FanPost

How Blockero Has Hurt UCLA

This may be the longest post I ever write, but I hope you'll bear with me because I want to talk about leadership and misconceptions, two of the constants in our lives. And let me start with something unrelated to sports or even UCLA, for that matter. T.S. Eliot was one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, and this quote is taken from the Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

To me, the importance of those lines is that they sum up where our journey is supposed to take us - toward a clearer understanding of our world. And that understanding should include realizing how misconceptions influence those who should not be our leaders.

From my perspective, that means we have to deal with both the misconceptions from outside of UCLA and inside of UCLA, specifically in the two heads of Blockero. By "outside," I'm referring to things like this recent story from the New York Times (by the way, I love the Times and think it's the best newspaper in the world). This is what the Times writer said in comparing the record of Connecticut's famous women's basketball coach, Geno Auriemma, with the decline in our own fortunes after Coach left:

Even with the Hollywood allure of Los Angeles, UCLA could not maintain the greatness that John Wooden brought to men's basketball there from the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s.

My response? What did "Hollywood allure" have to do with Coach's success? Does anyone think that if Coach had achieved the same record at, say, the University of Illinois, his accomplishments would have gotten less attention because the home games were played in Urbana-Champaign?

Or, perhaps to put it more fairly since the Times writer is referring to the period after Coach left, if "Hollywood allure" played no part in Coach's success, why should it even be considered as a factor in making up for his absence? The man had no equals, although there have been other great coaches. So, at least for me, this amounts to a case study in how a misconception outside of UCLA can take root.

That's one example in the sports world; here's another. Like many 49er fans, I took no small amount of satisfaction in seeing the Seahawks beaten in the Super Bowl. (It's small-minded, I know.) At any rate, I read a number of game stories and didn't see this insight anywhere but Pro Football Focus. What the writer said - and it was a revelation to me - was (1) that Brandon Browner, another Patriots defensive back, played a crucial role in what ultimately led to Malcom Butler's interception and (2) that the Patriots had practiced stopping that very play by Seattle.

Butler's heroics, then, are another instance of a misconception that went unchallenged because his play wasn't an unscripted effort. (I'm sure there are readers who disagree with the emphasis in the PFF story, but I don't want to get sidetracked in arguing back and forth. The larger point, at least for me, is the persistence of misconceptions.)

OK, if you're still with me, I want to go now from sports to history and then to corporate giants. (I'll get to Blockero shortly.) So, on to history. One of the things people often like to do is guess what the future holds, and it happens that last October a man named Frank Rich wrote a wonderful essay on how difficult it is to guess the future with even the slightest degree of accuracy.

If you haven't heard of Frank Rich, he was once a columnist for the New York Times, and he left a few years ago to write for New York magazine (not the New Yorker). In this October column, which, for what it's worth, is one of the greatest essays I've ever read, Rich decided to look at the year 1964 to see how well the experts could predict the future (then 50 years away). He used a device the NYT offers called TimesMachine, which reproduces past editions - day by day - from 1851 to 1980.

To take just three examples, Rich read what was written about the Vietnam conflict. Would it escalate into a war that took a terrible toll or would it be contained? He read what was written about race relations. Had we turned a corner, and could we leave the poisoned well of prejudice behind? He read what was written about a new group, the Beatles, coming to America. Would they prove to be more than an ephemeral wonder? In short, he read what the experts said. And they were wrong, wrong, and wrong. (By the way, I found Safari wasn't a good browser to use in reading this story, which I came upon just a few weeks ago.)

Why do I bring up Frank Rich and the predictions made some 50 years ago, as well as two examples of misconceptions in the sports world today? It's because they show how difficult it is to see things clearly now, let alone anticipate the future. And I believe they show something else as well; namely, that UCLA cannot afford to continue with Blockero, someone who, in my judgment, is not proactive and instead always reacts to events. It's hard enough to plan for the future under the best of circumstances; with Blockero, it's impossible.

The next stop on this tour is at the door of three well-known corporate giants: Apple, Microsoft, and Kodak. Apple once trailed Microsoft by a sizable margin; now their positions are reversed. And, again, this is another case study - this time in charting the murky future. Here's a paragraph from a New York Times story:

"The most successful companies need a vision, and both Apple and Microsoft have one. But Apple's was more radical and, as it turns out, more farsighted. Microsoft foresaw a computer on every person's desk, a radical idea when IBM mainframes took up entire rooms. But Apple went a big step further: Its vision was a computer in every pocket. That computer also just happened to be a phone, the most ubiquitous consumer device in the world. Apple ended up disrupting two huge markets."

Microsoft wasn't alone in its misjudgment; here's a paragraph from a story in Forbes magazine about Kodak:

Kodak did not fail because it missed the digital age. It actually invented the first digital camera in 1975. However, instead of marketing the new technology, the company held back for fear of hurting its lucrative film business, even after digital products were reshaping the market.

So now we return to Blockero and what he hasn't done for UCLA. And it may be useful here to make a distinction between the two heads of Blockero. My view is that the Dan head is limited and (to make a bad pun) may be in over his head, while the Gene head is not limited but doesn't seem to care enough to do anything about the ineptly run Athletic Department.

It gives me no pleasure to go over what I consider the many mistakes made by Blockero, but we all want better days at UCLA, so these events are worth considering. Let's start with the now-familiar complaints about the Luskin Conference Center. We all remember when UCLA lost a prized lab to the school across town. The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, which, as the Daily Bruin said, "analyzes brain scans collected from around the world," is the best in the world at what it does.

According to the Daily Bruin, one of the lab's main researchers said, "The move was about the resources and facilities USC offered, not the money." Now, I don't know if the Luskin Conference Center is taking up space that would have satisfied the leaders of the lab, also known as LONI, but here's what I do know. Figueroa Tech's website for LONI describes its functions this way: "Investigating structural, functional, metabolic, and pathological changes triggered by Alzheimer's disease."

Pretty significant stuff, huh? And here's a description taken from the website of the Luskin Conference Center: "Step into one of the UCLA Luskin Center's 254 spacious, beautifully appointed guest rooms and immediately feel at home in the warm and inviting ambiance. Choose either one king bed or two queens, adorned with deluxe pima cotton linens, super soft mattress toppers, and luxurious pillows for a superb night of rest. All guest rooms feature plush, cotton terry robes and earth-friendly premium toiletries."

I should add here, in fairness to supporters of the Luskin Center, that it's intended, in large part, to make it easier for leading researchers to stay on campus and exchange information, thereby adding to the fund of knowledge that will benefit others. Sorry, but I'm not buying the need for this center. Even if the assumption that there's not enough hotel space in or near Westwood Village is correct - and I don't accept that assumption - it's my belief that 254 guest rooms are at least 154 too many. And the approval of the center is another indication of why UCLA cannot afford Blockero's continued presence.

Let's move on to the California Social Science Experimental Laboratory, also known as CASSEL. The Daily Bruin reported in 2013 that "UCLA researchers (were) trying to prevent (its) closure." The lab's director told the DB it was "one of the largest experimental economics organizations in the world." I haven't been able to determine whether CASSEL is still active on campus, but could any of part of UCLA's commitment to the Luskin center have been used to help CASSEL? (The L.A. Times said last year that "UCLA is contributing $112 million, which officials expect to be paid off over time with revenue from the hotel, food services, and other charges.")

This post is already too long, but before I leave the Gene head, I want to remind readers that the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is coming up in April. Wikipedia calls it "the largest book festival in the United States." And it does sound wonderful, with authors participating in panels, among other events. Uh, one small problem: It was once held at UCLA. Any guesses where it's held now?

Wikipedia says we lost it because "University of California officials and event organizers disagreed on how to share expenses, particularly in light of the recent budget cuts to the UC system." I'm older now and have hearing problems, but did I hear someone ask whether UCLA's budget priorities are in line with really important values like ... oh, I don't know ... learning something about what the leading writers can teach us?

And now we come to the Dan head. The Luskin Center website uses the word "ambiance," so I will, too. But I'll use it with a twist: It's my opinion that the Dan head has created an ambiance of mediocrity and has been so successful that many UCLA fans now regard excellence as the equivalent of unattainable.

Finally, I want to offer this summing up: My point in highlighting misconceptions in the sports and business world is that the risks are great (even with enlightened leadership), and UCLA cannot afford Blockero's many mistakes.

Throughout history, words have claimed a place inside the human heart. This is what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest in France (1881-1955), said: "The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope."

Someday, scholars may review UCLA's history during Blockero's tenure. And when they do, they may look for something - anything - beyond the superficial, inside-the-box thinking for which he's known. For my part, all I can do is quote the exclamation of a great man as I imagine what the scholars will say: " 'Goodness gracious, sakes alive.' Blockero really didn't do anything to make UCLA a better school."

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.

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