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Football News & Notes: Tradition That Actually Matters

The program continues to pay a price from the seniors decision to show "leadership" for "organizing" ditch day. From the LA Times on what kind of impression the stunt left on the high school coaches and recruits showed up to watch the practice:

Meanwhile, coaches from La Palma Kennedy High, who had come to Westwood to see practice, left shaking their heads.

"I guess that's why they're in the Lay's Potato Chips Bowl every year," said Chris Pascal, Kennedy's freshman coach.

Coaches from Encino Crespi High also left with a vivid impression.

"Let me put it this way, they wouldn't have done that at Fresno State," said Coach Jeremiah Ross, a former Fresno State player.

Pascal said he and other coaches had yet to receive an explanation or apology from UCLA as of Wednesday afternoon even though they were required to leave their e-mail addresses when they signed in before practice.

"They had recruits there, and can you imagine what they think after being driven there and being sent back onto the freeway at 5 p.m.?" Pascal said. "The four of us were standing there for a half-hour, someone could have said something. On the way home we thought about going over to USC because we knew they would be on the practice field."
I would hope by now the seniors who organized the stunt have apologized to the coaching staff and rest of their team-mates for embarrassing our school and the program both at a local and national level. WWL’s Bruce Feldman was at practice on Tuesday to check in on the Bruins to see how the transition has been going under CRN. He made sure to mention the ‘tradition’ in not so flattering way in his report (subscription req'd).

Speaking of the "tradition" Donahue spoke about it to the LAT in a story that pointed out how it got started and who restored it:
The Bruins were coming off a victory over USC and were preparing to play Oregon State in Japan in their season finale.

"The players thought it would be a good idea to throw the coaches in the shower, then go over the wall," Donahue said. "That's exactly what they did. I climbed up the tower so they couldn't get me. Then they proceeded to wander around campus singing Christmas carols."

UCLA beat Oregon State, 34-3, and the tradition had legs. It surfaced again Tuesday, when UCLA players gathered in a huddle, then sprinted through the gate at Spaulding Field, ending practice before it had begun.
I don’t think anyone here would complain if those seniors pulled that kind of stunt if they were coming off a victory again against Southern Cal and have shown a track record of winning/contending for championships like their peers in pretty much all other athletics programs at UCLA (except for women’s hoops). But this group of seniors haven’t done much to distinguish themselves at UCLA (notwithstanding that 13-9 aberration). So they need to think through in the coming days and decide what they need to leave on a proud note, playing their part in restoring the football tradition of winning Pac-10s and Rose Bowls that we have respect for (and hope will be restored in the coming years) here on Bruins Nation.

BTW the LAT report left no doubt who restored this stunt as a "tradition" in Westwood (emphasis added):
Donahue said that he was OK with the tradition during the weeks leading into a bowl game, but, "somehow, unbeknownst to me, it escalated into spring practice."

UCLA coaches have been dealing with it ever since. One season during the Bob Toledo years, players made their escape only to find that Toledo had caught wind of the plan and had locked the locker room doors. Players were left milling around campus in their uniforms for hours.

The tradition was banned by Toledo, only to be restored under Karl Dorrell, though he managed it. Last season, he picked the day for the players but did not inform his assistant coaches.
Uh yes. So that’s what he meant when he talked about "fixing things" and "disciplining resources" at practice. We are going to deal with a lot of this in the coming years because it will take a while to "fix" the mess that has been left behind in Westwood.

Don’t get down though. Reading Stewart Mandel’s impressions from attending UCLA practices (Stewart was there before ditch day I am assuming) on it’s pretty clear the challenges RN and co are facing in the coming year, yet at the same time unlike the Dorrell years there are reasons for hope:
While Neuheisel refuses to call the upcoming season a "rebuilding year" ("You've heard of screen savers? 'Rebuilding' is just a coach-saver," he said), it's clear from watching practice that's exactly what it is. UCLA is extremely thin in numbers, having lost 13 starters and 26 letterman from a year ago.

The departure earlier this week of veteran tackle Aleksey Lanis due to recurring knee problems leaves the Bruins with just two offensive linemen who played the position last season. UCLA's top returning receiver, Dominique Johnson, had just 25 catches last season (Everett, who caught more than 30 balls in 2005 and '06, is also back after missing most of last season with an ankle injury), and its top two tailbacks, Kahlil Bell and Raymond Carter, have sat out most of the spring with injuries.

The true impact of the new coaches will likely be felt further down the road -- particularly at quarterback. Strong-armed juco transfer Kevin Craft switched his commitment from Hawaii following Chow's hiring and will likely take over for Cowan either this year or next. Meanwhile, one of the nation's top recruits for next year, Aaron Murray (Tampa, Fla.), recently visited practice, and another similarly rated quarterback has expressed his interest.

"UCLA carries significant weight in recruiting," said Neuheisel. "This school has won 100 national championships [in all sports]. Football has been a national player -- it's time to be one again."

It won't happen overnight, but at least the Bruins will finally be fun to watch.
One thing CRN has, which his predecessors (including Donahue) never had, is a "vision" re where UCLA football needs to be in our national conversation.

It’s going to take a while. But given how CRN has gone about in building the staff around him, the energy he has brought in last few months (ditch day notwithstanding), there are reasons to be optimistic he will eventually get us there and get our players to meet the expectations that have been set by tradition that actually matters. Meanwhile, he will make our Bruins fun to watch if not interesting for the first time in almost a decade.