UCLA Off-Season Is Good for a Staff

Times Staff Writer

The key to UCLA’s 2006 football season will not be replacing offensive stars Maurice Drew, Marcedes Lewis and Drew Olson, nor will it be its new-look defense.

The fate of the Bruins probably will be determined behind the scenes by Karl Dorrell’s revamped coaching staff, which will open training camp today with six new assistants, one year after a 10-2 campaign.

“There’s normally a ‘feeling-each-other-out’ period when different coaches come in,” said senior receiver Junior Taylor, one of five players on the roster who began their UCLA careers under then-coach Bob Toledo. “No disrespect to our new coaches, but I know I was looking for that.”


So are many others. Although UCLA was the surprise team of the Pacific 10 Conference last season, skeptics still regard the Bruins as a middle-of-the-pack type of program in need of consistency.

“We’re know that we’re still defining ourselves,” said Dorrell, who signed a new five-year contract this summer. “Even though we went 10-2 last year, we know that we still have to go out and prove it.”

Between the time the Bruins returned to Los Angeles after a Sun Bowl win over Northwestern and the start of spring drills Feb. 23, they went through wholesale changes on their coaching staff.

Offensive coordinator/line coach Tom Cable, running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Eric Bieniemy and tight ends coach Jon Embree left for the NFL. Defensive coordinator Larry Kerr and defensive line coach Thurmond Moore were fired and special teams coach Brian Schneider moved to Iowa State.

That left Dorrell with the task of reshaping his staff on the fly. “The bottom line is that I had to do what I needed to do in order to build this program where it should be,” the fourth-year coach said.

Veteran NFL assistant and former Bruin player and coach Jim Colletto was hired to handle the offensive line. Dorrell also looked to the NFL for defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, defensive line coach Todd Howard and linebackers coach Chuck Bullough. Wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy and tight ends/special teams coach John Wristen were brought in from the college ranks.


UCLA’s other staff changes included quarterbacks coach Jim Svoboda being promoted to offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach Dino Babers being switched to running backs and cornerbacks coach Gary DeLoach to safeties.

“When you have the number of coaching changes that we had on our staff, there’s a transition -- not that they are not really good coaches -- but there’s a transition how to do things my way,” Dorrell said.

That’s one reason why USC Coach Pete Carroll, who has lost more than one assistant from his staff nearly every year, turned to a more homegrown approach.

“In essence, we’ve been able to raise our own coaches,” said Carroll, who gave seven of his 11 current assistants their first college coaching jobs. “[It’s] something that I really have found important, and I think a real strength is, in the young guys. I’m looking for energy and attitude and personality that they bring to our staff. And once I find that then I’ll teach them what the football is all about.”

But Carroll never had to replace six assistants in the same year as Dorrell has had to do.

“We made some great strides last year and we’re looking to try to have back-to-back productive seasons,” said Dorrell, who shared Pac-10 coach-of-the-year honors with Carroll in 2005. “But even with our coaching changes that we had, this team is very capable of making another big step.”

Because UCLA’s Spaulding Field was scheduled to be renovated in late March, the Bruins began spring practice under their revamped coaching staff less than two months after the Sun Bowl, the earliest start among Pac-10 schools.

The quick turnaround helped the players and new coaches get to know each other better.

“They came in and we haven’t skipped a beat,” Taylor said. “Each coach came in and established himself right away. Everything just clicked.

“As a team, we were looking to see who would fill the void left by Cable and Bieniemy, not just them as coaches but also their personalities. I think we have everything and more with this new staff.”

UCLA can only hope that this latest staff shake-up is as successful as when Dorrell replaced offensive coordinator Steve Axman with Cable in 2004. Under Axman, the Bruins ranked 110th out of 117 I-A schools in total offense. Last season under Cable, the Bruins had the nation’s seventh-highest scoring attack.

That’s why Dorrell’s hire of Colletto was so important. With 11 years of experience as a college head coach and a Super Bowl ring as line coach for the Baltimore Ravens in 2000, Colletto provides a veteran presence who knows how to win.

Although he has 32 years of college coaching experience, Colletto has had to make an adjustment after working in the NFL the last seven seasons. From recruiting calls and letters to checking on an offensive lineman’s attendance record, Colletto said he quickly realized how things had changed.

“It amazed me how little time we get to deal with the football part of things,” said Colletto, an all-conference football and baseball player at UCLA in the early 1960s. “You have to get things taught in a short period of time.”

One advantage the defensive coaching staff has had has been the Bruins’ own shortcomings. Although they finished third in the Pac-10 last year, UCLA’s defense against the run ranked next-to-last nationally. That made for an easy sell.

“They could tell us to do anything, go jump off the bridge or anything like that,” junior cornerback Trey Brown said. “If that’s what is needed for us to get better, we’re willing to do it.”

For Dorrell, every part equals a whole as he looks to lead UCLA to the next level.

“We’re transitioning our coaches to understand what are the philosophical issues that are important to me,” he said. “This team knows what the expectations are now.”


Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.