It’s pretty tough playing against type too
Fair enough, Karl Dorrell lost his job.
In case you missed it, three weeks ago I wrote that UCLA should keep him. I even started a blog -- dontdumpdorrell.blogspot.com -- in response to websites that wanted him fired as the Bruins football coach.
I stated my reasons firmly. Dorrell is an even-keel coach who sees himself as a teacher. He did a lot to turn around a fractured, dysfunctional team. His winning percentage was .565 -- just a few victories shy of UCLA’s all-time clip of roughly .600. He suffered because of righteously tough entrance requirements for athletes. And he shouldn’t be blamed for a year full of injuries.
Lastly, I whipped up a frenzy when I wondered aloud whether his race -- Dorrell is African American -- hadn’t fed some of the hottest anger against him. He was one of only six African Americans among 119 head coaches in major college football. Slight, calm and black, he was far from an archetypal football coach.
In sports, image matters.
Those who run against type face an uphill fight for acceptance. Just ask Steve Nash. For what little money I have, Nash is the best basketball player on earth. Some will grind their teeth reading that, and here’s part of the reason: Nash is small, skinny and white. He defies type as much as Dorrell.
But enough of my reasons. Thirty-five wins and 27 losses won’t cut it when season-ticket buyers hunger for something they’ve almost never had, a record closer to USC’s. Over in Troy, Coach Pete Carroll has 75 wins and 14 losses.
UCLA fans and the Bruins’ brass want more victories. Many more. Will they get them?
It’s going to be tough. There is a reason you don’t see schools with academic stature such as UCLA’s dominating in basketball and football. Care and feeding of twins isn’t easy. Duke has great basketball, not great football. Michigan has great football, not great basketball. The list is long.
To rise to the next level, the Bruins will have to reexamine their recruiting. They might need to start courting junior college kids. They might have to ease their entrance requirements -- something I don’t think a school like UCLA should do. Maybe it’s time to demand that other colleges raise the bar.
Moreover, UCLA will have to pay their coaches more. Dorrell’s salary, about $850,000 a year, was considered a bargain in an era of $1-million hires. The low-ball salaries UCLA tends to pay assistant coaches deter the best talent from moving their families to costly Los Angeles.
Whoever becomes head coach will inherit a football team that Dorrell straightened out. If most of the high school kids who have committed to the Bruins don’t back away, next year’s freshman class will be a fine one.
More than that, the returnees have internal strength.
When injuries devastated them, they hung tough, beating California and Oregon with backups in key spots. Then there was the USC game. The Trojans had twice the talent and far fewer players on the sideline in street clothes and plaster casts. By all rights, USC should have won by five touchdowns.
But the Bruins made it a scrum. That is something positive for their next coach to build on.
Who will he be?
The Bruins should ignore the notion that he must have experience as a head coach. It would be smart and gutsy to pick assistant coach DeWayne Walker, who has done a magnificent job with the Bruins’ defense. His background is stocked with NFL and college coaching experience. He has coached under Bill Belichick and, yes, Pete Carroll.
If UCLA wants presence, Walker has it: a combination of gruffness and savvy that will fire up his players and -- if he wins often enough -- keep the fans in his corner.
Or Chris Petersen at Boise State, or Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Their teams play with passion and have a creative flair.
I’m not convinced. Mariucci’s only college experience came guiding a 1996 Cal team to a 6-6 record that included a loss to Stanford and then to Navy in the Aloha Bowl. With San Francisco and Detroit, he was a .518 coach with a 3-4 record in the playoffs. Based on wins and losses, Mariucci’s coaching record is actually worse than Dorrell’s.
But some hail him as a guru and savior. Why?
Here’s another question: Why isn’t Norm Chow being talked about more? The offensive coordinator for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans was the architect of USC’s offense, and he has worked magic in every job he has had. The fact that Chow, an Asian American, has never been given a head coaching job only boosts my argument about perception.
I keep hearing that Chow doesn’t have the personality to be a head coach. It’s not as if Jeff Tedford at Cal has a lot of personality. Or Mike Bellotti at Oregon. I haven’t seen Rich Brooks at Kentucky warming up the fans with a stand-up routine. I never saw Don James snapping off one-liners when he guided Washington to glory.
Fact is, if performance matters as much as Bruins fans have been telling me the last few weeks, then Chow’s name should be prominent in their conversations.
We’ll see. It’s going to be intriguing to watch.
No matter who takes over for Dorrell, I’ll wish him well.
I’ll also cross my fingers, say a prayer, and hope the dreams of Bruins fans come true.
Kurt Streeter can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Streeter, go to latimes.com/streeter.