secretive, but that's really so the A.D. can eventually say to the media, "We looked at many candidates; and I'm not going to divulge the various discussions or whom we talked to, but I am confident that our new coach (Chow, Walker, Chow/Walker) is absolutely the right choice for UCLA").  Petersen is almost surely out, having evinced no interest.  I'll at least give Guerrero some credit for going after him, but it might have helped if UCLA had come up with a big-time financial offer.  Mariucci seems almost certainly out, from every report; either not being that interested, or (more likely) simply wanting more money than UCLA would pay.  Leach has apparently not been contacted, according to the Texas Tech A.D. (whom I would believe).  Johnson was never even pursued.  Mendenhall is apparently not being pursued (I have a tiny hope that this is because we're playing him in two weeks, but that is akin to my hoping that my team would recover a fumble and run it back for 98 yards in the last minute).  Grobe is apparently not considered, and said he would stay at Wake Forest for next year.  Neueheisel, for better or worse, is not going to be approached.  That basically leaves us with June Jones as about the only big-name hope.  Can anyone think of any others?  Brian Kelly?  Maybe, but I don't think he'd be vetted.  Jim Fassel?  I doubt they will even talk to him. Jim Mora? He's not taking our $1.5 million or so; which when you think about it, is almost a before-the-fact assurance that we will whiff on the bigger name targets, despite our misguided hopes that we can get one of them.

That seems to inevitably leave us with either a small-school coach or an assistant. And we never hire small-school coaches, so I think we can eliminate that hope.  Again, you cannot completely do this in the dark; if UCLA had an interest in someone like that, it would come out, from the other school, if not from here.  There were no surprises in 2002.  And as to assistants, if we were interested in one from another school, we would have to ask permission to inquire, and we probably would hear about it.  The names we have heard about are Chow, who unquestionably is interested, and Walker.  As Sherlock Holmes famously said, "If you list all the possibilities, and eliminate them one by one, the one that is remaining must be the truth." The only thing we have against the numbing realization that Chow is likely to get this job is that Guerrero must originally have wanted to shoot higher.  But with the infuriating (to us) reality of very limited funds; a bunch of soulless bureaucrats in the Morgan Center, and an alumni and fan base which not only puts up with this stuff but actually enables it, it may be necessary to accept the inevitable.  One can only bang one's head against this wall for so many decades.

If it needs to be said again, the hiring of Norm Chow, personally vetted by DeWayne Walker, is not only appalling to me, but is so counter to how this should be done, as to make me despair that anything will ever change here in the reasonably near future.  This duo may well win some games; may even have a good year or two, but it will hardly be anything to get excited about.  All our coaches have at least one or two good years, don't they?  It's UCLA, after all.  But I think about this ridiculous hope on the part of our administration that if you pair a 62-year old offensive guru who has personality issues but who desperately wants his first head coaching job ever, with a 47-year old guy who has been a defensive coordinator for all of two years and who wants to work with the former mostly because he knows that it is the quickest road to himself becoming the head coach here, you will make some kind of magic, and I don't know whether to laugh or cry.  But if the fan base buys it, the seats will mostly be filled, the donations will be made, and the beat will go on.

At this point, I feel as if we are down 10-0 with five minutes to go.  We have the ball, but have shown no real signs of being able to advance it.  Of such situations heroic finishes can sometimes be made, but those are the sort that sometimes happen for other teams, but all so rarely for us.  Time to turn off the TV, or watch it play out to the bitter end?

-Bruin Blue