UCLA has a bowl bid, but coach options appear to be dwindling
It was a busy day around UCLA on Sunday.
Houston’s Kevin Sumlin was no longer a candidate to replace Rick Neuheisel as the Bruins’ coach, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero was waiting to hear from Miami Coach Al Golden, though that option was looking less likely by late Sunday, another person familiar with the search said.
The same person, also unauthorized to speak publicly about the search, said UCLA officials are now considering former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora Jr.
Meanwhile, the Bruins were picked to play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. UCLA (6-7) will face Illinois (6-6) on Dec. 31 at 12:30 p.m.
Call it the Interim Coach Bowl.
Neuheisel was let go last Monday but was allowed to coach against Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game Friday. Illinois fired Ron Zook after the Illini lost their last six games this season.
UCLA will be coached by offensive coordinator Mike Johnson, and Illinois by defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. And players on both teams will have to get past the upheaval.
“I don’t think it will be tough to get them focused on playing the game,” Johnson said. “Everyone is determined to get the football program back to where used it to be. This is a steppingstone going in that direction.”
Johnson said he would meet with Guerrero and Associate Athletic Director Bob Field on Monday to “discuss the direction they want to go.” That will include how to handle the current recruiting class until a new coach is hired.
Guerrero met with Sumlin in Houston on Saturday. A day later, Sumlin was no longer under consideration.
UCLA officials had reached out to Golden late last week to see if he was interested in the job. Golden was among five finalists for the UCLA post four years ago and could get the job without an interview this time. However, he and Miami have agreed to a contract extension that runs through the 2019 season.
Mora was fired by the Seahawks after going 5-11 in 2009, his only season in Seattle. He was 26-22 in three seasons with Atlanta (2004-06). His only college coaching experience was as a graduate assistant at Washington in 1984.
Johnson, asked whether he is interested in the UCLA job, said, “I love Los Angeles. I think UCLA is a great place to go to school. Anyone who works in this profession would have interest in coaching UCLA. To answer the question: yes.”
Johnson said he has not yet discussed his interest with UCLA officials. Meanwhile, he will prepare the Bruins for a bowl game.
The 49-31 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game would have cost UCLA its bowl eligibility had the Bruins not already received a waiver from the NCAA.
“A bowl game is the best thing for us,” junior tackle Jeff Baca said after Friday’s game. “It’s a chance to get this bad taste out of our mouths. We can use it as the first step in getting ready for next year.”
UCLA, which lost its last two games, to USC and Oregon, by a combined score of 99-31, will attempt to avoid becoming the first bowl team to finish the season with eight losses.
“We have a chance to prove we belong in the postseason,” freshman safety Tevin McDonald said. “And the seniors get one more game.”
But many Bruins acknowledged they were still numb about losing Neuheisel, which probably will continue when they begin practice for the bowl game.
Said Baca: “To be honest, I don’t think it will sink in until the first day of practice . . . or the second day . . . or the third.”