Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why UCLA Can't Find a Football Coach

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has knocked on many doors trying to fill the vacant football coaching post. Boise State's Chris Petersen said no--again. Other prominent options--Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Miami's Al Golden didn't pan out.


How come prominent coaches aren't jumping at this job--a prestigious position at a big-time university?  Money has been a problem in the past, but not this time. The pot has been sweetened with a new batch of TV money, in addition to heftier booster contributions. So what's the problem?

Very simple. Too many negatives.

First of all, Rick Neuheisel didn't exactly leave a championship team behind. Fired coaches never do. So the new coach would inherit a program that has been chugging along in first gear for years, one badly in need of a major overhaul, one featuring some good players but no great players, one without a top-notch veteran at quarterback. What's so appealing about undertaking a massive rebuilding job, one that may take at least two years, in the uncomfortable heat of that huge LA spotlight? The coach's prestige would definitely take a beating for quite a while.

Meanwhile, the Pac 12 takes giant steps forward, with some hot new coaches--Washington State's Mike Leach and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez--joining the charge led by USC's Lane Kiffin and Oregon's Chip Kelly. In such fast company, it would be very easy for UCLA, with a few wrong moves, to get left in the dust. A candidate has to be thinking: "Is this something I really want to step into?"

Another big headache for the new coach is coping with revitalized USC. Challenging the Trojans will be as tough as it was in the heyday of Pete Carroll. So recruiting top local talent won't be easy. Neither will beating SC on the field. Neuheisel couldn't do it and look what happened to him.

Bucking USC isn't the only recruiting hassle that makes candidates think twice about the UCLA job. Young kids savor flashy, state-of-the-art faciliities, the kind that Oregon has boasted for years, that the University of California's Berkeley campus will offer next season. The Bruin facilities aren't awful, but they're nothing special either, certainly nothing that recruiters can use as a lure.

Then there's the age-old hurdle of UCLA's high academic standards. Many blue-chip athletes who are easily admitted to schools like Boise State and Houston have no chance of getting into UCLA. It's an extra and very important obstacle that some coaches just don't want to face.

Guerrero has only himself to blame for this mess. He's unprepared. What's happening now feels very last-minute. He should have seen this coming--as early as the diastrous Arizona game. Everybody else certainly did. An athletic director who's really on top of things would have had the hire-a-coach wheels quietly in motion in mid-season, when Neuheisel was clearly hanging by a thread.

What's funny is that there are plenty of coaches who would kill for this job--capable, creative guys who could turn this program around. But they're not big names. So what? Stanford found Jim Harbaugh buried in the University of San Diego. Oregon's Chip Kelly was an offensive coordinator at New Hampshire when he was discovered by Mike Bellotti. Good candidates are out there. Guerrero just has to do his homework and find them.

Right now Guerrero is looking at Jim Mora Jr., a failed NFL coach. Not a wow! or sexy choice, but USC went in that direction about a decade ago, with Pete Carroll, and that turned out OK. At this point Guerrero doesn't have much choice. He's running out of options.