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The Need to Think Differently About the UCLA Athletic Department

An Open Letter to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block

Olympic Preview: IOC Commission visit LA2024 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Chancellor Block:

The time has come for you to finally address the issues with the UCLA Athletic Department. It’s my understanding that you like Dan Guerrero because he’s a “sound fiscal manager.” I take a little bit of an issue with that, but I’ll address that later.

I first want to address the current and future state of the UCLA Athletic Department from an on-the-field perspective because a university’s Director of Athletics has to be more than just a sound fiscal manager.

Athletic directors also have to create a culture of compliance. They must ensure that NCAA regulations are followed as closely as possible and, when it isn’t, they must do whatever it takes to rectify the situation and prevent embarassment to the institution due to a lack of compliance. In fact, this is so important that Director Guerrero’s contract states that UCLA may terminate his contract if he is “directly or indirectly involved in a deliberate or serious violation or repeated violations of NCAA or Pac-12 Conference rules....” To Director Guerrero’s credit, this has not happened during his tenure at UCLA.

But, athletic directors also have to create a culture of accountability. That is, department employees need to be held accountable when they aren’t getting the job done that they are being paid (and, in some cases, paid very, very well) to do.

Unfortunately, this is where Director Guerrero has failed UCLA.

A great deal has been made of the fact that UCLA has won 26 NCAA titles under his leadership and, while that may be a great accomplishment, during his tenure, Stanford University has managed to tie UCLA for a greater accomplishment: most NCAA championships. Both schools now have 113 titles and it looks as if Stanford will pass UCLA this school year as Stanford has outpaced UCLA during Director Guerrero’s tenure.

The once-great UCLA Track & Field program has become a shadow of its former self under Director Guerrero’s watch. It’s now been 29 years since the men’s team last won an NCAA title.

The UCLA Men’s Soccer team has recruited extremely well over the years, but the on-the-field results have not lived up to Coach Wooden’s definition of success. But Director Guerrero has failed to make the coaching change necessary to right the ship.

Things have not gone well for UCLA’s biggest revenue sports — football and basketball — either. Over the summer, it was announced that Director Guerrero will receive the John L. Toner Award from the National Football Foundation. This gives the appearance that football has gone well under his purview. It hasn’t. The Bruins winning percentage is nearly 10% lower under Director Guerrero than it was for the first 83 years of UCLA Football.

Director Guerrero has hired three different football coaches over his tenure and, with the exception of the first two seasons under current Coach Jim Mora, most of them have been bad.

And, I’m not even talking about our failure to win a national championship in football since 1954!

Around this time of year, a list usually circulates to help UCLA professors put this incoming freshman class in a historical perspective. Well, the UCLA Football team has not played in the Rose Bowl Game in the entire lifetime of these students because it’s been 18 years and 9 months since the team last played in the Rose Bowl Game.

Understand that I’m not arguing that we should go every year as if we’re entitled to go. But the longest UCLA has gone without a Rose Bowl appearance was 22 years from 1920 to 1942. The current streak is now at 18 years and I fully expect that to become 19 years on January 1, 2018. We are only a few years away from breaking that record for Rose Bowl futility. That’s embarrassing to UCLA and it will be Director Guerrero’s legacy.

Then, of course, there’s the UCLA Men’s Basketball program where the current head coach Steve Alford should have never been hired. It was sad in March 2016 when a plane was spotted flying around campus calling for Director Guerrero to fire Steve Alford. To be sure, the basketball team played better last year, but that was due to the play of Lonzo Ball, who has since left Westwood for the NBA.

In a recent interview with ESPN, Director Guerrero expressed what the most difficult days on the job are for him. He said:

Clearly the most difficult days for me as an athletic director have been the days when I have had to make the decision to replace a head coach.

Put another way, it seems clear that Director Guerrero doesn’t like it when he has to do his job.

Over the weekend, former Los Angeles Times sportswriter Chris Dufresne wrote:

UCLA’s Dan Guerrero doesn’t want to hire another football, or basketball coach. He wants to retire.

After receiving your email today, I visited the Chancellor’s Office website where I noticed a picture of you with a video screen that mentions “The Need to Think Differently.” I applaud you for doing just that with respect to mental health. At the same time, I want you to consider that there is a need to think differently with respect to the Athletic Department.

The UCLA Athletic Department is the de facto marketing arm of UCLA. Many students from around the world become interested in attending UCLA after first learning about a UCLA sports team. I know I did. Troy Aikman helped recruit me to attend UCLA, but that just encouraged me to learn more about UCLA’s academic strengths and I know I’m not alone.

Dan Guerrero, however, doesn’t think there is a need to think differently. He said so to the Orange County Register in 2015. He said then:

This is the way I’ve always done it. It’s always been successful. I don’t feel a need to have to change. If someone out there feels I need to lead differently, that’s OK. I’m not going to change.

Except it hasn’t always been successful as I mentioned above.

So, if he doesn’t want to change and if he doesn’t want to do his job and hire another football, basketball or even soccer coach, then why not allow him to retire early? Why not just agree to pay out his contact in full, including his hefty $734K retention bonus that is due next March, and allow him to retire now and replace him with an administrator from a school that has both a football and basketball team of which at least one has been competed for national championships and not someone from the UCLA Athletic Department?

After all, his contract is a sunk cost. You will be required to pay it whether he stays or goes.

However, making a change now, like the University of Nebraska-Lincoln did last week, will allow the new AD to get up to speed to hire a new football coach at the end of the season.

Your powerpoint was dead on. There is an urgent need to think differently when it comes to athletics and I encourage you to start doing that by replacing Dan Guerrero with a new athletic director.

Go Bruins.