UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said he envisions a football program “that is in the national rankings every year and that can knock on a [Bowl Championship Series] door.”
The search for the key to that door will pick up speed following the firing of Coach Karl Dorrell on Monday.
Guerrero expects a lengthy process before hiring the Bruins’ next football coach because “we need to hire the right coach, and it’s better to take some time and get it right then to rush and not make the right decisions.”
Guerrero said neither he nor “emissaries or third parties have been out there contacting prospective candidates for this position.” However, multiple sources outside athletics who are close to the program said Boise State Coach Chris Petersen and former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci will be considered.
At a news conference in Boise, Idaho, on Monday, Petersen said he had not been contacted and “I’m not interested in that place.” Mariucci, who is an analyst for the NFL Network, declined to comment when reached by telephone.
UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker might be a candidate. Walker, who forever will be remembered as the architect of a Bruins defense that led a 13-9 upset of USC last year, has been contacted by Washington State about the Cougars’ head-coaching job. He is also considered the linchpin to a fertile 2008 recruiting class that has committed to the Bruins.
Guerrero said an executive search firm will be hired to help “assist with the background checks and help evaluate the talent pool,” but he said athletic department officials and Chancellor Gene Block would be involved “every step of the way.”
Dorrell, who had a 35-27 record in five seasons, has been asked to coach the team against Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22 but had yet to decide whether that would be a “distraction,” Guerrero said. If Dorrell declines, Walker will act as interim coach.
Guerrero and Dorrell met with UCLA assistant coaches and players Monday morning.
“I feel kind of weird, but they told us to stay focused,” freshman defensive tackle Brian Price said. “We still have got another football game to play. I want to go out with a bang.”
Guerrero said he’d seek a coach who “has characteristics similar to Dorrell. First of all, integrity.”
Dorrell had never been a head coach when Guerrero hired him in 2002. He inherited a program that had high-profile problems off the field, which led to the firing of coach Bob Toledo.
Under Dorrell, the Bruins improved in the classroom and the number of off-the-field embarrassments decreased significantly.
“We’ve improved our standard in school, we’ve done very, very well there,” Dorrell said recently when asked about the high points that have been achieved off the field. “We’ve improved our standard in off-the-field incidents. That has been a big, big issue before. And I think we do a lot in the community, where we reach out and try. All those things have fallen into place very well for us.”
On the field was more of a struggle. Each of Dorrell’s teams went to a bowl game yet they regularly collapsed in the second half of the season. The Bruins had a 13-19 record after the sixth game of the season during his career. They were unable to achieve consistency, following up a monumental upset of USC in 2006 with a flop in the Emerald Bowl against Florida State.
Even in Dorrell’s best year, when UCLA was 10-2 in 2005, the Bruins lost two of their last three, including a 66-19 drubbing by USC. UCLA was 1-4 against the Trojans under Dorrell, including a 24-7 loss Saturday.
This season, UCLA was ranked in the top 20 in many preseason polls, returning 20 starters from a team that finished 7-6. Opening with victories over Stanford and Brigham Young, the Bruins climbed as high as 11th in the Associated Press poll before being routed, 44-6, by an injury-depleted Utah team Sept. 15.
It was a steady decline from there. A loss to a then-winless Notre Dame team brought concern from high-end donors and, after several injuries, , the Bruins lost four of their final five Pacific 10 Conference games.
Meanwhile, USC won its sixth consecutive conference title.
“We have to build a program that can be competitive, especially in this city, as you well know,” Guerrero said, referring to USC. “At times we did, but at other times we didn’t. . . . At some point you have to say, ‘Are you ready to take that next step?’ I felt at this point in time we weren’t ready to do this and I felt I had to get a new coach.”
Petersen, 43, a former Oregon assistant, has made a rapid ascent with a record of 23-2 in two seasons at Boise State. And he has repeated several times recently that he is happy right where he is. “I said what I said a few weeks ago, there’s nothing out there that I’m excited about,” Petersen said. “I’m excited about Boise State.”
Mariucci, 52, comes without contract strings other than his deal with the NFL Network. He was 6-6 at California in his only season as a college head coach.
“Obviously, someone who has had successful head-coaching experience would be an ideal candidate,” Guerrero said. “That being said, you never say never. You have to look at the candidate pool and evaluate what’s out there. This is not a place for just any coach.”
Dorrell’s deal at UCLA paid him $850,000 plus incentives and ran through the 2010 season, with a buyout clause that called for $2.05 million to be paid over a two-year period.
Guerrero said that salary would not be an issue, noting, “We raised the [athletic program] budget from $42 million when we first came here to $60 million and we’re still in the black.
“That tells you we have done some things that are very positive and will allow us to be very competitive in the marketplace as we move forward.”
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Karl Dorrell was 35-27 in five seasons at UCLA and won only one game against rival USC:
*--* DORRELL AT UCLA Year W-L Bowl game 2007 6-6 Las Vegas Bowl 2006 7-6 Emerald Bowl (lost) 2005 10-2 Sun Bowl (won) 2004 6-6 Las Vegas Bowl (lost) 2003 6-7 Silicon Classic (lost) *--*
*--* DORRELL VS. USC Year Site Result 2007 Coliseum Lost, 24-7 2006 Rose Bowl Won, 13-9 2005 Coliseum Lost, 66-19 2004 Rose Bowl Lost, 29-24 2003 Coliseum Lost, 47-22 *--*