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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

P.S.R. Op-Ed

Guerrero-Led U.C.L.A. Is Taking on Water

It’s been 12 days since the news first broke, a week since it was official, and U.C.L.A. is still lost at sea. While the rest of the Pac-12 — outside of Arizona State — is moving and shaking, the Bruins are treading water. Of course, anyone familiar with athletic director Dan Guerrero should have expected nothing else: Guerrero, since arriving in 2002, has been responsible for firing Bob Toledo, hiring Karl Dorrell, firing Dorrell, hiring Rick Neuheisel and then, a week ago, firing Neuheisel. This is par for the course. As is the parade of names, some noteworthy for good reasons, most noteworthy for not, and U.C.L.A. is getting nervous. The fan base is running out of fingernails.

The latest coach to make the wires, former Falcons and Seahawks coach Jim Mora, possesses a year-by-year record that reads like an eye chart: 11-5, 8-8, 7-9, 5-11. The wins get smaller the farther down you go. But this is U.C.L.A., and this is Guerrero, and the latter’s history of bumbling the steps needed to create a winning football program does not give many reason for optimism.

U.C.L.A. has had months to prepare for this search. Neuheisel was gone, for all intents and purposes, the Thursday his team suffered a 48-12 loss to an Arizona team days removed from the firing of its own coach, Mike Stoops. This was no ordinary loss; the Bruins rolled over and died, and there was no way Neuheisel — barring eight straight wins — was coming back in 2012.

Yet Guerrero made no moves. At roughly the same time, Washington State athletic director Bill Moos experienced his own come-to-the-light moment. The Cougars were improving under Paul Wulff, just not on the pace Moos expected heading into 2011. So Moos, in November, began to lay the groundwork.

It’s been suggested that Moos reached out to Mike Leach as early as mid-November, gauging his interest in the job in Pullman in 2012. Leach reciprocated his interest. Here’s guessing that Moos knew that he’d be swapping Wulff for Leach by the time he boarded his plane to return to the Pacific Northwest.

As noted, Arizona knew by late October that it would be in the market for a new head coach in 2012. Athletic director Greg Byrne, making his first major coaching hire for the Wildcats, aced the whole search: he called in big names, drew interest from several candidates and landed the best option — outside of Urban Meyer — on Arizona’s radar.

Yet the Bruins have done nothing. Guerrero and the university should have known Neuheisel was working on borrowed time; Guerrero himself said on Oct. 18 that “returning to a bowl is just one of several steps we need to take to get this program to the level we all desire.” With the current coach firmly affixed to the hot seat, why didn’t U.C.L.A. begin investigating future options in early November, if not sooner?

Guerrero and the Bruins are adrift. Lost without a paddle. In deep water, and the only possible conclusion is this: U.C.L.A. has no idea what it’s doing. How else can you explain a search that started without a plan and has rapidly deteriorated into a free-for-all — worse yet, a search that seems to have no endgame? Hiring Jim Mora can’t be the grand plan, can it?

It started well, if fruitlessly. Guerrero covered his bases and called Chris Petersen, knowing he’d probably say no, but you can’t fault the effort. Petersen said no, of course. Then Al Golden, the coach U.C.L.A. should have hired in 2007. Golden, fresh off a contract extension, indicated no interest in the opportunity. When time travel does become a reality, U.C.L.A.’s first stop should be Temple, 2007. Or Boise, 2005. But I digress.

What next? Nothing. Well, something: Mora. This is a coach who wore out his welcome in Atlanta in three years, thanks in part to the touch that led the Falcons from within one win of the Super Bowl to back-to-back non-winning seasons. Mora lasted four months with the Seahawks in 2009, leaving three years and $12 million remaining on his contract. At neither stop did he — how to put this — endear himself to his team, bosses or fan base.

Nevertheless, all signs point to Mora. He’s Guerrero’s pick, which counts for something — it counts for everything, in fact. If he’s the choice, U.C.L.A. will go from a coach who wanted nothing more than to be in Westwood to a coach who wore out his welcome at each of his major stops.

U.C.L.A. would be hiring a coach who is 27 years removed from the college game: Mora’s lone college stop came in 1984, when he spent one season as a graduate assistant at Washington, his alma mater. Since then, Mora’s closest brush with the F.B.S. came in 2006, when he called into a Seattle-area radio show to express his interest in the job with the Huskies. A job that wasn’t available at the time. At the time, Mora was still the coach of the Falcons.

The coaching search has become a joke, though the U.C.L.A. fan base isn’t smiling. Unfortunately, it seems as if Guerrero will have the last laugh: despite several woefully misguided coaching hires, Guerrero continues to lead the way at the forefront of one of the most prestigious athletic departments in college sports.

I can see the future. Guerrero will hire Mora, drawing extreme ire and antipathy from a fan base that expected better. The athletic department, in turn, will dismiss all negative feedback. Mora will first crash, then burn, and U.C.L.A. will be back in same boat. Guerrero will handle the search for Mora’s replacement as well. Forget treading water: U.C.L.A. is taking on water.

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Comments

  1. Clayton says:

    Excellent article, Paul. A really disappointing situation at UCLA.

  2. Gotham Gator says:

    Paul, I’ve always enjoyed your writing style, but the first two sentences of the 2nd paragraph may be your best yet!

  3. Norm says:

    Hey, here’s a thought. UCLA has recently displayed an affinity for UNC castoffs, and there’s this football coach who was shown the door by UNC just before the season started, and, well………

  4. quigley says:

    The administration at UCLA apparently doesn’t care about football. If it did, Guerrero would have been sent off with Neuheisel. Maybe the budget crisis has them distracted, or maybe they’ve realized that sports, especially expensive, risky sports like football, aren’t worth the trouble.
    (I’m a college football fan).

  5. Bruin_jim says:

    Lesson to all, by way of UCLA: never hire an athletic director who has never been an AD at a school With A Football Program (At All) to run your division one football program (into the $@#& ground). And you all thought just cause our students and professors are smart, that our administration would be too…ha ha..good one. Thanks Chancellor Block(head)

  6. Corey says:

    Great read and very well done. You are on point and trust me UCLA fans everywhere are doing anything and everything to get rid of this AD. We are sick of looking like a joke with an AD who wants to run the schools historic Athletic Program into the ground. We wil do everything possible to make it known how we feel. It makes me shake my head that the AD still has a job, UCLA has such a history in athletics and now all we are is a joke. A very sad and angry UCLA fan.

  7. Isaac says:

    You may be right, you may be wrong…. but I would hope that journalists that make such bold statements can come back after the fact and eat crow if they’re wrong. I am no fan of Dan Guerrero, and think he’s mucked up the coaching search in the very manner you’ve described, but I also remember a lot of media guys and fans who thought he struck gold with Neuheisel not owning up to their own approval of that hire.

    Paul: Agreed. I like to think there’s a high degree of transparency at this site. And I’ve thrown my chips in with a coach only to feel humbled when things fall short of expectations — see Rich Rodriguez, who I fully got behind over his stay at Michigan. The article, and the post earlier today, merely highlight the fact that U.C.L.A. doesn’t have a clue. Perhaps it’s an inspired hire, but… there seems to be no work done whatsoever.

  8. KPRyan says:

    UCLA fans and benefactors have every right to be expecting the Mora hire to be an unmitigated disaster.

    Guerrero has failed as AD. But what is worse than failing is this: he looks and acts as if he just doesn’t give a s____. Even if a mildly competent AD worked in Westwood, backchannel feelers would have been sent out to a number of potential candidates after the Arizona game. That Guerrero waited until the end of the regular season to fire RN, (and there are many who will swear DG was forced into that action) and then had no one on his radar (Petersen was a pipe dream from day one. I’m surprised he didn’t go after Chip Kelly after Petersen gave him the finger) again proves his incompetence.

    And now Mora? To a 5 year contract???

    I have no doubt UCLA could hire an unemployed Bruin fan for $75K a year as AD and get better production from that position. That Guerrero is allowed to continue to crap all over UCLA is shameful.

    But… as an Oregon fan I must say: the Pacific 12 Conference has become noticably improved over the last month. Arizona and Washington State made terrific hires and will improve dramatically. Every Conference needs its Weak Sister. Thanks to Guerrero and the boobs who allow Guerrero to continue to ply his trade at UCLA; Every Pac 12 coach knows this: lose to UCLA in football, YOUR job is in jeopardy.

  9. Mark says:

    Your article is pretty mean-spirited. Not one nice thing to say about anyone.

    While I agree with you regarding Guerrero’s mishandling of the situation, I don’t think the world, or the Bruin community at a minimum, needs another no-name shmuck adding his 2 cents worth to the mix.

    I am NOT an apologist for Mora, but we’ve got him now, so let’s do what we can to support him. Even if Guerrero was fired tomorrow, we will still have Mora on the sideline next fall.

  10. Nick says:

    Mark’s post says it all about UCLA. Not only does the AD suck, but so does the fan base. There you have it!!

  11. John Gilbert says:

    Well, I for one think Guererro made a great hire in Mora. Outstanding defensive coach, head coach for 3 NFL teams before the age of 50, NFC championship game, was offered the head coaching job at Univ of Washington. He is hard working, enthusiastic, organized, and offers UCLA defensive expertise it never really had. Moreover, folks citing Leach and Rodriguez as great finds? Leach was so toxic no one would touch him in 3 years. Rodgriguez got run out of Michigan. In a year you guys will be lauding Guererro for finding Mora in 2 weeks.

  12. Test says:

    Paul,

    The school is known as UCLA, not U.C.L.A. Please check your facts. Thanks.

    Go Bruins.

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