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Moving On: Why UCLA Needs to Change the Football Regime Now

In recent days - before the Utah debacle  - we had noticed chatter in the comment threads here and in other Bruin online communities expressing the sentiment that the Bruins should consider giving Rick Neuheisel another shot for next season if he somehow manages to beat Southern Cal and eek into a lower tier bowl game. While the latest unacceptable performance may have silenced the Neubs for now, I have no doubt they will pop up as soon as the Bruins scrap a win against a pretty bad Colorado program and somehow find a way to pull out a miraculous upset against Southern Cal (anything can happen in that game). Yes, the Bruins can still somehow managed to back into the Pac-12 championship game because of how terrible the "Pac-12 South" really is and we have no doubt in that scenario there will be last ditch effort by the Neubs to continue the ongoing nightmare for at least one more season.

The argument (more like the sentiment) is very similar to the ones expressed by stalwarts from Dorrell and Lavin camps back in the day, who kept talking about "monster" and "big" UCLA seasons that never materialized for either coaches. Bruins should have fired Dorrell even after 13-9 and 7 win regular season in 2006. They should have fired Lavin even after the Bruins went to Sweet-16 after another horribly underachieving season in 2001. Instead both times the UCLA administration succumbed to the charade of a "short term" success by holding on to coaches who were not getting it done based on the overwhelming datapoints in their collective body of work. As a result of the UCLA administration taking the easy way out, both of those programs continued to go downhill, resulting in talent gutted rosters from downward trajectory in the recruiting trail. In Lavin's case the program collapsed. While in Dorrell's case the program meddled through another mediocre season ending up with depleted rosters with not much talent on both side of the field (you can go through the archives and find out the terrible shape both our defensive and offensive front lines were in when current coaching regime took over the program).

So four years into Neuheisel's program we are once again facing similar fork in the road. UCLA is struggling through second consecutive disappointing season under Neuheisel. We gave him a mulligan for his first year. His second year showed some sign of life before the team completely collapsed down the stretch last season. This season has been a total disaster to date except for some flashes of competence against average to below average competition within the conference. The pieces were in place for Neuheisel to make a run this season. He was set up with a more than manageable schedule that drew the easier competition from the states of Oregon and Washington. Instead we have been treated with yet another inconsistent and mediocre football season that has not lived up to our baseline expectations.

We have mentioned repeatedly that we have moved on beyond Neuheisel. No matter what will transpire rest of this season, we are not going to be changing our minds with regards to the need for change in leadership for UCLA football. Now we are going to offer up more points on why it is more important than ever for UCLA to change regime even if Neuheisel is able to finish the season on a "feel good note" with a schedule that features games against two of the weakest programs (at this time) from the already pedestrian Southern Division.

We believe UCLA is at a crucial time in its football history. If Bruins let go of Neuehisel they should be able to bring in a top flight football coach, who will be in position to leverage available talent into big seasons next year, and reignite our recruiting efforts. However, if Bruins decide to stick with Neuheisel, the odds point to yet another unfulfilling, up and down season, which will further downgrade the recruiting prospects of a program, which has already been on a downward trajectory since the collapse from last season. UCLA's 2012 class to date is only ranked 40th in the nation.  UCLA's 2011 class was ranked 56th nationally, after it had hauled in classes that ranked 8th (2010), 5th (2009), and 10th (2008) in previous years. This trend is pointing towards the wrong direction and it will continue that way if we have ourselves another Neuheiseilan season in 2012. There is also precedence nationally for letting go off coaches, even if they met bare minimum expectations of bowl eligibility in programs that were perceived to be sagging or on downward trends. Let's share those examples and some other pivotal facts concerning our roster, underscoring the need for a change in our football program now.

Here are some major examples of how some national programs had decided to make changes even after their coaches had put together bowl-eligible seasons:

  • Michigan 2010: Michigan Wolverines (I just like saying the nickname because it's cool) fired R-Rod  despite finishing the regular season 7-5. Michigan could have taken the easy way out by keeping R-Rod in and let him bring in a new defensive coordinator. They didn't want any of it as they had seen enough. To be fair RRod had gotten himself into hot water as Michigan was hit with NCAA violations for the first time in their illustrious program history during this flawed reign.
  • UCLA 2007: Do I really need to go into detail for this example? UCLA fired Karl Dorrell in 2007 in a season in which the Bruins finished 6-6. What folks do not remember is during that year Dorrell actually had a chance just (just like Neuheisel does now) to back into the Rose Bowl. Yes, in 07 UCLA needed to beat Southern Cal and needed Arizona to beat ASU, to get into the Rose Bowl in that last week.  ASU ended up squeaking be Arizona and Southern Cal beat UCLA.  Dorrell was finally thankfully gone.
  • Arkansas 2005:Although Arkansas didn't technically "fire" Houston Nutt, he had to "resign" under pressure even after an 8-5 season. Arkansas ended up pouncing on Bobby Petrino, and methodically established themselves as one of the powers in the SEC.
  • Florida 2004:Florida fired Ron Zook in mid-season in 2004 even though the Gators won 7 gameswhich included a 3 game win streak to close out regular season. Even more interestingly, their last win was against rival FSU in Tallahassee. Florida didn't care that the Gators had a team that was "good enough" to win 7 something games and beat in-state rival. Their standard was much higher. They got rid of Zook in mid-season when it became clear that he wasn't going to usher in long term success. So they decided to pounce by canning Zook in mind-season and then locking on Urban Meyer.  The rest is history.
  • UCLA 2002: As has been well chronicled here on BN, Dan Guerrero fired Bob Toledo at the end of 2002 season in which the Bruins finished with a record of 7-5. This was also another year in which the fired UCLA coach was in "Rose Bowl contention" till the last weeks. UCLA needed to beat Southern Cal and Washington State, and needed a Wazzu loss to Washington to get into the Rose Bowl, even though the Bruins were mediocre that year.  WSU ended up losing to Washington, but Southern Cal humiliated UCLA at the Rose Bowl, and then Bruins essentially laid down against the Cougs at the Rose Bowl.  Toledo was fired. I am not going to link up here but Guerrero fired Toledo by using now infamous reasoning of our team not "firing out" every game. Toledo finished with a record of 50-31 (.617).
  • Georgia 2000: Bulldog's current head coach Mark Richt's predecessor - Jim Donnan - had a record of 59-40 (.678 winning percentage). While he started 5-6, he followed his first season with records of 10-2, 9-3, 8-4 and 8-4. Donnan won 4 straight bowl games and finished in top-20 every year (note under Neuheisel UCLA hasn't even spent one week in to-25). That kind of performance would have earned him life time contracts from Murphy Hall and Morgan Center. Here is the catch though. Donnan never won the SEC and never won the "World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," the Dawgs' annual showdown with Florida. So after 4 years Donnan was gone.

  • Southern Cal 2000:The Paul Hackett example from 2000 is not as on point but is still worth mentioning that the Trojans canned Hacket even though he had just beaten us for the second year in a row in the form of a 38-35 win at the Rose Bowl. That winning streak is noteworthy because it was after we had run off that epic 8 game streak. The Trojans had seen enough though as the product on the field was inconsistent and at the time Bob Toledo had the upper hand in LA's recruiting circle. So the Trojans made their moved and settled on Cheatey Petey, who was their third or fourth choice after Garrett struck out with Mike Riley, Mike Bellotti, and Dennis Erickson. Carroll ushered in a cheating stained "golden" era, which made the Trojan faithful happy, but more importantly changed the dynamics in LA thanks to UCLA's awful decision to go with Karl Dorrell.

What has Neuheisel done in comparison to the fired coaches mentioned above? (thanks to Fox71 for looking up some of these quick data)"

  • Rick Neuheisel as of now has an overall record of 20-27. He has to go 15-0 to catch Karl Dorrell. Karl FREAKING Dorrell.
  • Only two of Neuheisel's 27 losses by less than a touchdown. Six of 27 losses by less than 10 points.
  • 20 of 27 losses by two touchdowns or more.
  • 15 of 27 losses by three touchdowns or more.
  • Neuheisel's Pac-12 record is an abysmal 12-23, which includes a 0-3 record against Southern Cal.
  • UCLA total road record under Neuheisel is 5-17, for a .227 winning percentage.
  • UCLA's conference road record under Neu is 3-18. Those 3 wins came against a winless Washington team, a horrific Washington State team and this year's terrible Oregon State. Those 3 teams have a combined record of 3-30.

Now in terms of the examples above, some newbies, who may not be well versed in UCLA's football past may laugh at the referencing of programs like Florida and Arkansas. Here is a flashback to just 2 years ago when ESPN identified UCLA as the 16th most prestigious football program in the country, putting us right behind LSU, Georgia and Florida, and ahead of programs such as Auburn, Clemson, Arkansas, and Colorado. Just 5 years ago UCLA was ranked above Florida, Miami, FSU, Georgia, Auburn, LSU etc. when it came to all time AP rankings. The last 10 years have been a dark and gloomy period of UCLA and it has resulted in a generation of Bruin fans, who never got to appreciate the standing of our program in college football hierarchy. So I get why people may frown on providing precedents referencing schools like Florida and Arkansas, but as you can see if you guy by overall history, the references make perfect sense.

In addition to the examples above, there is urgency in terms of maintaining the flow of talent in our program. I wrote above how UCLA's recruiting has already on a downward trajectory. If you go through our roster the concern will become even more apparent. Our roster is going to be favored with seniors and juniors next couple of season, with not the same level of talent waiting in the wings.

Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut are going to be seniors next season. Behind them we have Brett Hundley and some walk-ons (we don't have any QB lined up in this year's class. At TB, Derrick Coleman is gone. Next year we will have Johnathan Franklin and Malcolm Jones (who still hasn't gotten much of a chance) as upperclassmen. Anthony Barr's talent has been under utilized. Behind them except for Jordon James we don't have any youngsters of comparable talent who are going to be in our roster as freshmen and sophomore next year.

At WR/TE Joe Fauria is going to be a senior along with Randall Carroll, and Jerry Johnson. Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvray are going to juniors. Devin Lucien is going to be the only underclassmen, who has the potential to emerge as a gamebreaking playmaker at this spot. Jerry Rice Jr. could be a dependable option along with Raymond Nelson, but we need lot more.

At the OL spot we are going to have lots of seniors/juniors next season (Jeff Baca Jr, Al Cid, Chris Ward, Greg Capella, and XSF (!)). These guys should be good, but we are going to need more recruits this year and next year to keep the OL stocked.

On defense the situation is going to be pivotal as Datone Jones, Damien Holmes, Luta Tepa and Dononvan Carter are going to be seniors and Cassius Marsh, Seali'i Epenesa, Keenan Graham, and Owa Odighizuwa are going to be juniors.  At LB at first look only Aramide Olaniyan and Eric Kendricks are going to be the sophomores backing up a core of seniors and juniors. The DB situation is even scarier as Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester, Ty Abbott, and Dalton Hilliard are going to be all seniors (assuming Tony Dye is going to take a medical redshirt this season as well). Dietrich Riley, Stan McKay and Brandon Sermons are going to be juniors.

So it looks like we are going to be set next year and okay for another two years, but we are going to be in huge trouble if we don't cash in with BCS bowl run next year and leverage that into big recruiting hauls in next 2 seasons. Right now the Bruins have one of those rare opportunities to make the right move and get a coach, who can help us shake loose from the culture of malaise and underachievement that has doomed this program in last 10 years. If Bruins can bring in a Ben Howland caliber coach, he will have a great shot to win the Pac-12 South, put together a top-10 recruiting class, and build on it. The schedule is going to be favorable next season and the opening will be there with departures of Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. Recruiting experts such as Scott Kennedy of agree with the argument about a new coach coming in and jump starting our recruiting, leveraging our loaded roster next season.

We are grateful to Neuheisel for injecting some life in our program and resurrecting recruiting in his first three years, but he has not gotten it done on the field. If Neuheisel finishes the season with 7 to 8 wins and a victory over Southern Cal, against one of the easiest and most manageable schedule in recent history, it will be an underachievement. Oh don't laugh. 7 to 8 total wins are still technically possible if we want to humor the Neubs. It will not wash away the humiliating defeats that have already stained this season. It will also not generate a lot of energy on the recruiting trail, going into yet another make or break season. Keeping Neuheisel or another bad hire means another decade of mediocrity or worse and quite possibly a football program like Kentucky or Indiana.  That is unacceptable. 

There is another thing to consider. If UCLA lets go of Neuheisel this season, it mayl not have a lot of major competition in the market for landing a good coach. Georgia Bulldogs will likely retain Mark Richt now. North Carolina is going to be riddled with sanctions. Arizona is not in the same class as UCLA when it comes to the stature of its program.There is now a vacancy at PSU but that head coaching position in "Happy Valley" will be haunted for a while. Perhaps there will be an opening at OSU, if the Buckeyes don't win the Big-10. In that case they will let the interim coach go and they will make serious runs at Urban Meyer, but that will be the extent for market completion for an elite first tier coach. Never will the Bruins have a better opportunity to go after big name coaches with a stocked roster and the market to themselves.

As described above, last time UCLA was in the same situation to cut loose a failing coach it took the easy route by holding on to mediocre to bad football coaches in Lavin and Dorrell, and in turn paid dearly through more disastrous seasons and further gutting of those programs.

We expect UCLA to pounce on the opportunity this time around. Anything less will be unacceptable. It will create a toxic atmosphere filled with cynicism, distrust and more devastatingly apathy heading into next football season. We sure hope Chancellor Gene Block is not going to be foolish enough to let his athletic department make the same mistake in previous two situations. This third time needs to be a charm.