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Steve Dilbeck From Daily News Unfairly Blames Guerrero For The Dorrell Debacle

Steve Dilbeck from the Daily News today tried to push a myth by putting the blame of Karl Dorrell hire on Dan Guerrero:

UCLA is a 30-point underdog Saturday at home against USC, and it's only that close because the Bruins have a respectable defense. It might be best to cover the eyes.

The perpetrator responsible for this shallow talent pool is easy to identify - Karl Dorrell.

Responsibility, however, trickles up.

Dorrell was overmatched from Day One, a fine man and assistant, who never before had been a head coach at any level.

He was officially hired by athletic director Dan Guerrero.

Guerrero has been UCLA's AD for almost six years, and I'm not sure I can remember a single bad word ever written about him.

He is extremely likeable. Intelligent, well spoken, passionate about UCLA, and by most any measure, an excellent athletic director.

Yet this is one enormous black hole in his otherwise spotless resume, and that's his first major hire at UCLA - Dorrell.

Nice try Steve but the problem with that assertion is it’s fiction. Over the years we have written numerous times on how Dan Guerrero and Bob Field (the former UCLA DC under Toledo and Donahue, who was working as a Morgan Center administrator and leading the charge on head coach search when Toledo was fired in 2002) really wanted to hire one guy. It was Mike Riley (the current head coach of Oregon State). You can look through our archives and find that story but here is an LA Times report from December of 2002 on how close UCLA and Riley was to a potential deal:

Many people close to the coaching search believe that, ultimately, Riley will be the guy. UCLA began courting him last Monday, just hours after Athletic Director Dan Guerrero fired Toledo, the Bruin coach of seven years. Guerrero and assistant athletic director Bob Field flew to New Orleans last Monday evening and conducted a four-hour interview with Riley.

I’m obviously interested in it,” Riley said. “They are taking their time, and that’s the smart way to handle it. [The time frame] could be short, and it could be long.”

And guess who was in Riley’s corner:

It also doesn’t hurt that Riley has had a long relationship with Field, who has emerged as Guerrero’s most trusted football advisor. Field was a young assistant at Alabama when Riley played there in the early 1970s and the two men have remained in contact.

Field, a longtime former UCLA assistant nudged from his defensive coordinator position by Toledo after the 2000 season, is familiar with all the top candidates. He was a UCLA assistant along with Robinson under Terry Donahue in the 1980s – a period when Dorrell was a standout receiver.

Riley, sources said, also has the strong backing of Bobby Beathard, a respected former NFL general manager who hired Riley with the Chargers.

Beathard’s son, Jeff, played under Riley in Winnipeg. Guerrero, in his first year as athletic director, considers it a plus that Riley does not have strong ties to UCLA, sources said. Dorrell has the backing of many players from the Bruin glory days in the 1980s, but such strong support from one segment of alumni might make Guerrero wary.

According to that report Riley to UCLA deal was so close that Riley had already turned down an offer from University of Alabama to become their head coach:

I’m obviously interested in it,” he said. [Riley's comment on UCLA job. -BN Ed.]

Riley turned down a lucrative long-term offer Thursday from Alabama, his alma mater.

That decision was made independent of this one,” he said. “It had nothing to do with UCLA and what they wanted to do.”

Riley’s wife and two children have lived in Southern California since he was an assistant at USC from 1993-96 and currently live in Solana Beach near San Diego.

Sources said UCLA is prepared to make a contract offer to Riley worth $700,000 to $800,000, plus incentives. The deal is thought to be for six or seven years and would include a rollover clause, meaning that another year is added to the deal every year the coach is retained.

It was all but official even though Riley politely declined the claim that rejection of Alabama had nothing do to with the UCLA job which was all but his. He wanted it. DG/Field wanted him. It was all lined up perfectly for all parties involved.

So what happened? As we have blogged before Karl Dorrell wore a spiffy suit and impressed then UCLA Chancellor – Al Carnesale (who had no clue re. college  athletics) and Pete Blackman – in an interview and effectively punched his ticket for the head coaching gig in Westwood:

Riley's near-30-year relationship with Field and his experience as a head coach -- something Dorrell and Robinson lacked -- was taken as a sign by many that UCLA would hire Riley. That speculation was further fueled last week when Riley turned down a more lucrative offer from his alma mater, Alabama, and no other proven commodities had surfaced in the UCLA search.

Even if there were many who were lukewarm about Riley -- he did not have a winning record in his five seasons at Oregon State and San Diego -- few thought there was a more likely hire.

However, according to a source close to the search, Dorrell, dressed in a stylish dark suit and white shirt, had an extremely impressive interview with Carnesale and vice chancellor Pete Blackman on Tuesday.

"The bottom line is, Karl kicked (tail) in the interview," said the source close to the search. "He really showed passion and demonstrated from a philosophical standpoint the importance of discipline, what it means to be a Bruin, what it means to wear that uniform, to go to school and graduate from here and to beat SC and win Pac-10 championships."

Dorrell, as he prepared Tuesday to return home, thought he left a good impression, too.

"It was very positive, he said. "I told them I could redirect the program back to the level it should have been and bring the toughness, discipline and integrity that the program should have."

So while DG and Bob Field wanted to Riley, it was the UCLA’s Murphy Hall brass – Carnsale and Blackman – who called for Karl Dorrell’s hire.

Sure DG is going to take responsibility for the Dorrell hire in public now because he is too classy to point the fingers at Carnesale and Blackman. But that doesn't mean Dilbeck can get away by not sharing the real story behind how that process went down. The least he could is point to the public reports available at the time (like the ones linked above and discussed here over the years) and read the tea leaves like a competent college football observer would to make a reasonable inference that DG really wanted to go with Riley but was ultimately overrruled by Carnesale and Blackman.

One might argue that it was Dan Guerrerro's responsibility to speak up if he really wanted Riley over Dorrell. That's a legit point but that doesn't take into the reality of DG operating in a stale, bureaucratic world of UCLA administration in his first year on the job where he came in with the original focus of canning Steve Lavin and hiring a great basketball coach to replace him. That's what he had been working on all year and it was fairly well known that Lavin was a dead man walking and that DG was focused on getting replacement candidates lined up. DG was not expecting to hire a football coach in his first year and when the firing had to happen, he really wanted to hire Mike Riley, which in hind sight looks like would have been a solid choice.

I am going to withhold judgment on Dan Guerrero for now. I will wait to see how the CRN’s tenure works out in next 2-3 years. I am very hopeful from what I have seen this year but I will still hold the final judgment on this until I see tangible data points in next two years. I also have serious concerns about the pace of Pauley’s restoration.

However, it is completely unfair to point the fingers at him for the debacle that was Karl Dorrell. If Dilbeck is an intellectually honest columnist, he would provide his readers the whole story. But given the track record of these columnists and reporters in Southern California’s joke of a traditional media, I am not going to hold my breath.