Walker to coach Bruins in bowl game
Asked how his job had changed after being named interim coach of the UCLA football team Tuesday, DeWayne Walker had a one-word answer:
Walker, the Bruins’ defensive coordinator the last two seasons, will guide UCLA against Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 22. He also will continue to oversee recruiting as coaches, in the wake of Karl Dorrell’s firing Monday, try to hold together what is expected to be a highly ranked 2008 class.
Dorrell was given the option of coaching the Bruins through the bowl game but declined Tuesday morning in “the best interest of the program.” That left the team in Walker’s control.
“I’m flattered, but right now our main focus is to continue recruiting and prep this team for this bowl game,” Walker said during an afternoon conference call.
Walker has faced similar scenarios as part of coaching staffs at California and with the NFL’s New England Patriots and New York Giants when the head coach was fired. “I learned to take these situations one day at a time,” he said.
Calming the 23 high school seniors who have given UCLA commitments is a top priority. Walker’s son, Kevan, a wide receiver from Arcadia High, is part of that group.
“I am a parent too in this deal, and sure there are concerns,” Walker said. “The kids who committed to us don’t have a head coach right now. But they are good kids from good families and they have been patient with us. They’re going to hang with us through this process.”
The coming weeks could be seen as an audition for Walker, who acknowledged his interest in filling the head coaching post on a permanent basis.
“I’d be lying if I said otherwise,” Walker said. “But again, the main concern is to try to stay on top of this recruiting and collectively get ready to win a game.”
Walker says he has spoken about the top job with UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, but added, “I wouldn’t call it an interview.”
Washington State has also made contact with Walker’s representatives and he was expected to interview for the Cougars’ head coach vacancy.
Meanwhile, Boise State’s Chris Petersen, the coach sources close to the UCLA athletic program have said was at the top of Guerrero’s wish list, was in Los Angeles and made a recruiting stop at University High, which is about three miles from UCLA’s Westwood campus.
He again said that he had no interest in leading the Bruins football team.
“If I’m at your press conference four days from now, throw tomatoes at me,” he added. “I’m not a candidate. It’s not a good fit for me.”
Petersen said UCLA was “a great place. Somebody is going to do well there.”
Walker will focus on helping the Bruins close out this year on a positive note in a rematch against Brigham Young, which lost to UCLA, 27-17, on Sept. 8. He said he would meet with UCLA players this morning. The Bruins will practice Saturday and Sunday, then take four days off for finals. They will resume practice Dec. 14.
As for the division of coaching responsibilities, Walker said he would “keep a hand” in the defense while overseeing the whole team and leaning on coordinator Jay Norvell and the other assistants on offense.
“Fortunately I have had a chance to coach with good coaches,” Walker said. “Obviously it is going to be a challenge, but at the end of the day we’ll figure it out right.”
Times staff writer Mike Terry contributed to this report.
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