Athletic Director Dan Guerrero directly addressed UCLA’s inconsistent football performances for the first time Monday, mostly stating the obvious: that a Pacific 10 Conference championship and Rose Bowl berth are still within the Bruins’ grasp.
But there was no ringing endorsement for Coach Karl Dorrell. Instead, Guerrero said, “I will be very interested to see how we finish the season. And you can use that.”
His message seemed clear.
The Bruins have four games remaining -- three against ranked teams -- and their performance from here on out may determine whether Dorrell will remain as coach.
UCLA, which is 5-3 overall, is 4-1 in Pac-10 play and only a game behind conference leader Arizona State. The Bruins play at Arizona on Saturday, then have No. 6 Arizona State and, after an off week, No. 4 Oregon at home before finishing up with No. 13 USC at the Coliseum.
Dorrell, now in his fifth season, has a 32-24 career record and his teams have qualified for lower-level bowl games each season. But the inconsistency the Bruins have shown on the field has increased the number of critics.
The Bruins latest flop came Saturday in a 27-7 loss at Washington State, which came a week after they beat then-10th-ranked California.
Washington State entered the game in the Pac-10 cellar, having lost four straight. UCLA’s other losses were to previously winless Utah and Notre Dame.
With each loss, dissatisfaction among alumni and fans has grown. Guerrero has been careful not to comment on Dorrell’s future when asked. He also hasn’t squelched the subject with a statement of support.
Asked Monday if such a statement from Guerrero would help at this point, Dorrell said, “You are going to have to ask him that.”
Guerrero has always commended Dorrell for running a program clean of significant off-the-field problems. But when asked whether the program was at the level it should be on the field, Guerrero said, “We were all disappointed with the performance in Pullman this past weekend. But we have four games left to go. We play four difficult conference games. Our destiny is still in our hands.
“I think if we play to our capability, if we played to the level of performance against Cal, we still have a chance to do something special.”
Dorrell’s contract, which pays him $850,000 plus incentives, runs through the 2011 season. UCLA would have to pay Dorrell $2.05 million over a two-year period if he is let go after this season.
Guerrero has declined to comment about Dorrell’s contract.
A source familiar with the athletic program said securing the buyout money wouldn’t be a problem if Guerrero chose to go that route.
But if the Bruins win the next four games, it would give them the conference title and their first Rose Bowl berth since playing in the 1999 game.
Dorrell’s teams have often won a key game when fan and alumni frustrations were on the rise, but the Bruins have failed to sustain momentum from those high points.
UCLA defeated USC last season, but that monumental victory was followed by a woeful performance against Florida State in the Emerald Bowl.
In 2005, the Bruins rallied to defeat Stanford to improve to 8-0, then were embarrassed the following week, 52-14, by an Arizona team that finished 3-8.
UCLA started 4-1 in 2004 only to finish 6-6, and in 2003 started 6-2 before losing its last five games.
Last season, the Bruins started 4-1 but finished 7-6.
This season was expected to be Dorrell’s finest. The Bruins had 20 returning starters and were ranked 11th after winning their first two games.
Then came a 44-6 loss to Utah. Three weeks later, they were beaten by winless Notre Dame.
While injuries have played a role in the team’s waffling this season, the Bruins also have seemed to play down to their competition.
“We’re determine to continue to work through some of the difficult circumstances that have happened this season, and there have been some unfortunate setbacks,” Dorrell said Monday at his weekly news conference. “But this team still has a lot to play for with four games remaining and we still have a lot of time to get ourselves to improve. That begins this week playing in Arizona.”
UCLA (5-3, 4-1)
at Arizona (3-6, 2-4)
Saturday, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7