Guest post from Bruin Blue. Again it is always good to get this perspective from long suffering UCLA alums who are sick and tired of constant let downs and mediocrity from underachieving UCLA football program. GO BRUINS. -N
I am not looking forward to the rest of this season. It's not going to be pretty, whatever happens. In my mind, there is no way that Karl Dorrell is going to go quietly, in any sense of the word. His team has enough talent; and there are enough beatable teams left on the schedule, for him to make a real bid to keep his job. This isn't Ohio State or Alabama; we don't fire coaches who go 9-3. So this is not going to be a lame-duck season for Dorrell by any means, despite the absolutely woeful loss to Utah. As it was with his mentor, Terry Donahue, UCLA "bounces back" from losses, because the talent is better than the coaching. Their teams sort of plod along from game to game and sometimes they play well, sometimes they don't. There is usually no real improvement or learning curve; and they don't helpfully implode like you sometimes see happen at better programs where the disappointment of early losses is so great that all sorts of pressure and internal strife sets in.
I'm not rooting for the team to lose; but it wouldn't upset me too much. I know that the future of UCLA football is pretty bleak as long as Dorrell hangs around. I can't see us winning more than six games next year if we're lucky. So why should it excite me if we somehow manage to grind out 9-3, with the schedule so much in our favor, and a talent edge on most Pac-10 teams? Can Dorrell get to 9-3 and save his job? I think it's certainly possible, IF UCLA can win at Oregon State. That is the key game in Dorrell's career. If he loses that one, then he'd have to run the table going into the USC game to get his nine wins. If we lose at Corvallis, I could see a six- or seven-win season. But since I'm very familiar with bad UCLA coaches hanging on and saving their jobs way past the time that they should have lost them, I'm expecting a win up there. Then we beat the Irish, and we're 5-1. And the L.A. media, so loath to criticize Dorrell, would certainly be full of "redemption" stories, about how well we have done since Utah. And you know that Dorrell is going to scratch and claw for this job. I am convinced that he actually thinks that he has done a great job here, even this year. I am also convinced that he would play the race card if necessary. That's why it's so important that if we don't have the big year that we were expecting, we have one that is unequivocally bad, so as to leave no doubt what we must do. Of course, the very fact that we have to weigh and parse each season to see if it is bad enough to get the coach fired should really be all the proof necessary that he is not the man for the job. Really good coaches don't weave and bob and do just enough to keep their jobs--not at big-time programs like UCLA.
I totally agree with Nestor that the Washington game shouldn't have meant anything as far as whether Dorrell should go or stay, but of course it does. Any win UCLA can eke out is going to give ammunition to those who want Dorrell around for at least another year. Saturday night, I heard someone mention one of the most bogus statistics in the world--the fact that "Dorrell is the only UCLA football coach to take them to four straight Bowl games in his first four years." Now, there's one for the books. The fact is, of course, that the great Red Sanders couldn't have taken UCLA to four straight Bowls if he had gone undefeated every year, because of course the only Bowl which UCLA was eligible for back then was the Rose Bowl, and there was a no-repeat rule for conference champions put in early in his tenure. Prothro would have had to have won the conference every year; so would Rodgers, since the only Bowl that a Pac-10 team was eligible for then was the Rose Bowl. Vermeil only stayed two years. So in fact the only two coaches who could have theoretically matched that "achievement" would have been Donahue (back when there were very few Bowls) and Toledo (more Bowls, but not close to the 28 or so there are now). Also, when did they start inviting six-win teams to Bowl games--a few years ago? Dorrell "earned" Bowl berths by going 6-5, 6-6, and 7-5. Of course, all those Bowls were third-tier, and he lost all of them. But, hey; that doesn't stop the announcers from pointing it out as a "positive" of the Dorrell regime. With that kind of uninsightful, buddy-buddy journalism in this city, you can bet that any win over anyone is going to be described as a major credit to our head coach. So I still believe, much as I don't want to, that there is better than a 50-50 chance that Dorrell is going to be around next year. Now, if we lose to the Beavers, then it's a wholly different story.
I'm sure everyone realizes that Dorrell's dream of being a head coach in the NFL is essentially gone. No owner, no matter how stupid or desperate, is gong to hire this guy. So he needs this job more than ever, or he is likely never to be given a head coaching opportunity again--at least not at any significant program. It's all or nothing, now; and you can bet that Dorrell, who has shown a perfect willingness to blame players and assistants for his own failures; and to actually tell one journalist that "because of his race, he is not sure if he'll ever be given enough opportunity to succeed here," is never going to just walk away from it, or ever admit that he didn't do the job here.
It is interesting to see that very much like Steve Lavin, Dorrell attempts to buffalo the fans and media into thinking that when we lose it's because the players weren't "up" for the game, and that he's not sure why, having done everything he could. Lavin would always say things like that: "I told the team that this opponent was dangerous, but they just weren't focused; I wish I knew why." The fact is that motivation is highly overrated as a reason for winning or losing college football or basketball games. Yes, sometimes it can matter; but mostly it's about fundamentals and schemes. UCLA lost to Utah primarily because their coaches had no answer for the Utah offensive schemes, which sought to neutralize the Bruins' superior athleticism and speed by spreading the field, and letting the quarterback read the defense at the line of scrimmage, often throwing short passes to the backs designed for short but effective gains, and almost never testing the Bruins' speed by going wide. That's pretty much what Washington did to us last year at Seattle, and it's the formula for moving the ball on this defense. Last Saturday, Washington again moved the ball effectively, but Locker doesn't yet have the experience of Stanback; and of course this time UCLA's offense, and primarily its superior athletes, were able to wear down the mediocre Husky defense. Rest assured that Willingham will use the same strategy at Seattle next year, and should get the win that time--which Dorrell, if he's still around, will of course attribute to the team not being sufficiently self-motivated.
As we all know, the second part of the necessary equation--hiring the right head coach here--must be given every attention. I am not at all cheered by the names I see people on other sites bring up. The answer is not the untested SC assistant Sarkasian. It's not some slightly-above-average middle-rung coach like Leavitt or Patterson, neither of whom is as good as Carroll, Erickson or Tedford. It's not Leach, who gave up another 49 points last week, and who would never stop the Pac-10 offenses. It's not Jim Mora, Jr., who lost control of his team in Atlanta, and who has really not proven much of anything anywhere, except that his name is familiar. It's certainly not Dennis Green, who has all sorts of personal baggage, and who is a lousy coach besides. And who is this NFL assistant who Mike Waldner (the guy who supported Harrick and Lavin all those years) says that the rumors have Guerrero possibly choosing as our next coach? I don't want an NFL assistant, even someone like Musgrave, because he hasn't shown what he might do as a head coach. Why is it so difficult to understand that UCLA needs someone who has proven himself as a head football coach? Yes, all head coaches start as assistants, but UCLA is not the testing ground for their abilities. Ben Howland was a proven winner in a major conference, and a sure bet to be successful here. Red Sanders was coach of the year in the SEC at lowly Vanderbilt. Tommy Prothro had taken Oregon State to two Rose Bowls, and had a Heisman Trophy winner. Vermeil was admittedly a bit of a gamble, except that he was a Stoops-like assistant who had been championed by Prothro and George Allen. Otherwise, all our great coaches in football and basketball had been very successful as head coaches, albeit some (like the Wizard) at smaller schools.
I said last week that I was not thrilled at the "usual suspect" prospects that we might be considering. So I decided to raise my standards; and here is a list (in no order) of some people that we should actually at least sound out about their availability. Why not think big, for once?
1. Urban Meyer. Yes, the Urban Meyer who is at Florida, making all that money. Meyer isn't a Southerner; he's not wedded to that region. He is a great admirer of John Wooden. Obviously, we can't pay him what Florida does, but what if we finally decide to really ante up for a coach? Is it impossible that he would consider leaving the SEC for the excitement of coaching against other wide-open teams in this league? The SEC really isn't nearly as competitive as it is supposed to be, with only LSU and maybe ultimately Saban's Alabama as a threat to Florida. Here, Meyer could go against the USC juggernaut. I realize it's a major longshot, but why not ask him?
2. Mark Richt of Georgia. A young, dynamic coach who has had more than notable success. Southern background; but still might he be interested in a new challenge. UCLA can recruit better talent than Georgia, believe it or not.
3. Bill Cowher. He may not want to coach again, but who knows? He may be more of a motivator than a technician, but he has proven his ability to win. He obviously chooses great staffs, witness how many of his assistants got head jobs. He would be a great antidote to Pete Carroll.
4. Jon Gruden. I have always liked him as a coach, and think he would be a great college mentor. The problem is that he's have to be fired at Tampa Bay first, and it looks like he's putting that franchise on the right track again now.
5. Jimmy Johnson. Okay, that's a real longshot, but we could ask him, at least.
My point is that we need to hit a homerun with this next hire, like Arizona State did with Erickson. We need someone who is an almost sure bet to take this program to another level. We do not need a "pretty good" coach from somewhere else, or an ex-pro coach whose only cachet is simply the fact that he was in the NFL. The NFL is not some rarified realm, and most of the coaches who have come to college from there have done little--consider Al Groh, Chan Gailey, Bill Callahan. Carroll is the only exception. The man we hire should be a proven winner; or if such is simply unavailable, the most dynamic assistant coach out there.
Well, that's a lot to ponder, as the season continues. We'll see if this all bears fruition, or if we will be forced to go through all of this again next year.