Coaches try to reassure recruits

Times Staff Writer

This was the most challenging Saturday for the UCLA football team in a long time. The Bruins’ opponent? The unknown.

Game preparations for next Saturday’s game against Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl continued, but coaches and players faced the task of playing host to 18 recruits without an answer to the most-asked question.

Since Karl Dorrell was fired Dec. 3, the passel of players who committed has been uneasy, not knowing who will be the Bruins’ head coach. Many are exploring backup plans.


The search for a new head coach is lurching into a third week. Athletic department officials continued a coach-seeking tour this weekend, with stops to see Tennessee Titans assistant Norm Chow, Baltimore Ravens assistant Rick Neuheisel and Philadelphia Eagles assistant John Harbaugh.

The current Bruins coaching staff and players were in Westwood trying to prevent a collapse on the recruiting front.

“I tell [the recruits] it’s about the institution more than anything else,” defensive end Bruce Davis said. “This is UCLA. There is going to be a good coach coming in.”

Many recruits already think there is one in place.

Interim head Coach DeWayne Walker, who has been interviewed for the job, was responsible for a good portion of what is expected to be a talented recruiting class. His presence is a big reason that a mass exodus has not occurred.

Still, many recruits seem to be keeping their options open. Aundre Dean, a running back from Texas, made a recent recruiting trip to Louisville and is being courted by Alabama and Ohio State. Milton Knox, a running back from Lake Balboa Birmingham High, is on a recruiting trip to Florida this weekend.

“I convey to them there’s a reason why we’re still together,” Walker said when asked what he said to recruits. “We started off with a vision and I still believe in that vision. Hopefully, everything works out. . . . I let them know when I know. All I can say is I interviewed for the job and we’ll wait and see what [Athletic Director] Dan [Guerrero] decides to do. We’ll know soon enough.”


Bruins players are sending messages, as well.

“If you like the school, if you like the guys you’re coming in with, then come here,” senior center Chris Joseph said. “ . . . Don’t come for the coaches. Coaches come and go. I have had four offensive line coaches here.”

Joseph said he spent Friday with Nick Crissman, a quarterback from Huntington Beach Edison, and said he sensed camaraderie within the group. Many of the local recruits have interacted in the summer and fall, Joseph said.

“He’s committed to the university,” Joseph said.

Davis said he was looking forward to offering his own sales pitch Saturday night.

“I could have gone to Texas, I could have gone to Oklahoma, I could have had a national championship ring, but that wasn’t an issue,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to a juggernaut team and be part of something that was already established. I wanted to go help change a program. You got to let these young kids know they have the ability to change a program’s future and that is a big deal.”


It’s good to be the king: If he wants the team to do up-downs drills as punishment, “then they do up-downs,” Walker said Friday, smiling.

Well, on Saturday, the Bruins had to do up-downs after a poor effort on extra-point kicks.

“I challenged them yesterday,” he said. “I told them how we were in practice would determine if we had a full-pad practice in Las Vegas. Our practice seemed better today. You should only be rewarded when you do things right.”

Walker laughed when asked about the players’ reaction.

“They may not want me around here, they may kick me out, but I got to do what I believe in,” Walker said.



Joseph said he would apply for a Rhodes scholarship next fall, “unless I’m in graduate school.” Joseph has a 3.95 grade-point average.