Wednesday, December 7, 2011

State of the Bruin: How to Fix UCLA Football

I was all set to write about how happy I was that Rick Neuheisel was fired as UCLA football coach. As great a guy as he is, he struggled to live up to his promising debut win and couldn't recruit or develop prime talent away from USC. He ran off his top two assistants and installed a pistol offense that lacked the personnel to pull it off.

But I realized something. This isn't about Neuheisel. It's about a program that hasn't recovered since they gave Edgerrin James his breakout performance in that famous shootout with Miami in 1998 that cost them a shot at the BCS title.

Since 1998, the Bruins have gone 80-78 and have only finished in the Top 3 of the Pac-10/12 once. If you take away the year they were nationally ranked and went 10-2 in 2005, that record looks a lot worse. I can count the top NFL products on two hands and none of them are quarterbacks. Besides Drew Olson in 2005, no QB has even been decent since Cade McNown went to the Heisman ceremony in 1998.

1998 was also the last year they beat USC. Since then, it's been as one-sided as it's ever been, save for a fluky win in 2006. The 50-0 beatdown this year summed up that USC has an iron fist on the LA football scene. Even when USC had guys like Chris Claiborne and Keyshawn Johnson, UCLA still had comparable talent and found ways to win the only game that mattered.

Basically since I was a freshman in high school, UCLA has been either irrelevant or average. I remember that 20-game winning streak in 1997 and 1998 fondly but that's a distant memory to folks now. I'm not saying UCLA needs to be elite but can decently competitive be a standard worth holding? Here's my advice to the athletic department.

1. Hire somebody outside of the UCLA family. Open the pocketbooks and find a coach who'll utilize the players he has and coach them up to be better. I don't know who that is but now isn't the time to be safe. It's time to re-establish the pedigree with a new breed instead of in-house options.

2. Find a Quarterback. Brett Hundley was the QB of the future for the pistol. But with Neuheisel gone and a new offense in place, I don't know if the new administration will trust him (why I don't know). Hundley appears to be an answer and considering UCLA hasn't started a Black QB since 2007, it's worth a shot. Yet it's a shot that should inspire them to find other top notch QBs because the last few years has been embarrassing.

3. Recruit the inner cities. This is a problem because of UCLA's strict academic standards. They usually end up with good nice students who don't always play well on the field. But it's no surprise that UCLA's best players include Johnathan Franklin (Dorsey), Datone Jones (Compton) as well as kids from Orange County or the San Fernando Valley.

Having covered that area for 5 years, UCLA is letting prime talent slip away instead of reach out to them. It's similar to what UCLA basketball has done - poorly evaluate local talent and watch them leave out of state to thrive elsewhere.

In 2008-09, UCLA had one of the top recruiting classes in the country. It hasn't panned out well three years in. Meanwhile USC's class from that year has already seen guys thrive. They, Oregon and Washington are scouting the inner cities for prime talent and luring them away to watch them thrive. It's time UCLA recruits harder - something that was a hallmark of the Karl Dorrell era.

4. Open up the offense. USC and Stanford are thriving in a basic, pro-style offense. Oregon is thriving in a spread. UCLA has wasted 4-5 years of great WR talent not utilizing them. We're in an era of QB's throwing the ball like never before and it's time UCLA joins the 21st century with some offensive balance. Where have you gone Danny Farmar, J.J. Stokes and Brian Poli-Dixon?

Ultimately, we need to give recruits a reason to come to UCLA. Right now, they have none. They see UCLA as an inferior little brother who has a Napoleon complex due to past glory. It's time to stop being entitled and realize that you need to fight to maintain tradition instead of living off it with false expectations.

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