UCLA, and defending the indefensible: Playing Devil’s Advocate for Dan Guerrero


Excuse the following rant, which is somewhat lacking in cohesiveness, but I feel makes some very strong arguments for the opposition. If you cannot tell, I had two cups of coffee at 2 a.m. and needed something to write about to compensate for a slooooow UCLA news days. Please enjoy, somehow. 

The past few years have been pretty terrible for UCLA sports as a whole. While our football team hasn’t been any good since Karl Dorrell led UCLA to a 10-2 record (really, his only good season at UCLA), our basketball team is coming off four disappointing years. While it’s a must to acknowledge our other sports, and how well they’re doing, we must look at it from an outsider’s perspective, in that football and basketball are the major areas of concern.

Now, before I continue, this must be said: I am on the “Fire Dan Guerrero” boat just as much as you, my beloved reader, are. Ten years of bad football and all but four years of good basketball in the past decade is enough of a black mark on anyone’s record. I firmly stand in the corner of “seriously, get rid of that guy” despite what some may tell you.

But with Guerrero having absolutely no supporters, the opposite argument must be made for the sake of having two sides. UCLA preaches knowing an argument, and its counterargument. Close-minded individuals (which mostly comprise a certain community) have been further brainwashed by the rhetoric as it pertains to Guerrero, refusing to see the counterargument and committing every psychological bias that you learn about in Psychology 10 at UCLA. (Fundamental Attribution bias, Confirmation bias, etc.) Being objective is necessary, unless you’re a sadistic idiot.

First, let’s start out with football, because this has easily been Guerrero’s weakness. The first hire, Karl Dorrell, can be considered trash. His first two years as coach were mediocre at best and his sole “good year” was one that was subtly disastrous (losing embarrassingly to good teams but taking care of really bad teams, which culminated in a 66-19 loss to U$C).

Of course, we move on from the Dorrell era to the Rick Neuheisel era. At the time, Neuheisel’s hiring was hailed as something of a saving grace, with Bruin fans and alum — and, emphasis on “alum” — pushed this hire to the max, celebrating gleefully with a love fest beyond imaginable. Yes, the dude was a great Bruin, but my damn, did this dude have some real red flags coming in to UCLA. Of course, this didn’t matter to some, who gave Neuheisel a ton of leeway, oftentimes preemptive defending of a poor Neuheisel season, giving “projections” and “expecations” of a 4-8 record; however, the year prior, many of those same “fans and alum” were “expecting” between eight and 10 wins for Dorrell. The excuse, of course, was that Neuheisel was a new coach and should be given lower expectations because of a transition year. (Note: Many of those same “fans and alum” “expect” a 9-win season for new coach Jim Mora, so …)

Welp, this hire obviously flamed out, though many vocal members — though it’s very possible this group was in the minority — thought he lived up to expectations for the first two years, calling people who were skeptical “concern trolls.” Even further, some had even said that it would take Neuheisel “at least two years” after his 7-6 season in 2009 to put the pieces together.

(It should be noted that links to that community are relevant, because their trashy lexicon usually spills onto innocent Bruin fans.)

Of course, those same fans placed some legitimate blame on Guerrero for not firing Neuheisel fast enough, and midway through the 2011 season. Because firing coaches midway through a season is definitely always a good thing, apparently.

So, if we place any blame on Neuheisel’s hire — and the time of his firing — it’s on Bruin alum who had nostalgia trips and suffer from indecision and inability to commit to things they say.

Of course, there’s the questionable hire of Jim Mora, our current coach. While we have yet to see the results, it should be noted that Guerrero did a pretty bad job of chasing coaches by listening to certain alums and wasting time chasing guys like Chris Petersen — seriously, Chris Petersen; that dude wouldn’t leave Boise State if you offered him autonomy over a small nation-state — and Al Golden (who sticks with Miami through serious NCAA violations). Jim Mora, of course, approached Dan Guerrero — not the other way around — and hustled for the job after spending a year working out with the Washington Huskies.

If Mora pans out and UCLA is miraculously a national force, this will have been a ballsy and worthwhile hire, and that much, you cannot deny Guerrero. (Though some will discredit Guerrero for not having found him himself. See: Confirmation bias.)

Of course, the basketball side of things is quite a mess. Guerrero did many fans a favor by canning Steve Lavin, a coach who recruited well but coached like crap, making it past the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament just once in his entire career and winning the Pac-12 once. Ben Howland, of course, wiggled his way into the job and gave UCLA two forgettable — but not “WOW, WTF IS THIS” — seasons before tearing off three straight Final Fours, something many Howland fans will say is enough to earn him a chance to coach through his struggles.

And struggles they were, with Howland missing the tournament half the time since the Final Four run — with Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook — commenced in 2008.

Of course, some UCLA “alums and fans” were calling for yet another halfway-through-the-season coaching fire, despite Howland being on the verge of reigning in what is now the second-best recruiting class in the nation — and possibly first, if UCLA lands Savon Goodman, a 4-star swingman who is ESPNU’s 100th ranked recruit.

The anger was justified, in both cases of Mora’s hiring and Howland’s firing. Guerrero should have conducted the 2011 coaching search more effectively and much, much smarter, while understanding that, from an outsider’s perspective — our feelings and beliefs of UCLA be damned — UCLA is not a top destination for football. Apparently, Guerrero failed to recognize future difficulties while not understanding what coaches might be worth expending energy on.

As for Howland: It’s a little tough to hire a guy who went to three straight Final Fours and five out of six times went past the first round of the tournament (which is a supplemental fact). Fire Howland, and you lose a historically awesome class that has been in the works for years (Shabazz Muhammad’s recruitment has been taking place nearly all four years of his high school career). At the same time, hearing Guerrero put his entire basket in Howland during his statement post the infamous S.I. article was uncomfortable, to say the least. Had it been my choice of words, I would have said, “Ben Howland is going to be very heavily assessed through this next season; at this point, I cannot commit to anything past the 2012-13 basketball season.” Of course, I’m just a poor UCLA blogger, so what do I know?

If we were being objective, and counting strikes, this might be the ideal “defining year” for Guerrero. This year, performance and progress have to be made in order for Guerrero to keep his job. A failed basketball and football season would doom the dude. Conversely, successful seasons might buy him an extra year or two to see if this success has any legs to run on.

Everything hinges on this upcoming year for Guerrero. Convenient. It’s also his “contract year.”