September 16, 2017

Go Big or Go Home

The following is a piece I hope to publish on a blog called Bruins Nation that is dedicated to my alma mater's sports endeavors. Currently in place is a coach who is taking several millions in salary and is a desultory talent at best. His team blew a game to Memphis, 48-45, starting their annual slide into oblivion earlier than usual. Hopefully, this will occasion enough ire to get this dolt canned.

Ain't holding my breath, though.

Over on another post, I remarked that, inasmuch as UCLA football has begun its annual decent into mediocrity, I might embark on the uncharacteristic journey of becoming a USC fan. While this is heresy and I come here to more or less expiate my guilt, it happened to me once before in the late seventies when I got so-o-o-o tired of rooting against the Los Angeles Dodgers that I started rooting for them. (I was and still am a San Francisco Giants devotee having followed them since before my UCLA years.) This is by way of apology; I don't know what came over me..

.. actually, yes I do.

Amplifying my thoughts above (and I am kidding about backing USC, believe me), the only way this program will excel is if it gets cut throat, nasty, and mean and hires a head coach who has been to the dance before. We should not be paying some mid-level NFL HC or cast-off assistant millions of dollars to come in and waste his recruits' and the fans' time and the school's money. This is a big-time school whose AD and athletic department management (as well as the state school bureaucratic management) just want to get by.

I get that UCLA has an excellent reputation and that it should not compromise that, but one has to face the facts: if you want to have a winning program you need to put in place a coach and staff who has been there before and who has the fire in the belly. Mora has been in "coast mode" since his third season at UCLA. If he doesn't realize it, then he's far more pathetic than anyone can imagine. You don't take people's money like he does and turn out a substandard product year after year after year.

I know this is coulda, woulda, shoulda but anything short of burning down the program and rebuilding is time and money flushed down the crapper. You need a coach who has partied in the upper echelon and has demonstrated he knows how to get the job done. Look at USC. (I know, I know.) They are rumored to be a powerhouse again after just getting off of a multi-year probation. The guys over there are practicing, learning, and dwelling in Central Los Angeles next to neighborhoods festooned with crack houses and commensurate levels of gang sophistication. Don't you really think that, if UCLA were a consistent winner, most of them would choose UCLA and Westwood over the shit hole that is USC?

But we do not need to recruit brigands, footpads, and felons to win. Hell, we might not even be required to hire a high profile coach. (And, yes, I realize I am tearing down my central argument.) Were I Mora, I would make a pilgrimage to Tibet or Japan or Nepal or some place and party with some monks in the process of stripping my spirit and soul clean of all the encumberments. When spiritually naked, I would then look into my heart and ask myself:

"How the f**k does Stanford win year after year - even when they change head coaches?"

The answer would be like "being shot with a diamond bullet". I would realize that I do not have the fire in the belly that Furd and it's football staff and players do. (If I were being blindingly honest, I'd realize that I did not possess the requisite smarts either.)

Lookee here, fellow babies, everyone whines about the AD not spending $107 million versus $98 million on facilities. But, in the past, UCLA has had coaches who fared with far less in the way of athletic amenities that they have now. (Oh dear Lord, here's another old codger with his back-in-the-day parable.) But, consider the matters of Protho, Vermeil, Donahue (in his first 13 years), and Toledo (up until New year's Day in 1998.) All came here with a mission: to make UCLA a winner and that burned bright within them while they were here.

Tommy Prothro (coincidentally, a native of Memphis) came out of Oregon State where he had won a conference championship, a Rose Bowl, and minted a Heisman trophy winner, Terry Baker. Prothro came to UCLA and made guys who were our size -- gutty, little Bruins -- believers that defeated USC on his first try in one of the greatest games in the history of that great game. (It also gave birth to one of the greatest fan signs ever displayed in Los Angeles Coliseum history: "69% of football fans prefer Prothro Tactics to Trojans!"). His team also won the conference and and upset the number one team in the nation (MSU) in the Rose Bow. In the process, he converted a Sequoia High School single wing tailback into great quarter back -- and a Heisman trophy winner. (How's that for coaching greatness?) His record next year continued with a 14-7 win over USC and what would have been another trip to the Rose Bowl except for the politics of no-repeat or shady conference standings math or whatever. (Recommended reading is Prothro's Wiki entry.)

Dick Vermeil picked up the reins from Pepper Rodgers who, himself, had a rebuilding season and then two really good seasons before he went to Kansas. Vermeil built the Bruins into a conference champion and Rose Bowl winning team (over top -ranked Ohio State coached by Woody Hayes) in his second year before he went to Philadelphia and turned the Eagles around.

Donahue came along and was pretty impressive in the first thirteen of his twenty year career. He was 108-38-4 with four conference championships and three Rose Bowl wins by impressive margins. He won four New Year's Day bowl games in a row from 1983 to 1986. After 1989, he took his foot off the gas and coasted to a stop until he was replaced by Bob Toledo who managed to run off a string of 20 straight wins (longest in school history). When Toledo lost that [un]memorable hurricane postpones game to Miami, the wind went out of his sails and he was canned in 2002 and you-know-who took over.

Mora, while racking up three impressive seasons, has gone absolutely nowhere unless you count
San Diego, El Paso, San Antonio, and Santa Clara. He has rolled up a 1-3 record in no-name, afterthought, done-before-Christmas-or-New Year's Eve bowls. Moreover, he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to NOT win the "big" game -- be it against USC or Oregon or Standford or any other school standing squarely in the path of UCLA and a conference championship.

He is not a clutch coach by any stretch of the imagination unless you count his standing on the sidelines and clutching his throat or his heart or his genitalia! In my opinion, to be frank, it seems like the kids arrive with all kinds of talent and yet precious few improve -- or they recognize their lack of progress and opt for an early out to the pros while their market value is still worthwhile.

Look, I am getting bogged down in stats and history. I can easily get shot down with stats in this attempt to make my case, but that is pure unadulterated fertilizer. Stats are quoted by baseball teams or baseball players to try to justify their fourth place, out-of-the-money finish or the fact that a particular pitcher or hitter did not lead his team to the World Serious. Mora recruits talent that could yield great teams but fails to seal the deal. but what I am trying to say is that my [fading] memory seems to hold glimpses of UCLA teams who were coached above their ability by men who had a dream and instilled this dream into his teams. Single-wing tailbacks emerge as Heisman Trophy winners, defensive backs and running backs and line backers stay four years and benefit each year from their additional apprenticeship. A collection of talented recruits and enthusiastic walk-ons emerge as a cohesive unit with a clear view of their mission and its goal. They possess the drive and spirit to accomplish this mission. Mora's teams each year dissolve into an incoherent and confused mish-mash of injuries, missed opportunities, stammered, inadequate excuses, and a blown mission.

I think Mora's work here has run its course and it's time to nuke the whole thing and build it up from scratch. Unfortunately, we have a complacent state run bureaucracy (headed by Janet Reno, fer crissakes) and a rotund ex-baseball player as AD who seems to think that five or six wins is good enough. They are also counting on the complacent alums who subscribe to ever-increasing season ticket prices and whatever license fees or surcharges are imposed to keep the sinking ship of UCLA football afloat. They are counting on these alums to continue to show up in Pasadena, sip the Chardonnay, chum on the brie at their tailgate soirees, and hum By The Pacific's Waters nostalgically. The very same then repair to the shady side of the Rose Bowl and golf clap while the Bruins go out there and give it the old college try.

As a child of the sixties, I rubbed up against enough protesters and anti-this or save-the-whatevers to realize that tolerating the status quo -- if it is bullshit -- is, well, bullshit. Remember when someone painted "Free the UCLA 30,000" on the apartments across from the ZBT house?) Good enough is not good enough! I say reach for the stars, take no prisoners, kick ass and take names and..

..go big or go home.

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