Two Assistants Staying, Two Come With Dorrell

Times Staff Writer

The first four assistants hired by UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell are a blend of the old and new. Gary Bernardi and Don Johnson were retained and Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy will leave the University of Colorado staff to come to UCLA.

Bieniemy, 33, is a former Bishop Amat High and Colorado running back who had a nine-year NFL career. He is Colorado’s all-time leading rusher and was third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1990. He will coach Bruin running backs, the same position he held at Colorado the last two years. His oldest child has cerebral palsy and Bieniemy and his wife have family in Southern California that can help with his care.

“This will take stress and pressure off my wife,” he said. “But it’s my relationship with Karl that created this opportunity. It will be an intriguing challenge to come to a prestigious university to work with an African American coach in Los Angeles.”

Embree, 37, will become the UCLA receivers coach, the same position he held at Colorado the last two years. He has also coached tight ends and defensive ends. Like Bieniemy, Embree has had a long friendship with Dorrell, who was the Colorado offensive coordinator in the mid-1990s.


Bieniemy and Embree, who will start working at UCLA next week, are enthusiastic coaches who are animated on the sidelines. “I like being with the kids and helping them through the ebb and flow of the game,” Embree said.

Bernardi, 48, will begin his 10th season as Bruin recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach. He helped in the coaching transition from Terry Donahue to Bob Toledo after the 1995 season and now will do the same. “I feel like we are real compatible,” Bernardi said of Dorrell. “We have the same goals and desires.”

Johnson, 48, will begin his fourth season as defensive line coach. His recruiting responsibilities include Los Angeles and Long Beach. Retaining Johnson enhances the prospect of defensive tackle Rodney Leisle returning for his senior season rather than jumping to the NFL. The junior, who sat out several games because of a broken foot, is enrolled for the spring quarter, which begins Monday.

“I think it is in his best interest to come back next year and play a full season, completely healthy,” Johnson said. “We’ve got mixed signals from him. He’ll visit with me and Coach Dorrell and make a decision.”


Johnson and Bernardi are devoting their time to recruiting. UCLA has commitments from eight players and could sign as many as 20. There are NCAA restrictions on recruiting until Jan. 10.

“We will have about 10 recruits visit on Jan. 10-11,” Bernardi said. “After that, Karl will get out to meet recruits and committed kids.”

Dorrell has five more spots to fill on his staff. Idaho Coach Tom Cable, who met with Dorrell on Saturday to discuss the offensive coordinator opening, said Monday he will not come to UCLA.

Additional members of the current staff who might be retained are Mark Weber, Todd Littlejohn and Ron Caragher.


“It’s a difficult time,” Bernardi said. “There is elation for Don and I, but guys I worked with for a long time are out of a job. Everybody knows the nature of the game. They are happy for me but the misery of it is difficult.”