Keep Karl! And keep me posted
He’s too staid, too indecisive, in over his head and doesn’t win enough.
So goes the tired, old argument against UCLA football Coach Karl Dorrell. An army of you critics wants him gone. Bring in someone else, you say, and the Bruins will morph into a football juggernaut.
You are dead wrong.
Karl Dorrell is right for the Bruins. UCLA should not stoop to the maddening crowd and cut him loose.
Someone should square off against the lot of you who are trying to drive a good coach out of town. You have your websites and blogs. So I’m starting mine. I’m calling it dontdumpdorrell.blogspot.com, and it’s on the web now. It is a forum for discussion about the embattled coach.
I’ll post this column and respond to your reasoned arguments until we know his fate.
I hope my final post will be hearty congratulations to UCLA administrators for finding their coach of the future -- the guy they have right now.
Here is why Karl Dorrell should stay. He has the kind of smart, honorable character that more coaches need.
And he has done exactly what he was asked to do.
UCLA brought him in before the 2003 season and told him to refashion an unruly, undisciplined team in his own straight-arrow image. Under Dorrell’s watch, here is what you no longer see: Bruins in the headlines for run-ins with the law.
He was also told to win. His record could be better, but he’s done plenty to keep his job. Two years ago, his team was 10-2, and he shared Pacific 10 Conference coach-of-the-year honors with Pete Carroll. Over time, Dorrell’s teams have won nearly six of every 10 games -- pretty much the standard Bruins clip.
This year, as the Bruins’ sideline has come to resemble a hospital emergency room, Dorrell’s team has five wins and five losses. With two of the toughest games of the year still to play, you critics have him firmly in your cross hairs.
But if you think that you are getting to him, then you’re wrong about that, too. Karl Dorrell takes pressure with grace, and that is Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage. Dorrell is wary, but calm. You’re not rattling him. He has grown used to your flak.
“Well, definitely, the season has not gone according to plan,” he told me the other day. For an hour, we sat on leather sofas in his office, and he answered my questions.
“You know, we have shown signs of being a very good football team,” he said, his voice firm. “Then there have been times when we have not gained the continuity we’d like. . . . I do want people to understand the context.”
Dorrell doesn’t duck and run.
How can you lose to Utah? I asked.
He took the heat.
How do you lose to God-awful Notre Dame?
He rubbed his hands together, looked me in the eye and took the rap for that one, too.
But there is, indeed, the matter of context. Because Dorrell is too much of a stand-up guy to dwell on it, I’ll tell you what the context is.
The Notre Dame loss, like the entire season, was clouded by injury. All year, Bruins have gone down in ugly heaps: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, linemen, linebackers. Dorrell has had to play second-stringers, third-stringers and practice-squad fodder who came to Westwood without scholarships.
He has never given up.
And, like all well-coached players, his Bruins have never given up. As their steady toll of injuries grew into a slaughter, they beat then-No. 10-ranked California, played competitively against Washington State and Arizona, and nearly beat Arizona State.
Dorrell could hide behind the injuries. He could plead for his job by making the excuse that his team hasn’t been playing at full strength. But in our conversation, he chose to skirt the injury issue. It is what it is, and he will deal with it.
“There’s a reason why certain guys are fourth-stringers,” he said, his feet propped up on a coffee table. “But those guys, now that we’re playing them, we have to prepare them to be successful. . . . I told them after the Arizona State game that it’s OK to come up short if you exhaust your effort. We did that. We have no reason to hang our heads.”
Did I hear right? A coach at least as obsessed with sheer effort as he is about wins and losses?
So, why do so many of you want Karl Dorrell gone?
I ran some of your criticisms past him: He is too inexperienced; he has never been a head coach before. He cannot recruit; after all, don’t those other teams have all-star players on their second and third strings?
Only then did he shake his head. “I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a fair shake.”
This brought me to the sticky issue of race. Dorrell is one of only six African American head coaches in all of Division I-A football. Six out of 119. Does he feel as if he is not getting a fair shake because he is black?
“Let me put it this way,” he said. “In every opportunity that I’ve had in my coaching career, it was never in my mind that I was dealing with a level playing field. I’ve had to do more to accomplish what I’ve accomplished.
“It’s getting better. But still, that’s just the way it is.”
Well put. I’m convinced that race plays a role in what some of you critics are saying. To think otherwise would be plain foolish. Some of you just don’t know what to make of a coach who does not fit into your convenient stereotypes.
Dorrell believes this, too. But just as with the injuries, he is not going to lean on race as an excuse. Instead, he is simply going to focus on what he can do to turn his team around.
That kind of character needs to be appreciated and rewarded.
Kurt Streeter can be reached at Kurt.Streeter@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Streeter, go to latimes.com/streeter.
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