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UCLA Pregame Guesses: Oh What A Week Edition

Beginning with the win over Southern Cal through the coaching trials and tribulations, oh what a week it was for UCLA football fans.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

98º - The Hardest Thing (via 98DegreesVEVO)

(This week’s video is "The Hardest Thing" by 98 Degrees. I am totally unfamiliar with the song, I had to ask a couple of my younger colleagues to name a popular song by the band. I chose the video because singer/reality star Nick Lachey was once the roommate of new Southern Cal Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and I find that amusing. For what it’s worth, I was vaguely aware that Lachey was once married to pop star/reality star Jessica Simpson and they had their own television show. I also find it amusing that UCLA’s contribution to the rock canon includes The Doors and Black Flag, while SC’s includes 98 Degrees. Finally, this one goes out to a very special Bruins Nation front page poster who admitted to me offline that they were, in fact, a fan of 98 Degrees. You know who you are – this one’s for you.)

There are drawbacks to writing the Friday morning post on Bruins Nation.

The idea behind the Pregame Guesses is for me to try and capture the moment, recap the game from the prior week and set up Saturday’s contest. Well, this week we have no Saturday game to set up and so much has happened since last week’s game ended – I don’t know where to begin.

So, let’s go back to the beginning.

I fear I was a bit misunderstood in last week’s guesses column. I don’t want to re-open the conversation – really, I don’t – but I would like to set the record straight. Some people felt that I was excusing-in-advance a loss to Southern Cal when I wrote that win or lose I’d seen enough to look forward to next season and be optimistic about what Jim Mora’s team would do in 2014. I accept responsibility for the misunderstanding, it’s my job as a blogger to be clear about what I am saying.

I was just trying to say that I was going to judge Mora on the entirety of his body of work and wouldn’t too much weight on one single game, even if that game was against Southern Cal.

That’s it.

I also said I thought we would win.

We did.

Which sort of renders moot the point I was making last week.

I felt going into last week’s game that we were simply the better team and I still feel that way now. Too much emphasis was placed by some on SC’s win over Stanford. My feeling was that that game was an aberration and the end result was due to Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan playing poorly and throwing ill-timed interceptions (as opposed to well-timed interceptions) than anything the Trojans did. I thought Stanford just gave that game away.

When I looked closely at our game with SC, I thought we had the better quarterback. I know we had the better defense. Maybe Marquise Lee tipped the scale in favor of their receivers and with our injuries they might have the better running backs. Even with the injuries, we had the better offensive line. Chad Wheeler, bless his soul, can’t block me. Anthony Barr made him look like a traffic cone.

And no matter what you think about Ed Orgeron (more on him in a bit), there was no way he was outcoaching Mora.

The game itself was a slow blow out. If you were following the game on some tracker, maybe it looked close because the score seemed that way. But it wasn’t close, not really. We jumped out to a two TD lead and they never made a move.

As above, we were the better team and only some uncharacteristically poor play, or more likely fluke play, could have cost us the game.

Instead, we played very well. We were coached very well.

I’m not going to rehash the game, but I did want to note the great play of Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh. Two seniors, two leaders, were at their best when their best was needed. That’s Coach Wooden’s definition of competitive greatness and there is no higher compliment you can pay an athlete. I’m glad that one of my final memories of these two stalwarts is the way they played against our rivals. In fact, has any Bruin made more of a positive impact in his games against Southern Cal than Barr? Maybe, but I don’t know who it is.

But everything that happened since has almost eclipsed the game. Doesn’t it feel like we beat SC a month ago, not six days ago?

We beat SC on Saturday and by Monday Orgeron was gone and Steve Sarkisian was Southern Cal’s coach. I’m not alone in scratching my head about that series of moves by SC AD Pat Haden. In fact, most USC fans are scratching their head right along with me.

I like to look for the simplest explanation for things. (Is that Occam’s Razor? I’m not sure. Correct me in the comments, if I’m off.) I am not at all a conspiracy theorist.

But I am confused.

A few months ago I praised Haden for firing Lane Kiffin mid-season. I compared him favorably with our own Dan Guerrero, noting that Guerrero will only evaluate a coach after the season, while Haden had the guts to make his move when he knew he had to make it.

By firing Kiffin mid-season, it seemed as if Haden was getting a jump on what he thought would be his inevitable coaching search. Why wait until after the season, when you could start working on your short list and sending out feelers before every other school looking for a new coach got going?

So, Haden fires Kiffin mid-season and a couple of months later his next move is to panic hire Sarkisian after we beat them in the Coliseum? He gets an eight week jump on the competition and he picks the Washington coach who would have most likely been fired himself had he lost his rivalry game against WSU? That’s it? This was the best SC could do? SC sees themselves on a par with Alabama and Texas and while those two teams are trying to figure out who is going to make Nick Saban a billionaire or something, SC’s coaching search comes down to Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian? Holy heck, at least Dan Guerrero thought outside the box a bit and hired Mora.

Someone explain to me what Haden’s hurry was.

Sarkisian wasn’t going anywhere. Orgeron could have coached them through their bowl game and they could have kept looking, maybe wait to see if some NFL guy’s season ended or, I dunno, someone interesting expressed interest.

Honestly, the back-to-back hires of Kiffin and Sarkisian simply reeks of the back to back hires of Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel. It’s hiring two arguably competent guys whose best qualities are their association with a prior, better remembered era and their supposed popularity with certain segments of your alumni/donor base. For the record, the Neuheisel era was better than the Sarkisian era at UW.

I’m just not following the logic or the timing especially because there was no obvious reason to rush and because I presume SC had plenty of money to spend on their next coach. And, just so you know, I don’t think Sarkisian is a terrible coach or anything. Washington was a pretty tough team and he took over a program at rock bottom. But if I were an SC fan, he wouldn’t excite me and as a UCLA fan he definitely doesn’t scare me.

As for Orgeron, I don’t think SC made a mistake by not hiring him. My sense is the guy’s greatest strength is as a recruiter and a motivator. But he’s not an innovator or even really a play caller, like Sarkisian is on offense or Mora is on defense. You know what Orgeron is: A guy who gives a great halftime pep talk. And you can’t spend millions on a guy just to give the pep talk.

Meanwhile, the Sarkisian hire had an unintended impact on UCLA. Remember, I’m not a conspiracy theorist. Yes, I wrote a couple of days ago that SC’s recent moves seemed in part aimed at us, but I don’t really believe that. In any case, the UW opening led to Washington offering their head coaching position to Mora, who had to be at least tempted to return to his alma mater and the city he has considered home.

Suddenly, our own Chianti Dan was on the spot.

Instead of UCLA going after some other team’s coach (Chris Petersen, Brad Stevens), it was UCLA who had to fend off some other AD’s advances.

And, to his credit, Guerrero got it done. I don’t believe I’m writing these words, but somehow, somewhere he rallied the troops, raised some money for Mora and his staff, got some guarantees regarding the new football training facility and, well, whatever he did Mora has a new, six-year deal and more cash to dole out to his staff.

Which really did come in handy because Haden/Sarkisian’s next move was to go after our offensive line coach/recruiting specialist Adrian Klemm. They supposedly offered him major money to take his talents to South Central, but at least for now he’s staying put and while there has been no definitive announcement by UCLA, the chatter is that Mora and Klemm came to an agreement.

Meanwhile, Mora fired his running backs coach Steve Broussard and hired Kennedy Polamalu. Polamalu is considered something of a recruiting specialist himself; he’s a guy whose coached many great SC running backs and also has ties to the Polynesian community that produces so many top college football players. (For the record, this will be Polamalu’s second time around with UCLA; he briefly coached under Terry Donahue).

It doesn’t end there and it won’t.

Demetrice Martin has deep ties in the Pacific Northwest and depending on who the Huskies finally hire, might be in play at some point.

But, this is what happens when you’re program is well-coached and producing on the field. I mean, other than Norm Chow who was pursued by USC while he was our OC, can anyone remember when one of our football coaches was pursued by another team? I remember Donahue once got an offer from the Atlanta Falcons. I remember Dick Vermeil taking the Philadelphia Eagles job. But in recent memory, I don’t remember any of our coaches being seriously considered by other teams.

But it’s happening now and it’s going to continue to happen.

The important thing to remember is a point I made in the comments of another thread. It’s Jim Mora’s program. Klemm is important. Lou Spanos is important. Angus McClure is important. But assistant coaches are going to come and go. They have their own ambitions, they’re going to do their own thing.

For the time being, the only one we’re married to is Mora. I realize that we’re all emotionally invested in Mora to a different degree. Some of us are 100% onboard. Others are optimistic, but need to see more. Some simply aren’t sold at all yet. That’s all fine, but if there is one thing we know after this week’s roller coaster is that the school has committed to Mora.

As I noted in that aforementioned comment, Mora is a lifelong coach, son of a lifelong coach. He’s well-connected. If an assistant coach moves on, the expectation is that he’ll find another just as good. I really like Klemm. He did a great job with our line this year, he’s an excellent recruiter, he even seems like a cool guy. But if Mora can’t succeed without Klemm, then we should just make Klemm the head coach and be done with it.

One last thing: In case you forgot, the season isn’t over yet. Oh yeah and LOL, we have another game to play. I’m looking forward to it, though I don’t think I’m going to attend this year. It depends, doubt I’ll go to El Paso or San Antonio, though I could be talked into San Diego. It’s actually a big game. We could get to 10 wins and that would match the highest win total ever for a UCLA football team.

This has been a fun season. An imperfect and flawed season, but in the end an enjoyable one. I’m looking forward to seeing us play one more time.

And with that, here are your Pregame Guesses, Oh What A Week Edition:

  1. What bowl will UCLA end up in? Will you go?
  2. Who will Washington hire as their head coach?
  3. Who will win the Pac 12 title game?