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My Fantasy Letter to Dan Guerrero

BB writes an open letter. GO BRUINS. -N

Dear Mr. Guerrero,

I hope you don't mind if I call you Dan, because this isn't a real letter, and it just seems more direct that way.  Anyway, let me get right to the point, which is the search for a new football coach which you are undertaking, and which has tens of thousands of UCLA alumni and fans, both here in L.A. and across the country, on edge.  In fact, I would daresay that there are plenty of them who can't even sleep, and keep waking up and checking the blogs and the message boards to see if there is any news.  In that, they are not unlike their counterparts at Arkansas, Michigan, Georgia Tech and the other big programs which have been searching for coaches.  The only difference might be...well, that at UCLA we are not too confident, based on past history, so we tend to be more anxious.  In fact, some of us cannot help being downright pessimistic.

We were all thrilled with your hiring of Ben Howland, a homerun hire if there ever was one.  Of course, Howland did help a good deal with his great interest in UCLA and his apparent willingness to accept less money than his old school, Pittsburgh, was offering.  And although I don't follow college baseball much, it seems that John Savage is doing a fine job.  In football, however, you hired Karl Dorrell, and that was a disaster.  Maybe you are more sanguine about it, but by any reasonable balance sheet, it has been a terrible five years for our football program.  Of course it did follow a terrible four years by the previous coach whom you fired, which gives us at least nine years of absolutely nothing, except a fluke 10-2 season when we won a bunch of miracle games, and then got humiliated by our cross-town nemesis, before beating Northwestern in a Bowl game.  Since you have once again affirmed your goal for this program as being BCS Bowls and even bidding for national titles, I'm sure you will agree that we have not been in that ballpark for at least 20 years.  So we're desperately hoping for you to make the hire that will get us there.

Just recently, you said that when you hired Dorrell, you "went with your gut."  Well, we all have done that, and know the feeling when it doesn't work.  We raise the pot when we should have folded.  We bet on red instead of black.  We order the lamb when the salmon was the better choice.  But with most of those decisions, the cost is not too great, and we just try to be smarter and better next time. When you hire a football coach, though, especially at UCLA, the wrong decision costs us at least five years.  You weren't here for all the Lavin years, but you know that he lasted seven seasons, ultimately making a mockery of this program and putting us in a crater that only a genius like Howland could dig us out of so fast.  Toledo lasted seven as well.  Even Dorrell, with the worst UCLA coaching record in 60 years, got five.  So if you make a mistake now, it's at least another five years of futility.  I know it's a lot of pressure, but it's pressure you wanted; and I know you're not asking us for our opinion.  In fact, you're keeping all of this so secretive that few have any idea exactly where you stand right now.  The news that we have managed to get hasn't seemed so good, but maybe it's ready to change for the better.  We're still hoping.

Because it's so important, I am going to make some suggestions, which you obviously are free to either take or completely ignore.  But as you well know, it's our program; too; and I cannot personally bear the thought of going through another five or ten years of football misery.  So here is what I suggest:

First, completely put out of your mind any thoughts of hiring either Norm Chow or DeWayne Walker as our head coach.  Why?  First, because neither of them has the slightest degree of experience in being a head coach.  Yes, sometimes assistants become great head coaches, but even more often they do not; and many times they are total busts.  If you went back and researched the   before-hire"buzz" on various assistants who became head coaches and flamed out, you would see all sorts of positive endorsements, various respected people and coaches lauding their potential.  It's sort of like a blind date; the friends who set you up are always positive before the fact.  Tom Holmoe, Mike Stoops, Jim Lambright, Paul Wiggin, Ted Tollner, just some of the many highly touted assistants in this conference who became head coaches and were disasters.  Oh, yes, and the aforementioned Karl Dorrell.  Can UCLA afford to take such a chance again?  I and many others say absolutely not.

Now, I know that you like Walker, and want to keep him on, at least as defensive coordinator.  I have no strong opinions either way, EXCEPT that keeping Walker should in no way be made a condition for the next head coach.  Head football coaches are strong-willed people, and they usually do not want to be told who must be on their staff.  You cannot afford to lose out on a potential candidate who has his own personal choice for DC, and would balk at keeping Walker.  Never, ever make a coordinator more important than your head coach.  Good head coaches find their own good coordinators, believe me.  As to making Walker the head coach, this would  almost be worse than the hire of Dorrell, since Walker's credentials are no better.  He has been a DC for two years.  Yes, he has improved your defense; but this year's unit had ten starters back and finished fourth best in this league, despite getting to play Cal and Oregon with their ace QB s either seriously hampered or not playing at all.  And even if you think that Walker was a great DC, there are plenty of those around who have been or would be terrible as head coaches.  Remember Woody Widenhofer?  George Perles?  Holmoe and Lambright?  Mike Stoops?  Greg Robinson?  Yes, I know you want to keep your recruiting momentum, but I guarantee you that any credible coach you hire will recruit very well here.  Don't let Walker sell you the story that only he can do that.  And if you hire Walker and he is mediocre, you will have virtually buried this program, because by then no coach will want to come here, our reputation across the country will be so low.

As far as Chow, much the same arguments apply.  Yes, Chow has been a great OC at some places.  So were Norv Turner, Cam Cameron, Paul Hackett, Tollner, Chuck Long--how many do I need to mention?  Being a brilliant OC is not close to being a good head coach--it is really almost like apples and oranges, because the demands and responsibilities of a head coach are to both sides of the ball, and to the complex personal and team chemistry of the squad.  And thinking that you can put a really good OC as head coach and a good DC to help with the defense, and then you will have two halves of the circle, would be very naive . A head coach must run every aspect of the program and must have the will and the capacity to tell his coordinators what he wants, even to fire them if they do not.  Chow would be such a disappointing hire, for a school which keeps promising to hire a proven head coach and then always finds reasons why it couldn't.

Now, on to "proven" coaches.  Apparently you went after Chris Petersen and he's just not interested.  That's okay, it happens--as long as it didn't happen because you insisted that he keep Walker and he was too loyal to his own staff.  Petersen was a great first choice.  But you've still got others.  Bronco Mendenhall is starting to be mentioned.  I like almost everything I've seen about him, and I watch a whole lot of college football.  His teams are crisp, organized and well-functioning.  He's won two Mountain West titles in a row.  If you end up with Mendenhall, it will be a coup, really on the order of Georgia Tech getting Paul Johnson, whom I also really liked.  And please don't somehow think that the upcoming Vegas Bowl game is somehow an audition of Walker vs. Mendenhall.  UCLA has the better talent (Dorrell beat BYU 27-17), and of course our team will play lights out for an interim coach whom the players like; just as, for example, the Michigan State players scored a big Bowl upset under interim coach Bobby Williams, who was given the job, and then was a dreadful coach.  And don't let the public-relations campaign which Walker is subtly or unsubtly waging in the media either influence you or concern you.  You are making a legacy hire here, for everyone in the Bruin Nation, not just Walker and his coterie of friends or would-be press agents who are seeking long-term access through him.

Now, let's say Mendenhall doesn't want the job, either.  Well, is Steve Mariucci still in the ballgame?  He's got a national reputation, he has the charisma and the contacts.  He's not my first choice, but he's a good one.  Money is a problem, but I hope you are quickly learning that if you are not willing to pay around market value, not only are we not going to get a good head coach, we are going to be the laughingstock of the nation for our cheapness.  If Mariucci is simply impossible to hire, how about June Jones, who is a great offensive mind, and has a lot of national cachet right now for his undefeated season at Hawaii?  Jim Grobe at Wake Forest is highly respected, and was actually Arkansas' choice before Petrino.  Is Jim Mora absolutely out of the running?   Jim Fassel was a pretty good head coach for the Giants, taking them to the Super Bowl.  He is very respected as an offensive mind.  Mike Leach, not my personal favorite, perhaps, but another creative offensive mind.

There are even others.  Todd Graham of Tulsa, you remember him.  Came in here with Rice last year and gave your defensive coordinator all sorts of trouble.  Took a previously horrible Rice team to a Bowl game.  Now he's at Tulsa where he went 9-3.  He's got an OC named Malzahn who is very innovative.  You could probably bring both of them in.  Randy Edsall at Connecticut has done pretty well considering that UConn was a Division II football school for years.  There's Gary Patterson at TCU, certainly not anyone's favorite, but pretty respectable given that program's recent history.  And yes, there's Rick Neuheisel, who has that personal baggage, but who, if everyone else fell through, would certainly covet this job, and who has pretty good credentials, certainly as compared to anyone who has not been a head coach before.

Well, maybe you're already aware of all these people, and didn't need me to suggest any of them.  Okay, then, I'm sure you can get at least one of them, preferably one higher up on the list.  We desperately need someone whom the vast bulk of the alumni and fan base can get behind for once.  Someone who has proven what he can do as a head coach, so very few will be that upset if the first year is a struggle.  Someone who the national pundits will admire as a hire, and say, "Well, UCLA is finally in the big-time with this hire." Someone who, unlike the last few football coaches we have hired, is not a short-time or career assistant, but a mostly proven head coach commodity.  Someone who can change the entire mind-set and character of UCLA football, to one where we legitimately expect to compete for national titles, and will brook no excuses if we do not.  Someone whose head coaching track record can legitimately be extrapolated upward to predict such results, not someone who may tell you big things but has nothing in this resume to prove it.

Okay, Dan, thanks for listening.  I know that this was long, but my letters are always long.  If it weren't so important to me, I wouldn't feel the need to write them.  And I know that you aren't really listening, but I like to hope that you might be, just a tiny bit.  I remember how awful I felt when it became clear that Karl Dorrell was to become our head coach.  I realize that you didn't feel that way, but I did.  I don't want to feel that way again in a week or so; and I know that no one else does, either.  I know that you can't please everyone no matter what you do, but you have the best chance of pleasing the most people by hiring someone with proven, big-league credentials, like Arkansas did when they hired Petrino, and Georgia Tech did with Johnson.  I continue to wish you good luck, and am still hoping for a happy result.


Bruin Blue (pen name, but I'm sure you understand)