Hope is not a strategy.
For weeks, Bruin fans have watched the team go out week after week, hoping Jim Mora would get things turned around.
And, week after week, Bruins fans were disappointed.
If this was only a one year thing, it might be understandable, but the fact of the matter is that this isn’t just a “this year” thing.
For five years now, Bruin fans have listened to talk from Jim Mora about going back and fixing the problems our team has. Some years, we heard it less frequently. But, the last two seasons, we’ve been hearing it more and more frequently.
But, enough is enough.
Over the course of this season, I’ve listened as people say things like “UCLA is a 6 that thinks it’s a 10.”
It’s true. We are a six. But, to me, it’s less about “thinking” we’re a 10 than wanting to see us improve from a 6 to a 10. It doesn’t take someone with a UCLA diploma to know that we’re not there yet.
And, since Dan Guerrero became Athletic Director in 2002, we haven’t advanced much. In fact, we actually regressed under Coach Rick Neuheisel.
I think that’s a big reason why many Bruin fans were so happy with the first three years under Coach Mora. We had fallen so far as a program and Bruin fans were so hungry to win that any semblance of winning was met with great joy.
Because Jim Mora was the guy that improved things from the depths of the Neuheisel Era, Mora earned the faith of a lot of Bruin fans, but that faith has proven to be misplaced as Coach Neuheisel’s recruits, who Mora relied upon to establish himself, have left the program and been replaced by Mora’s own recruits.
To be fair, Coach Mora has recruited well by all accounts.
But something is still not right with the program.
Last year, the program regressed from 10-3 in 2014 to 8-5 in 2015. “Not a big deal,” many of us said. The defense had lost so many starters to injuries, after all. On one hand, that alone could explain last year’s step back. On another hand, with so many injuries, it does raise questions about how many of the injuries were preventable. (Of course, two of the biggest injuries from last year, Myles Jack and Eddie Vanderdoes, were not preventable as both players suffered knee injuries that nothing could have prevented.)
This year, with the injuries behind us, the team was expected to win the Pac-12 South. That’s what makes this season so much more difficult to swallow.
Yet, UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero appears to be content to give Jim Mora another season.
In contrast, let’s look to the North where Oregon looks like it’s going to fire head coach Mark Helfrich just two years removed from a Rose Bowl berth and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. This year, the Ducks finished with a 4-8 record, identical to UCLA’s.
But, the difference is that Mora has still never made a Rose Bowl, let alone the College Football Playoff. And, Oregon wasn’t the favorite to win the Pac-12 North this year. Washington was and did.
“But, Mora has a $15 million buyout,” some folks are certain to say. Well, Helfrich has a pretty big buyout too. His is $11.5 million.
So, let me get this straight....A coach who made the coveted College Football Playoff two years ago has an $11.5 million buyout but UCLA gave a $15 million-plus buyout to a guy whose biggest bowl win was the 2014 Alamo Bowl? And, it was done by the same guy who gave a $10 million to buyout to a basketball coach that has never made it past the Sweet Sixteen? That’s not just bad financial management, Gene. That’s dereliction of duty.
If blowout losses to our crosstown and UC rivals aren’t enough to convince Dan Guerrero that Jim Mora isn’t the right man turn UCLA from a 6 to a 10, then absolutely nothing is.
In the Spring, when the petition to fire Steve Alford was circulated, it was thought that Dan Guerrero is concerned about his legacy as UCLA Athletic Director.
Well, when it comes to basketball and football, Guerrero’s legacy is now abundantly clear: Mediocrity made here.
The fact that Dan Guerrero likely won’t fire Jim Mora as Oregon dumps a guy who took them to the College Football Playoff this week is indicative of the fact that UCLA really is a six who thinks it’s a ten. If UCLA were a ten, Dan Guerrero would review the evidence of the program’s decline and capped by blowout losses to Southern Cal and UC Berkeley and sit down with Jim Mora and tell him he’s fired.
Guerrero would then hire an up-and-coming coach to replace him instead of a retread like Mora and Neuheisel. Not only would you be hiring an up-and-coming coach like PJ Fleck, who has proven himself in a smaller conference, you would be able to hire him for less money than you’d pay for a “big name” coach.
But, that’s probably not going to happen because Dan Guerrero has shown time and time again that he is unable to hire his way out of a paper bag. The only reason he has lasted as long as he has at UCLA is because Chancellor Gene Block thinks he’s a “good financial manager,” even though the buyout clauses Guerrero approved for the two coaches who currently coach UCLA’s “revenue sports” seem to prove otherwise.
To be sure, if Dan Guerrero doesn’t have what it takes to sit down with Jim Mora tomorrow and fire him, he shouldn’t be UCLA’s Athletic Director. But, Gene Block has consistently shown that he doesn’t understand that the athletic department is the best advertising for the university as it gives the school the most TV exposure it gets.
So, where does this leave the diehard Bruin fan?
Well, for many, it probably leaves them watching games from home. It sure did last week for the Southern Cal game. Officially, at 71,137, it was the second-least attended game against Southern Cal since UCLA moved to the Rose Bowl in 1982. That’s just 32 people more than the 2010 game where there were 71,105 in attendance.
Beyond that, it leaves Bruin fans with little hope for things to change because it means that both Gene Block and Dan Guerrero need to leave UCLA in order for the Bruins to finally improve from a six to a ten.
It’s why UCLA needs both a Chancellor and an Athletic Director who understand that succeeding in revenue sports enhances the reputation of the school and thinks of the Athletic Department as the de facto marketing department of the university.
It’s why UCLA needs both a Chancellor and an Athletic Director who understand that simply paying someone a high salary doesn’t generate wins for any of the school’s sports programs.
It’s why UCLA needs both a Chancellor and an Athletic Director who value results more than money.
And, it’s why UCLA needs both a Chancellor and an Athletic Director who value strategic plans over hope.
Because hope is not a strategy and Bruin fans have no Mora hope.