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Dorrell leaves UCLA with class and dignity

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Downstairs, UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero was meeting with the media to let them know the rumors were true -- he had fired football Coach Karl Dorrell.

At the same time upstairs, Dorrell sat on a couch in his office, which overlooks the rear end of “The Bruin” located across from the UCLA bookstore, trying to explain how he felt.

He sealed himself off Sunday from the speculation and reports of replacements already being lined up to take his job, making him the last man in America to learn he was being dismissed.

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He drove to work Monday morning with the radio off, arriving at 6:30 to put together a list of players to receive awards at this week’s football banquet. Then he began working on a practice schedule for the Bruins’ bowl game in Las Vegas.

He met with his coaching staff, told them he might be leaving and then again he might be staying.

A little after 9, as he began the walk to Guerrero’s office, he still held out hope he might have another season on the job.

But he also admitted to himself as he walked, “there was also this definite feeling of wow, this could be my last day.”

He sat down with Guerrero and they had a “conversation,” he said, Guerrero never getting around to whether Dorrell would be retained or dismissed.

“Are you thinking for a minute there you still might be back?”

Dorrell laughed. “It’s like anything in a situation like this, you start getting those ‘howevers’ in there, and you know what’s coming next.”

A few minutes later, he got it, all right, with one caveat, Guerrero giving him the option to coach in the Las Vegas Bowl.

“I want to talk to my family about it,” he said, a call to his wife the first thing he did after getting fired, followed by a meeting with his team.

“They all gave me hugs and that kind of good stuff,” he said. “They’re young, and they’ll get over something like this quickly. . . . “

Dorrell left campus at 2:30, uncertain of whether he will return. He called a little after 9 p.m. to say his family was still dealing with the day’s news.

“I told [Bob Field, UCLA associate AD] I would let him know in the morning whether I’ll be coaching the bowl game,” Dorrell said. “We’re all going to sleep on it tonight.”

MOST FOLKS seem to be in agreement -- if you wanted a man to represent a university who exhibits class and promotes good character, Dorrell was perfect for the job.

“But we just didn’t win enough games,” he said. “This is a result business, and I wasn’t successful enough.”

He told Guerrero, though, he was still the right man for the job, the foundation for success set and one of the country’s top recruiting classes lined up to take UCLA to another level.

Guerrero told him his time was up, and while Dorrell will walk away with a $2.05-million settlement, he said, “I want to coach. I don’t want to drive my wife crazy -- she doesn’t want me home either.

“I know from the outside, people probably don’t think I’m driven for success because of my demeanor, but let me tell you -- I gave it my all in this job.”

AS HE reflected on his five years here, he pointed to a painted football on a shelf commemorating his first victory at UCLA, a 6-3 yawner over Illinois.

His “most memorable moment on the job,” he said, still very much a Bruin as both former player and now former coach. “It was the 500th football victory for the school, and I was a part of it and that was really special.

“The win over USC last year was huge, too, but that was for the players who had never experienced that feeling.”

He said he owes so much to the man firing him now, thanking Guerrero for giving him the opportunity to be a head coach.

“He took a chance on me,” Dorrell said. “I came in here as a true underdog, but I think I’m a better coach and person for going through this experience.”

He took the job just as USC and Pete Carroll were picking up steam. Can UCLA ever be USC in football?

“That’s going to be hard,” he said. “There will have to be a change in total philosophy here when it comes to academic admissions.”

As program leader, Carroll oozed charisma, while Karl was a dullard from the start. So how much did demeanor play in his demise?

“I’m sure it was a factor -- how come I’m not jumping up and down on the sidelines? But it still comes down to results.

“In the beginning there were times when I thought we weren’t playing hard, and I think for some people watching they attributed that to the way I looked on the sideline.

“But the last few years it’s been different. My demeanor really hasn’t changed, but we’ve been playing hard as a team, and it no longer seemed to matter how I looked.”

Whatever he did, though, it wasn’t enough for some. The folks at dumpdorrell.com, and you have to wonder about the lives people lead who live to see someone lose their job, were celebrating his dismissal.

“We take no pleasure in firing a good man,” said the hypocritical unsigned main entry on dumpdorrell.com. “But Karl Dorrell leaves UCLA over $6 million richer in just 5 years. As much as no person likes being fired, Dorrell and his family will be fine.”

There’s no way to know the long-term blow to Dorrell’s self-esteem, or where this might take his family. And while some might say, “give me a $2.05-million severance package and fire me,” you have to wonder if they ever had a job they really loved, or if they are operating something called dumpdorrell.com.

“The climate in sports and in coaching is different -- more aggressive,” Dorrell said. “It’s like there’s a flow chart, this many years and this many wins, or else. A lot of mean things are said out there.

“But it’s still such a great profession with so many thrills, and if I get the chance, I will coach again.”

--

t.j.simers@latimes.com


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