When the late J.D. Morgan chose Terry Donahue to be the football coach at UCLA in the spring of 1976, it was a close call. He narrowed the field to a handful of candidates, and then he went with his instincts.
Among the final candidates was Dick Tomey, who was then on the Bruin staff. Tomey stayed at UCLA one more year, serving as Donahue's defensive coordinator, then became the coach at the University of Hawaii. Now, he's the coach at the University of Arizona, and he'll be at the Rose Bowl Saturday to face his old buddy.
Any old grudges? Smoldering jealousies?
"Terry and I are more than just casual friends, we're like family," Tomey said. "I have great admiration for what he has done at UCLA.
"Of course, I would have loved to have had the job. But Terry was a more logical choice. He was a UCLA graduate, and UCLA was looking for someone who would stay. They had lost three coaches in seven years."
Tommy Prothro, Pepper Rodgers and Dick Vermeil had all moved on.
But the assistants that Prothro and Rodgers brought to UCLA formed a network of coaching buddies at half the schools in the Pacific 10.
Just the other day, Donahue was telling about how Tomey, who is five years older and had a head start in the coaching profession, helped Donahue get his first college coaching job, speaking up to convince Rodgers to bring Donahue back to Kansas as a full-time assistant (after he served as a graduate assistant). "From what I understand, Dick was influential in convincing Pepper to bring me back," Donahue said.
Also on Rodgers' staff at Kansas was John Cooper, the coach of Pac-10 defending champion Arizona State. Cooper also coached under Prothro (Donahue's coach when he played at UCLA.)
Donahue and Cooper are also close friends.
Tomey and Donahue followed Rodgers to UCLA, where they ended up on the same staff with Rich Brooks, now the coach at the University of Oregon.
Donahue's celebrated friendship with Larry Smith of USC is unrelated. Donahue and Smith became friends at coaches' meetings in 1976 after both had just become head coaches, Donahue at UCLA and Smith at Tulane.
But with the others, the circles of coaching affiliations just keep leading back to UCLA.
For example, Homer Smith, who served as Donahue's offensive coordinator until this year, at one time had Steve Axman, the current UCLA offensive coordinator, on his staff at Army. (More recently, Axman was offensive coordinator and quarterback coach under Larry Smith at Arizona).
Another current UCLA assistant, Ed Kezirian, was on Tomey's staff at Hawaii for four years.
Tomey also at one time coached under Homer Smith. That was at Davidson. "Homer Smith fired me twice," Tomey said. "He fired me for insubordination, and he was right. Then he took me back, and finally we had to admit that we needed to part ways. That was back when I was a young, impetuous coach. I thought I had all the answers."
But there's no animosity there. Tomey and Homer Smith ended up working together on Rodgers' staff at UCLA.
Coming back to play UCLA is special, Tomey said, because of the respect he has for UCLA and what Donahue has done in his 11 years as coach.
It's not really much of an advantage to have been on the UCLA staff that many years ago, Tomey said. "I even watched UCLA practice last year when I was a coach at Hawaii. That's not a big deal. You find out everything from the recent films."
Tomey coaches a complex combination wishbone and run-and-shoot offense, which caused Donahue to say: "I've known Dick a long time. Dick likes to do things that are unusual."
Which doesn't tell Donahue whether it's a run or a pass coming up from one play to the next.
Tomey said: "I think we've all learned from one another. Coaches are constantly evolving. . . . I coached with Bo Schembechler (at Miami, Ohio, in '63), and he made an impression. Pepper Rodgers, Dick Vermeil, lots of others. Every coach you work with makes an impression."
But how about the friendship factor? Can you get fire in your eyes to beat someone you like?
"These aren't the only guys I like," Tomey said. "In the WAC, I got to know, and like, LaVell Edwards. We played some great, great football games. You can't help but like the Don James' of this world, but that doesn't mean because you respect them and like them that you don't want to beat them. . . .
"You should see me and Terry when we play tennis and he beats me like a drum or we play golf and I beat him like a drum. I think, sometimes, that you want to beat your friends more than anyone else."