Why UCLA has not won a major championship recently (cont.)
The UCLA football program had a series of questionable hires that all had promise (when do they not?), that ultimately ended up with underwhelming results. UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guererro was hired in 2002 and at the end of that calendar year, he had to make his first major decision regarding the football program after the Bruins ended that season 8-5 under Bob Toledo.
UCLA was not going in the direction they were expected to (aided by internal turmoil in the program) and jettisoned Toledo for Karl Dorrell, a coach that held several assistant positions in college and the NFL, but never held a head coaching gig. That was the first red flag. If UCLA wants to compete nationally, they need to hire head coaches that have proven they can assemble an elite program and sustain success. But there is also one side caveat: they need to hire coaches without baggage, which I will get into in a while. Dorrell was good for the attitude of the program, but he did not bring success.
After five seasons, Dorrell amassed a 35-28 record and a 1-4 bowl record without a Pac-12 championship. He was relieved of his duties in 2007 and replaced with Rick Neuheisel, which seemed like a good hire at the time. Unfortunately, his stint at UCLA was also underwhelming, but even more so as he went a 21-30 record in four seasons. The problem with Neuheisel is that he could not settle on an offensive scheme. His inability to lay a concrete foundation doomed him as he changed his gameplan prior to each season. It did not work.
This led to his firing which brought in Jim Mora.
Mora looked like he would be the coach to finally take UCLA to the next level. In his first three seasons, he recorded 29 wins and was knocking on the door of the Pac-12 Championship every year. As Bruins fans clung to the hope that UCLA was “almost there” with Mora, “almost” never came and it soon became apparent that he did not have the coaching chops to raise UCLA’s profile.
His last three seasons as head coach differed from his first three as he could only muster up, 8, 4 and 6 wins. After six seasons, Mora was fired. He could recruit, but he could not put together a scheme that would make UCLA successful, which is exactly what damned his two immediate predecessors. Long story short, Mora did not evolve. His scheme was predictable and unwavering. It quickly became his undoing.
After nearly two decades of mediocrity, the UCLA athletic department finally woke up and put forth the effort to try and land a top-tier coach. It worked. Chip Kelly was the most sought after offensive mind in college football and UCLA got him. This showed that the athletic department was serious about winning. They puffed out their chest and spent the money needed to obtain this proven coach.
Though his first year ended with a disenchanting 3-9 record, one has to understand that Kelly is building this program from the ground up. He has made adjustments to the roster, brought in players that fit his scheme, is constantly tinkering with his gameplan, and is trying to get better with recruiting. What he is doing is laying the foundation for the future. It may be frustrating knowing that it will take a while to see results, but it will be fulfilling when the wins start rolling in. That seems like a possibility, especially from what we witnessed in 2018 as Kelly’s team made major improvements from the beginning of the season to the end.