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The Morning After, Part 7: Arizona

Rick may be scratching his head in confusion, but the answers are crystal clear to Bruin fans this morning.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Rick may be scratching his head in confusion, but the answers are crystal clear to Bruin fans this morning. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The sun did, in fact, come up today, just in case any of you in the Pacific NW are wondering.  Of course, it's always sunny here in Colorado, but it's even sunnier than usual today.  And that is fitting because I feel a huge sense of relief today.

Before the game last night, I wrote this to the BN editors:

I don't mean to be negative.  But despite the records, if I compare the Arizona eye test versus the UCLA eye test, they are better.  They were competitive against highly ranked teams.  We struggled against crappy state schools. 

Still, we ought to be better than them.  I hope tonight is the night we turn that corner.

I've thought that weekly for the last 2 years.  Do I have a learning problem?

I haven't been learning much.  Every time I think we are going to turn a corner, I just bump my head into another dead end.  And it's been the same thing week after week in Neu's second and third and now over halfway through his fourth years.  It's like being lost in a maze with no exit, just endlessly randomly wandering around with no plan or sense of direction and no sign of an exit or light at the end of the tunnel.  Bump, again.

But this morning is different.  I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  I think we have finally turned a corner after all, it's just not the direction I was expecting.  It turns out it wasn't my learning problem, but I needed to  pay attention to what I have been teaching.  I can thank my 9 year old son for this one.

There are a few ideas that I try to instill in my kids.  Some simple philosophies that they can use to understand their world now, and that can also be a basis from which they can expand as they grow and mature, as their world becomes more diverse and complicated.   I'm not a great dad.  In fact, I started out as possibly the worst parent ever, or at least one of the least enthusiastic.  Luckily, the kids just loved their daddy all along, and as they have grown, I have, too.  I always loved them, but my ability to appreciate them and communicate with them took a long time to come around.  Thankfully, they were always listening, and some of the valuable lessons that I have learned in life are beginning to apply to theirs.  I'm not any wise parent or anything.  These things I try to teach my kids are an amalgam of ideas borrowed from Coach, my own parents, and some coaches and teachers of mine, and other inspirational leaders I have studied.  There aren't many lessons, as I try not to micromanage my children, but here are three of the ones that we repeat frequently.

There are three phrases you have to be able to say with all sincerity and exactly they are needed. They are Thank you, I'm sorry, and I was wrong.  It's easy to get along in relationships at any level when everything is going well and is easy.  It is much harder to deal with adversity in those relationships.   If you can say those words and really mean them, then you will know appreciation and humility and responsibility, and it will make you a valuable person in the lives of everyone you meet and interact with.

Everything in the universe happens for one of two reasons: physics or money.  Gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak forces explain why water sticks together and why planets orbit each the sun and why the sky is blue and how trees and bugs and dogs live and die.  Human or societal behavior doesn't obey physics (directly).  It obeys the cost/benefit ratio of any decision.  Money can literally mean cash, or it can be the benefit that results from an action or decision.   It's kinda stark, yeah, but it's a bit tongue in cheek too.  And anyway, the economists will back me up that nothing ever happens for a loss.

Bad things are going to happen. The key is to make something good come out of them.  For my kids, bad things means losing a child's hockey game, or having a favorite stuffed animal chewed up by the puppy, or not getting to go to a friend's party.  In the future, it may deal with getting a bad grade in school or getting dumped before prom or not getting a job or dealing with an illness.  But rather than sit and suffer, they need to figure out some way to make at least some positive come from a negative.  Don't give up, Keep trying; Don't settle, Keep fighting.

This is the one that cleared things up for me last night.

That first half of football was absolutely incredible, and it was incredible in the worst sense possible.  The defense was the worst is has ever been, and that is really saying something.  Surrendering 6 touchdowns on 6 possessions.  Really?  Not even a single stop.  Not a single field goal?  And scoring only 7 points against one of the worst defenses in the country?  My brother who is a U.C.S.D. grad and has no vested interest at all in our football team texted me in the second quarter, "Tell me there will be a fb press conference on Monday to make a change".  Freesia wrote in the post game, "To call that game embarrassing is embarrassing to the word embarrassing.  It was sad.  It was pathetic.  It was difficult to watch."  Things were getting pretty clear.  And then, just before halftime, things got even worse.  Never mind the d-bag who came on the field.  Sure, he is just some college nut, but there a lot of weirdos in the world and for players on a field, you can never know what intentions someone has when he comes out of the stands.  But that brief distraction got much worse with the ensuing melee.  It's sad that it took 29:58 for our team to show any sort of fight on the field.  That it was in the form of that brawl was even more disgraceful.  And even if that coward purse stealing quitter Shaq Richardson said something that deserved him getting punched in the face, you still can't do it that way on the field.

The whole thing was shameful.  I've never been ashamed to be a Bruin, but there are time where I have been ashamed of the actions of Bruins.  And that first half fit the bill. 

Then, as my son walked away from the TV at halftime, while I moaned that that was without a doubt the absolute worst half of U.C.L.A. football (if not just football in general) I have ever had the misfortune to watch, he agreed that it was really bad and that we'd just have to make something good come out of it.

I wasn't sure what sort of good was going to come from that half.  I was still reeling from the absolute beatdown by a school which had lost to 10 consecutive  D-1 opponents (their last win was, naturally, us), which fired its head coach after its last game, which elevated the DC of the worst defense in America to replace that head coach.  I was discouraged by the absolute venom and disgust in the comments in the first half thread.  I was surprised at the absolute unanimity in the fanbase.  Everyone said it was the worst performance they had ever seen.  I noted the complete disappearance of the last remaining fans who bless their hearts thought that Neuehisel and Tresey and Guerrero might still get this program turned around. 

And that was it.  The fan base was united on the same side.  And we knew what needed to be done.

The first half was bad.  It was so bad that it was good, because it removed any doubt as to what this program needs.  We have kept waiting for Neu to turn things around.  We have been hoping against hope that Neu was still the answer.  We listed all the reasons for believing in him and gave criteria that still left him an avenue to success.  There was debate and division within the BN community over how to proceed.  I didn't want to turn on an alum, a Rose Bowl hero, a man who loves U.C.L.A. as much as I do.  But I didn't like the record and the product on the field either.  How would we know when we finally turned the corner?

The first half last night was that corner.  That debacle was finally the sign which made it crystal clear, not just to me, but to every Bruin with a pulse, that change must come.  And it may not come today or Monday or at the end of the season, but there is no longer any question for the Bruin fanbase.  And that fact gives me some peace.

There is still pain ahead, but it won't be as bad as that first half.  Sometimes, change requires a catalyst or it carries a price (see?  physics or money) and paying that price can be painful. But it is necessary to move forward.  It's like a patient with a broken arm.  That fracture hurts, but pushing the bones back into proper place hurts a whole lot more (don't worry, in real life I use propofol).  But once it is done, the pain is a lot better than it was before, and the end result is apparent and healing can being.

That first half was our broken program getting pushed back into place.  That was the moment when Rick Neuheisel's program finally turned the corner.  There is still a long way to go until our fracture is healed, but now the answer is clear, the end result is apparent, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.