Photo courtesy of goldstar.com
ONE LONGTIME MEMBER OF BRUIN NATION’S OPINION OF THE ROOTS OF HIS ALMA MATER’S LACK OF TRUE SUCCESS IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL THIS CENTURY
There’s no sugarcoating it…
With the exception of a couple of recent years, I have been very frustrated over the mediocrity of UCLA’s football program during this 21st Century; the lack of results that would indelibly place the Bruins among the elite of the NCAA football world.
Except for 2013 and 2014, when my alma mater scored triumphs over their cardinal and gold-clad rivals at USC and wins in the Sun and Alamo Bowls, respectively, I have always found myself disappointed at best and just plain pissed off at worst at the end of the season due to almost always having to hear “Conquest” and “Tusk” at the end of their clashes with the Trojans.
Along with getting punked in some second tier bowl game.
Or not achieving bowl eligibility at all.
It’s gotten to the point to where although UCLA remains my favorite team in football, their longtime distinction as my favorite team in all of sports has been replaced by their Bruin sisters on the gymnastics team.
Last year’s ghastly 4-8 record, along with the run defense’s inability to prevent anyone from getting two and three hundred yards – which is why the team has lost three of the past four games – hasn’t helped change my convictions.
In 2009 I wrote an article on Bleacher Report that discussed my views concerning the reasons for these shortcomings on the gridiron.
I recently took a look at it for the first time in a while, reading what I wrote about different factors such as injuries and sub-par recruiting classes.
Jonathan Ogden, the greatest offensive lineman in UCLA history who was a four-time All-American in the 1990s, won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photo courtesy of si.com
I realized pretty quickly that it wouldn’t be a good idea to use those factors as excuses for the Bruins’ lack of success, as injuries will always be a part of football and UCLA’s classes have been decent, ranking in the top 20.
Tons of Bruin fans have placed the blame on the coaching, and they do have a point as the previous two coaches before Jim Mora had, unfortunately, fatal flaws that doomed them in Westwood…
With Karl Dorrell it was a lack of aggressiveness in recruiting and three other words:
West Coast Offense.
With Rick Neuheisel it was two words:
Neither of which worked at UCLA as it led to anemic attacks.
Now a growing number of fans are calling for Mora’s head, whose seat will get hotter with each loss.
While I commiserate with my fellow Bruin Nation members over our coaches, I won’t place the blame for UCLA’s failures solely on them as in my strong opinion, it goes deeper than that.
In fact, it goes deeper than even the athletic director, Dan Guerrero, who has an increasing contingent calling for his dismissal.
A seminal moment in Bruin history: Karl Morgan sending UCLA to the Rose Bowl with this sack of USC’s Scott Tinsley in 1982, the Bruins beating the Trojans 20-19. Courtesy of YouTube.
The root of this mediocrity of Bruin Football lies in…
THE CULTURE AND PHILOSOPHY OF THE PEOPLE AT THE TOP WHEN IT COMES TO FOOTBALL – THE ADMINISTRATION.
In a nutshell, the suits at Murphy Hall (Guerrero’s bosses), from the last two chancellors, Al Carnesale and the current one, Gene Block, on down, have not provided the support that administrations at places like Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, and USC have given their football programs.
In other words, unlike those kingdoms, UCLA’s top guys are not “All In”, nor do they want to be.
It started back in 1999…
Things were going great for the Bruins; they were coming off back-to-back ten-win seasons, a #2 ranking, an appearance in the Rose Bowl and – most importantly – a top-ranked recruiting class.
In fact, UCLA was coming off twenty years of glory days, with their streak of seven straight bowl wins, including three Rose Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl, in the 1980s, to go along with beating the Trojans eight straight times in the 1990s – which is still a record.
The Bruins’ record against ‘SC during that 20-year stretch: 13-6-1
Then that handicapped parking scandal went down, along with other incidents of players getting into trouble.
That embarrassed the administration, as well it should, and they vowed to never go through such scandals again.
Even though I can’t prove it, I believe that’s when the school raised their admissions standards for football players so they had to have just a strong a high school resume – grades and test scores – as non-athletes.
A trio of great Bruins: Gary Beban (#16), UCLA’s only Heisman Trophy winner, Cade McNown (#18), and DeShaun Foster (#26). Photo courtesy of BruinsNation.com
In short, it was a decision to not improve the football team, that if an elite, championship program meant that some players would get into some trouble it wasn’t worth it.
Five star recruits who had dreamed of being Bruins since they were kids, blue chippers such as Desean Jackson, who spent much of his childhood at UCLA practices only to not be recruited as a Bruin when the time came, were forced to go elsewhere because they had gotten a B- or a C+ in advanced placement chemistry or trigonometry instead of an A.
With the exception of a handful of years, the rest has been infamy as below .500 campaigns and blowouts to the Trojans became the norm.
I know what people are saying right about now…
“What about Stanford? They have the toughest admissions standards in the country (a 6% admission rate), and not only have they been a football power the last several years, they have beaten UCLA ten straight times, so don’t pull out the academics card!”
To answer that…
About a year ago I was talking with a UCLA student who mentioned that while Stanford rejected him despite his grade point average being well above 4.0, his football-playing buddy was admitted to Palo Alto with a 2.9 GPA.
In other words, while I can’t confirm it, that strongly led to my conviction that Stanford’s administration, alumni and boosters, particularity after they went a pathetic 1-11 in 2006, hired Jim Harbaugh and lowered their admission standards for at least some of their football players because they got sick and tired of losing.
Troy Aikman, arguably the greatest quarterback in UCLA history – and certainly the most successful ex-Bruin pro QB with three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span – during his days in Westwood. Courtesy of YouTube.
As another illustration of the UCLA administration not caring at the level it needs to care…
While I was a UCLA student, and for a long time before that, Chancellor Charles E. Young, known to everyone as “Chuck”, was a regular on the sidelines at Bruin games; I remember him yelling at the officials after a bad call once.
I also remember him hanging around the fans at games periodically; I was told that he used to conduct the UCLA Marching Band and Alumni Band on occasion.
In short, “Chuck” was there, supporting Bruin Football and Bruin Nation.
If anyone has seen Carnesale or Block doing that, I would very much like to hear about it because I can count the times I’ve seen them at the Rose Bowl on one hand.
I know that people will point to the recently completed, state of the art football complex on campus as proof that the school cares about football.
But what’s the use of a top-notch facility if the players who want to become Bruins, players who could make UCLA instant national championship contenders with the top 3 rankings and the College Football Playoff berths that go along with that, are unable to do so because they are told by Mora,
“We can’t extend an offer to you because while your grades and SAT scores are very good, they just aren’t high enough for you to be accepted to UCLA.”
And for all the “Get a top coach” folks:
For a myriad of reasons, whether it’s because of having to be in the shadow of USC or the high cost of living in Los Angeles, guys like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Washington’s Chris Peterson – who turned down an offer to coach the Bruins – have not been willing to come to Westwood.
For all those who have names of top coaches who can immediately turn UCLA around, who has West Coast ties and who’s willing to accept less money than an ‘SC or an Alabama would offer, I’m all ears.
I’ve written quite a bit here, so I’ll get to the bottom line in all of this:
Unlike at USC, Alabama, and other places, where football means absolutely everything and anything short of a Rose Bowl berth (in the Trojans’ case) at least and a national championship at best is seen as a failure,
Football is seen as “Icing On The Cake” by too many people in power in Westwood, that if the Bruins beat USC a couple of times every five years or so and earn a Rose Bowl berth once every ten to fifteen years,
Deep down, they otherwise don’t really mind the mediocre to (sometimes) bad results on the field that much.
In short, football is seen as “just a game” by too many people at the top, and in their minds it’s just not worth it to be among the college football elite.
As long as the facilities are good and the athletes are good students and citizens (which they should be),
And as long as they beat ‘SC,
That’s good enough for them.
A great moment in Bruin Nation lore: John Barnes – UCLA’s answer to Rudy of Notre Dame fame – winning the biggest game of his life over USC in 1992. Courtesy of YouTube.
Some may interpret this as me advocating that UCLA needs to admit five-star players with 2.5 GPAs.
Let me put this plainly…
I do NOT want UCLA to cheat to win a national championship.
I do NOT want UCLA to admit players who are not able to cut it in the classroom.
I do NOT want UCLA to become SMU in the 1980s or USC this century (read: Reggie Bush)
I DO, however, want to see the UCLA administration take a MUCH more active role in the athletic department’s fortunes, particularly as far as the football program.
To illustrate: Nebraska, who has had a similar lack of success on the gridiron, recently fired their athletic director, which means that Cornhusker coach Mike Riley is on the hottest of hot seats.
If this lack of success on the football field – and in certain other sports as UCLA is now tied with Stanford for the most national championships won after leading the nation in that category for approximately twenty years – continues,
It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Block to consider doing the same.
Because while having a school with good student-athletes who are good citizens and are successful after graduation in whatever area they choose, whether in professional sports or (in the case of 98% of them) anything else, are very important things, there’s one thing in college sports that’s just as important:
Which UCLA has not done nearly enough of in football during this century.
And which I and far too many members of Bruin Nation are absolutely sick and tired of.
I, for one, am particularly sick and tired of going to bed upset after a UCLA football loss, which I’ve done far too many times.
The question now is…
Will the administration listen to all the upset alumni and boosters and do something about this mess?
Or will they continue to not care enough?
Former UCLA quarterback Wayne Cook, in the middle of the Bruins’ eight-year winning streak over USC in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of losangelestimes.com