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Additional Big Picture Thoughts After Saturday

Before we pivot to Arizona I wanted to get few more thoughts out of the way and throw up for discussion re. Saturday’s game, so that we can look to Arizona game with somewhat of a clean slate. I specifically want to talk about injury issues, instant gratification, and the so called network we had to watch the debacle this past Saturday afternoon.

Injury Issues

Let’s start with the topic of injury. There is no escaping from it. We have only had two games and yet we now have bruised and battered football team, going back to all the injuries from fall and spring camp. Byujim, a BYU fan who was gracious in his post game comment here on BN wondered about our strength and conditioning department. Michelleucla60 offered up the following post re. Mike Linn, our new S&C coach under  Neuheisel:  

I have known Mike Linn the s&c for 17 years, he was previously our s&c until Dorrell came on board, in 2002. So for byujim to blame him for what happened in regards to how our players are conditioned is a gross mistake. Anyone can ask Brigaham Harwell how much better condition he is in since Mike came back, he will tell you and I was at the first Bruin Touchdown Club breakfast on Aug 29th when he said that had lost weight and was in the best playing shape he’s been in since he came to UCLA. Anyone who follows football knows that no matter what kind of condition you are in injuries can and will happen no matter what you do. It’s just the nature of the game, it’s a tough game, injuries happens to the best of them. I think CRN who has known Mike as long as I have the same 17 years or more, knew what he was doing when he brought Mike back, that he was getting the best s&c out there for his team. Just ask any of the players how he has changed the way they work out compared to the previous s&c. We have to remember that we still have to wade thru all the problems from the past 5 years before we get to where we want to be.

Not only I agree with Michelle, I will also throw up couple of more points on this. First it is a little premature to come to any conclusion re. UCLA’s S&C program under the new regime only two games into RN’s first year at UCLA.

Secondly, perhaps there is another explanation for UCLA players getting injured at such an alarming rate in last few years. I think it’s worth discussing whether it is tied to our mediocre recruiting efforts in last several years (not counting last year’s class, which has as has been discussed ad nausea was previous regime’s best class in its fifth season at UCLA). It takes special caliber of athletes to compete at the highest level of D-1 football.  It takes special caliber of athletes to withstand the punishment and hits.

Instead of wondering about our S&C program, the correct question would be whether UCLA has recruited tough athletes who have the ability to withstand constant and brutal physical punishment at this level in last five years? This is where Neuheisel’s challenge is going to be enormous. People with good reasons have raised question about his ability to put together tough football teams given how his teams at UDub and at CU had a tendency to become “soft.” Well, if CRN achieves success in next 3-4 years in putting together a tough, well disciplined football team, no one is going to diminish that by pointing it as doing it with Dorrell’s recruits. It will be up to Neuheisel and his new staff to recruit tough, physical athletes who can stand the punishment not just in the Pac-10 but from great teams in the mid major conferences. As mentioned before that process of culture change will take time and it is somewhat foolish to expect dramatic changes in areas such as S&C in just two games into RN’s first season.

Looking For Instant Gratification

Speaking of expecting dramatic changes it’s not a surprise given that we live in a world of instant gratification, we have seen some people already jumping ship, calling out all the coaches as “gutless” while doing the same thing on giving up on the team. Again let me share couple of data points re two coaches in our conference.

I will start with Jeff Tedford, the coach up at Cal, who I have a lot of respect for in terms of how he has built a program. Tedford inherited a 1-10 program from Tom Holmoe in 2001 and went on to put together a 7-5 season in Berkeley in his first year in 2002, which became the foundation of his current program. Now go back and take a look at that. It featured a 3-1 start with an OOC scheduled that featured Baylor, New Mexico State, Michigan State and Air Force. His first loss was against Air Force. He won against Michigan State which turned out to be a very mediocre 4-8 program that season. Tedford went 4-4 during rest of the Pac-10 including a nail biting win over Toledo’s UCLA up in Berkeley, which IIRC was one of the most mismanaged games during Toledo’s final years at UCLA (failing to come up no points with a first and goal in the closing mins which would have tied the game … but hey whatever).  But don’t forget who Tedford had at his disposal. He had a senior QB in Kyle Boller to work with in his first year at UCLA. Kyle turned out to be an NFL caliber talent (he started for couple of seasons and was arguably lot more than an also ran/journey man QB who got a “cup of coffee” in practice squads). Compare that to what RN has had to work with to date at UCLA.

And then there is of course Pete Carroll. We have mentioned this already before. But it’s worth bringing up again. PC started at Southern Cal in 2001. He inherited a roster that included Carson Palmer, Kareem Kelly, Justin Fargas, Kenechi Udeze, Shaun Cody and Troy Polamalu. How did PC get started at Southern Cal with that kind of sick talent? He started with a record of 1-4. That’s right 1-4, including two home losses against Kansas State and Stanford in his first three games at the Mausoleum. He did all that with Carson Palmer playing QB. To PC’s credit he finished the regular season strong thanks to the talent on his roster but still laid an egg against Utah in a bowl game against Vegas, ending his first year with a record of 6-6.

So really people … for those who got a little bit delusional after our first stirring win against Tennessee, let’s get a grip and come back to reality with a little perspective. I will stick to what I said this off season. If this team given the huge gaping holes in our roster and its schedule which is one of the toughest in the conference manages to win 5-6 games, it will be nothing short of a miracle and a testament to the efforts of this coaching staff.

The sane among us expected this team to start 0-2. We are 1-1. So we are kind of doing ok and will be back in business if we come back, respond and show some fight at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

No doubt this will be the toughest challenge in CRN’s career to date either as a player or a coach. However, given what he has gone through in his professional career last few years, we have seen his ability to bounce back and redeem himself through grinding out and hard work, and taking advantage of opportunities when they show up. I wouldn’t bet against him in getting this program to get back on track following Saturday.


Lastly, before I put Saturday out of mind, I have a request for UCLA folks in the Morgan Center. Never, ever agree to any scheduling arrangements in future, which would entail broadcasting UCLA games on a joke network such as “Versus.” Versus broadcast yesterday and previously have been total disgraces at every level.  Where to start? From its clueless announcers, to its joke sideline “reporter” (who couldn’t provide any legit updates on injured players) to its awful camera angles and audio arrangements, it was an utter, complete, painful disaster. I have seen more enjoyable high school games on local cable television than what we have been subjected to on Versus last couple of years. It was a total abomination.

Anyway, we will turn our attention to Arizona next, who will also come into the Rose Bowl in a desperation mode following its loss against New Mexico. But the game will present an opportunity for our entire team to respond and move forward with the immense rebuilding project , which we all know and love as UCLA football.