As UCLA’s new men’s basketball coach charmed a small audience after the formal portion of his introductory news conference, the school’s athletic director was in the corner of the room addressing his own situation. With his contract expiring at the end of the calendar year, Dan Guerrero revealed that Chancellor Gene Block has spoken to him about his future.
“We’ve talked about an extension,” Guerrero said.
The Bruins’ beaten-down fans have to be collectively gasping as they imagine the indignities to which Guerrero could subject them to next.
While the personable Mick Cronin presented himself on Wednesday as a perfectly reasonable hire, the process of landing him was a public relations catastrophe that made UCLA’s athletic department a laughingstock and further reduced Guerrero’s already-diminished reputation.
And UCLA is thinking of extending Guerrero’s contract?
Asked why he should continue leading the university’s treasured athletic department, Guerrero replied, “I would say that not an ounce or an inch of my self-worth is dependent on a particular individual’s perception of me, of what I think, of what I do, or decisions that I make. I’m here to represent UCLA and [have] always been here to make decisions that I felt were in the best interests of [the] university, of coaches and our student-athletes. It’s never been about me. I mean, I understand that when you’re in a role like this, criticism comes with the territory and, frankly, in many respects, that’s a good thing because it shows that people care.”
He won’t win over his detractors with non-answers like that.
UCLA’s gymnastics team has become a sensation. The baseball and softball teams are ranked No. 1 in the nation. But an athletic department of this stature is measured by the performances of its men’s basketball and football programs. The Bruins haven’t won a national championship in basketball in 24 years. They haven’t won a Rose Bowl in 33. Guerrero’s track record of coaching hires for those sports reads like a list of broken dreams.
“I will say that I do not regret any hire that I’ve made because I made those hires for the right reasons,” Guerrero said. “I’m not always happy about the outcomes of those hires, but the hires were made for the right reasons.”
Right, like Steve Alford, who immediately became a subject of controversy over his defense of a player of his at Iowa who was accused of sexual assault and later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
Looks as if someone attended Stan Kasten’s Tone Deaf School of Communications — or received lessons from Jeanie Buss on how to blame the media.
While introducing Cronin, Guerrero tried to defend the train wreck of the coaching search by insinuating events didn’t unfold as reported.
“We made a decision … that we weren’t going to make a comment on the search and we held true to that, including correcting any false reports that were out there,” Guerrero said.
Ben Bolch, the Los Angeles Times’ UCLA beat writer who was on top of the story, chronicled the failed pursuits of John Calipari, Jamie Dixon and Rick Barnes.
“The reality is, when you do a search like this, you have multiple conversations going on with different folks because you never know how it’s going to wind up,” Guerrero said. “Things aren’t always black and white. Frankly, there are reports that were made that were not always accurate. But that happens.”
So what was inaccurate?
Guerrero wouldn’t say. How convenient.
At this point, Guerrero was reminded of how amateurish UCLA appeared and told that setting the record straight could undo some of the damage that was inflicted on the school over the last couple of weeks.
“Short of John Wooden sitting next to me on the podium, you will never get consensus from your fans whether it was a good hire or not,” he said. “And I get that. And part of being an athletic director is the understanding that decisions will be criticized. So when I talk about us never losing focus, you have to get that noise [out] and not dwell on it.”
Only the problem wasn’t that UCLA chose Cronin. The problem was how the Bruins ended up with him, a process that made them appear dysfunctional.
“The label dysfunction was not a byproduct of anything that we did,” Guerrero said. “The label dysfunction was something that occurred external to our process and external to what we were attempting to accomplish.”
Guerrero also passed on an opportunity to explain why UCLA was interested in Calipari, but not other coaches with histories of compliance or ethical issues. Two of Calipari’s teams vacated Final Four appearances.
Guerrero wasn’t any more forthcoming when questioned about the college admissions scandal that resulted in the indictment and resignation of Jorge Salcedo. The men’s soccer coach was accused of accepting $200,000 in bribes to help facilitate the acceptance of two students to the school under the pretense they were soccer players even though they didn’t play the sport competitively.
Asked if he was confident that was the extent of problem, Guerrero replied, “This is not the appropriate time to talk about the admissions scandal.”
When would be the appropriate time?
“It may not ever be appropriate, at this point in time,” he said.
Guerrero’s words didn’t inspire confidence. Guerrero’s demeanor didn’t project confidence.
In Cronin’s case, it very well could be that Guerrero missed his shot so badly that he made it. If Guerrero’s contract is extended, that’s what UCLA’s championship-deprived supporters will have to continue to hope for in the coming years.