UCLA’s Rees Makes Unexpected Move to NFL

A funny thing happened to former UCLA assistant football coach Bill Rees recently on his way to Lawrence, Kan., to begin a new job as recruiting coordinator at Kansas: He wound up back home in Manhattan Beach as the new West Coast scout for the Kansas City Chiefs.

After 15 years as the architect of UCLA’s nationally recognized football recruiting success, Rees, a Chicago native, had agreed to take a similar position at Kansas. He booked a flight to Kansas City for Sunday, March 17, and was set to begin his new job the next day. Then, just before leaving his office at UCLA for the final time March 15, the Chiefs called and Rees fulfilled a goal of working for a National Football League team.

In addition to establishing the Bruins as a recruiting power, regularly competing for (and signing) players against Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State and Texas, Rees was in charge of all in-state evaluations for the program. Before the start of last season, more players from UCLA appeared on NFL rosters (38) than from any other school in the country.

Among current NFL players Rees signed during his tenure at UCLA were Troy Aikman and Frank Cornish (Dallas), Mike Lodish (Buffalo), Eric Ball (Cincinnati), Carlton Gray (Seattle), David Richards (Detroit), Kevin Williams (Green Bay), plus former pros Mel and Mike Farr and a probable first-round draft choice from the current Bruin roster, junior tackle Jonathan Ogden.


Rees said the rules changes adopted by the NCAA in recent years to limit recruiting and the evaluation process has limited the ability of college football coaches to make accurate judgments before signing players. There are tighter restrictions on in-person evaluations, telephone calls and campus visits. Thus, most recruiting coordinators now spend more time watching game film than games. It is the games--the UCLA games, that is--that Rees will miss most.

“UCLA was always a dream school to be associated with,” Rees said. “I was fortunate to be part of perhaps the best era in UCLA football history, with an opportunity to work for one of the great coaches in college football, Terry Donahue.

“What I’ll miss most is the UCLA-USC rivalry--the great games, the great players, the intensity and the atmosphere. It’s the best rivalry in the country.”


UCLA has completed its football recruiting with the signing of cornerback Aaron Roques (6-0, 180). Roques was a standout at Canyon Springs High in Moreno Valley three years ago, attracting attention from a number of colleges, including UCLA, before he signed a letter of intent with Nevada. However, he opted for professional baseball instead of college football. Last year, Roques, an outfielder, hit .165 in 32 games for Peoria, Ariz., a rookie league team in the San Diego Padres’ organization. Before signing with UCLA, Roques turned down scholarship offers from California, San Diego State and Nevada Las Vegas, among others. The Bruins’ incoming class now totals 18 players, including two community college transfers.

Hoop report: Jelani Gardner, Bellflower St. John Bosco’s heavily recruited 6-6 point guard, will announce his college choice April 15, two days after the spring signing period begins. Gardner has narrowed his list to three schools: UCLA, Arkansas and Cal. He leaves Tuesday for New York, where he will play in the McDonald’s All-American high school basketball game Sunday at St. John’s University. Gardner was one of two California players selected for the game; the other was Duke signee Rick Price, a 6-5 guard from Gardena Serra. Gardner and Price will also play in Magic Johnson’s high school all-star game April 10 in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Add UCLA: The Bruins are also recruiting two other standout players: Brandon Jessie, the 6-5, 215-pound forward from Edison High and Ventura College who was voted the California community college co-player of the year, and Jerod Ward, a 6-8 forward from Clinton, Miss., who is the consensus choice among coaches and talent evaluators as the nation’s No. 1 prospect. Jessie is considering Duke, Arizona State, Georgetown, Nevada Las Vegas and UCLA. Ward, a shooter with unlimited range, took an unofficial trip to Mississippi last weekend. He has also visited UCLA (his cousin, Annett Buckner, plays volleyball for the Bruins) and Cal, and taken another unofficial trip to Ohio State (he has relatives in that area, too). In addition, Ward may visit Kentucky.

USC, with two scholarships available, is hoping to sign 6-6 swingman Joe Zaletel, an excellent shooter from El Camino College who averaged 28.2 points last season, second-best in the state behind Darryle Flicking (29.4) of Riverside. Zaletel, a sophomore from Torrance High who also attended Harbor College, has visited USC and Arizona State, and may take trips to Hawaii and Washington State. Kansas has also expressed some interest in Zaletel . . . Add Kansas: The Jayhawks, who tried hard to get Price before he signed with Duke, have received a verbal commitment from 6-4 guard Billy Thomas of Shreveport, La.


Another community college standout, 6-4 shooting guard Tes Whitlock of Saddleback, is considering New Mexico State, Long Beach State and Pepperdine, among others. Whitlock, from Loara High, played one season at Arizona State before he encountered academic difficulties and transferred.

Two of the top high school guard prospects in Southern California, 6-3 Jamie Gillin of Compton Dominguez and 6-1 Paul Pickett of Wilmington Banning, may be close to announcing their college choices. Gillin will probably sign with Washington State, while Pickett, if he qualifies academically, will likely attend George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., which is coached by former Lakers and Loyola Marymount Coach Paul Westhead. Another Southland guard, 6-1 Sam Turks of Inglewood, recently gave a verbal commitment to Utah.

Add Pac-10: Cal Coach Todd Bozeman’s reputation as a recruiter continues to grow. Bozeman has apparently persuaded 6-11 center-forward Eric Lee of Indianola, Miss., to take a recruiting trip to Berkeley. Lee made a verbal commitment in January to Nevada Las Vegas, but is reconsidering his decision and might also visit Mississippi.