Friday, October 17, 2014

UCLA Defensive Coordinator Ulbrich On Hot Seat







UCLA's defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich is on the hot seat. His job is on the line because he got way out of line in the second quarter of the Oregon game last Saturday. He embarrassed himself and made his boss, head coach Jim Mora, look bad, like he wasn't in control of his staff.

Ulbrich got into an ugly sideline quarrel with Mora that played out on national TV and has received extensive media coverage. Oregon cruised down the field for an easy 21-yard screen-pass TD that put the Ducks up 15-3. They scored after a timeout when the Bruins were blitzing--the wrong call in that situation. Mora then complained to Ulbrich, who exploded. Then Oregon exploded for several TDs and ran away with the game.

Ulbrich's meltdown was totally unprofessional. It killed the Bruins. Unsettled by the coaches' public fight, the players' heads were taken out of the game. The Ducks went on a TD tear that put the game out of reach. This loss is largely on Ulbrich. His outburst murdered morale. Keeping up with a high-octane team like Oregon is impossible when your players aren't focusing on the game.

Mora was right. Ulbrich's call on that particular play was wrong. So were his calls on many other plays in the Oregon loss. Go back to the previous game, the loss to Utah, and you'll see Bruin defenders constantly in the wrong place. They blew the game in the fourth quarter partly because of Ulbrich's goofs. Those Utah blunders were probably fresh in Mora's mind when he watched the defense flounder in the second quarter of the Oregon game.

The problem is that Ulbrich, who was a 49ers' linebacker when Mora was running the San Francisco defense, is a lousy coordinator. He has little coaching experience, having been in charge of the Bruin linebackers for two years before taking over as defensive coordinator this season, his first time ever doing that job. It shows. His adjustments during games are usually inept. The Bruins are giving up nearly 29 points a game, about five more than last year. Their pass rush total in this pass-happy conference, just seven in six games, is pathetic. So is the run defense, which has been pounded for an average of 250 yards a game in the last two--against high-level PAC 12 competition. The talent is there, but the leadership isn't.
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According to sources close to several Bruin players, that sideline fight at the Rose Bowl is still reverberating in the Bruin locker room. There's tension between the coaches, which is felt by the players. The coaches, say the sources, have been sugar-coating it, trying to show the media that all is well and that there's no hangover from that verbal battle, but the players know different.

That public blow-up was brewing for a while, report the sources, since Mora and Ulbrich have been having disagreements over Ulbrich's coaching for a while. Mora, who's been defensive coordinator for the 49ers, knows good coaching calls when he sees them. He doesn't see them very often in Bruin games these days.

This Mora-Ulbrich problem has been a hot topic in the PAC 12 gossip-network, which is extensive. Come recruiting time, opposing teams are going to use the Mora-Ulbrich fight against UCLA, arguing to high-school stars that Westwood is a bad place for quality defensive players, that they won't get good coaching. It'll be hard for UCLA recruiters to counter that argument.

It's possible that the UCLA defense can improve and put up some solid stats, though that's unlikely with the tough part of the schedule---Stanford, Arizona, USC and Washington--is still ahead. The Cal game this Saturday won't be easy since the Bears have a potent pass offense that will be a chore to corral. Even if the Bruin defense does get better, the consensus will be that Mora took charge of it, so he'll get the credit. If the defense continues down the drain, Ulbrich will get the blame..

Ulbrich has become a liability. He has one foot out the door. When the season is over, most likely his tenure as Bruin assistant will be over too.