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So Now the Fun Begins

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The firing of Karl Dorrell closes this part of the saga that is ucla football. The question is where do they go from here? As we've mentioned in the past, ucla has never shown the propensity to go out and hire a top-notch football coach. and while this past season saw attendance levels up and the books balanced for the athletic department many wonder where ucla will go from here.

There are no easy answers as the bruins now look for the perfect fit to steer this program out of mediocrity, the question is can they? Much has been made from those who supported KD that letting him go would see their better than average recruiting class explode. I disagree, some will stay some will go but there won't be mass defections. No, ucla will keep the talent, but with all the seniors that will leave the program this year there isn't a lot of tested talent in the cupboard that can get them to the Promised Land.

They have high expectations across town, but are they realistic? As I said in this comment about a month ago:

I have said it before and I will say it again, ucla was a regional power in USC's down years and they didn't dominate then. Sure they had some good Rose Bowls but they were never in the hunt year in and year out for a MNC. Now that the MNC is a culmination of top records and such, ucla is even farther away from that goal. Nestor is nuts if he thinks ucla will ever dominate SC, sure they will get some wins as they did have an 8 game streak but until you win titles year in and year out, or at least be in the hunt while beating SC, it is still nothing more that a regional rivalry.

I think UCLA has a top 15-20 place in the game, but they shouldn't delude themselves into thinking they're a powerhouse. It's not coincidence that their best or second-best era (1980-1998) was paired with USC's worst era as USC adjusted terribly to the departure of Robinson and the scholarship limit era. The fact that in an open era when Notre Dame, Alabama, USC, Oklahoma etc. failed to dominate the game and they still couldn't ascend to a place where USC's been plenty of times ... to me says it all.

Greatness only belongs to those with multiple championships, Heismans and top 10 finishes who are paired with an era.

UCLA's best era since the 50's have been the '80's, and even then people think of Penn State, Miami, Oklahoma, Notre Dame (late in the decade, at least), Georgia (early in the decade), teams like that, and THEN they mention UCLA and USC etc. after that. Even in USC's second or third worst decade (50's/80's/90's) we were about on par with UCLA.

The data and their record just don't back it up. Even one of the main page writers on BN concedes that ucla hasn't really done much in the past two decades:

[...] It is time to end our football program's commitment to mediocrity. Over the last 2 decades, UCLA football fans have experienced very few seasons that we can be proud of.

He said it, I didn't.

That was part of a proposed letter to ucla AD Dan Guerrero in regards to the Dorrell situation. And it contradicts the thought process the ucla is a great job to have when it comes to football. Great football jobs have the program in the national conversation on regular basis not disappointing seasons over the last two decades.

Some seem to think that ucla football is some dream job that belongs in the upper echelons of college football. If that were true then coaches would be beating down the doors to coach there. I saw a comment on another site about not having to worry about competing with other programs in regards to coaches because "They just don't have our profile". What profile is that? The more rabid part of the fan base is delusional and not "reality based" to think that they are in the top tier of college football, their record alone shows that they aren't.

But for arguments sake I would simply ask based on what?

They haven't been relevant or won anything nationally in football in decades so what makes you think that coaches will come flocking to your program. Why is that? Is it recruiting issues? Is it the pay? They will get some interest no doubt, but will it be the home run hire they are looking for?

Brian Dohn has an interesting article in regards to ucla's recruiting habits and the standards they set for themselves that keep top recruits out of reach of ucla's grasp. I'm not sure I completely buy into all of what Dohn writes in the article but there are some interesting thoughts there as well.

UCLA's more stringent admittance standards, in part, can be traced to former coach Bob Toledo's 1998 recruiting class, which was ranked as the best in the nation by several outlets.

"That class was filled with risks who had trouble in school," said one UCLA insider who requested anonymity. A source said about one-third of the class had academic problems at UCLA, although some of those individuals graduated.

Also from the Dohn article:

"They are not going to win there, with any type of consistency, until they change the approach," said one former UCLA assistant who asked not to be identified. "It doesn't matter who the coach is, or how much they pay him. Until UCLA gets serious about winning, and they start easing it (the university's admissions standard) so a few more kids can get in, you can't win consistently there."

It is ucla's prerogative to set the standards they see fit in who they feel should qualify for admission. Based on what I have read it appears they have relaxed standards in the past.

[...]At the other end of the spectrum, according to the survey of 19 Western public institutions, were UCLA and San Diego State. Seventy percent of scholarship athletes at UCLA over the previous three years were special admits; for SDSU, that figure was 64.5 percent.

By contrast, the percentage of special admits for the general student body is far lower: about 3 percent at UCLA and 20 percent at SDSU.

"In order to be competitive in Division I-A athletics, you're going to have to have some flexibility compared to your normal admission policy," UCLA Assistant Vice Chancellor Tom Lifka said. "We need those students if we're going to be competitive in certain sports."

OK, if that's true then ucla getting talented players really shouldn't be an issue right?

Let's look at the pay issue, ucla has been historically and notoriously cheap in what they pay their coaches. They recently made some improvements in that area but is it enough? Dorrell took a lot of heat in regards to the high turnover of assistants he has had, and while I'm sure some of those assistants leaving has to do with some football issues, it is also no secret that many leave because of the pay and cost of living. There is a lot of talk across town that the minimum ucla will spend on a coach is 1.5 million there was also one site that reported that Dan Guerrero was willing to spend 2 million on a coach so lets see if he is willing to back those statements up.

It's not a classic catch-22 but it is close. You can't get top talent and win consistently without a great coaching staff but you can't lure a great coaching staff to ucla if you can't recruit top talent; money is only part of the equation. More importantly though ucla is just not a sexy place to coach in football; basketball yes, football no.

Where they go from here is anyone's guess. In reading many of the lists of potential replacements for Dorrell, bruin fans aren't 100% happy with any of the potential candidates. There is no obvious "home run" candidate out there, and even if you get the coach you want, it is possible that he will be hamstrung with the same admissions policy that has plagued other coaches at ucla for years.

There has been a lot of positive talk about Mike Leach across town - I think he would be a great hire, could you imagine a Mike Leach offense against a Pete Carroll defense!! Now that would be fun! I have said in the past that I hoped ucla would hire a coach that bring this rivalry back to a place where it did matter nationally; I think Leach could be that guy, but he will need time.

As was pointed out to me by a rational bruin fan, regardless of who they find there is no doubt that the ucla fan base will extend some measure of good will towards the new coach - they did the same for Howland - but that good will only continue if there are positive results that the more vocal part of the fan base will find acceptable. The moment their "home run" hire fails to meet those expectations new websites will crop up all over the Internet demanding the "home run" hires head.

Regardless it really doesn't matter, SC needs to focus on their own game and worry about ucla when we gear up to play them.