Chiccoa: Another Kind of Turning

BRO football columnist Charles Chiccoa reflects more on the impact of the Desert Debacle...

"After we'd proved them wrong
It wasn't like they'd let it go.

If the world don't like us
It'll shakes us
Just like we were
A co-oh-oh-oh-old.

Well they scheme and they scheme
But they always blow it.
They've yet to crash
But they might as well tow it."

"Dashboard"...apologies to Modest Mouse looks like Rick Neuheisel is finally done. (How's that for a flash?). For most of Bruin Nation it must come as a feeling of relief…like having a boil lanced. And, appropriately enough, the scene of the operation was Tucson, the same stadium UCLA was denied a #1 ranking in 1980; the place Rick's Rose Bowl team was upset in ‘83; where the Bruins were butchered, 42-7, in '89; where they lost by 20 in '92; where they lost their sixth straight in ‘94; where an eight-game, undefeated streak was blown apart, 52-14, in ‘05. And now this 48-12, nationally-televised emasculation that made some of us wish for "the slaughter rule."

There's undoubtedly a residue of hope somewhere in Rick's Passion Bucket, but, unfortunately, it's buried under pounds and pounds of hard reality; the regime is dead, but it won't lie down. Rick probably should've fallen on his sword immediately after the Tucson tragicomedy, but he's a romantic fella and still believes he can plug all the holes in this lost cause. Well, forget that.

Let's take a more gimlet-eyed look at this train-wreck-of-an-era. Barring The Great Surprise, Rick's four seasons will be seen as the clowning achievement of the longest Dark Age in Bruins history, which I date from 1999. (You may date it from 1989.)

All the chickens came home to roost in Arizona: the slow starts, little or no adjustments, poor quarterbacking, receiving, line play, third-down conversions both ways, etc., etc. The entire litany from the Football Book of Futility. Worst of all, however, was the usual inadequate preparation. At this point who really cares if the big problem is the Bruins' standard, passive, so-called game plans or lack of execution by the players? At this late date, the largest share of blame absolutely falls on the coaching staff, which is to say the coordinators, which is to say Rick. As we never tire of repeating, teaching players to focus, to keep their poise, to make plays under game-day pressure is the hallmark of good coaching, perhaps the most important part. This takes the sort of steel will that a "player's coach" like Rick will never possess. Lord knows, the Bruins have had some "soft" coaching regimes, but Rick's takes the cake. Combined with his old school, bone-deep conservatism, it's a recipe for exactly what we've seen.

Now if you're a dyed-in-the-Blue loyalist, you might say the larger share of blame falls on the players: They were overrated; They're not that good. To which the rest of us might reply, "In some cases, perhaps so. But they all couldn't be this bad." Just as poor quarterbacking can make the entire offense look bad, poor coaching, particularly from the head coach, can make the entire team look bad.


You recruited these guys, coach. Your last three classes were top 15, and if you think your staff has done an adequate job of developing these players' skills, minimizing their weaknesses and (to use a favorite coaching cliché) putting them in position to succeed, you may be deluded or in CYA mode. You have an experienced fourth-year quarterback, Kevin Prince, who has thus far demonstrated a lack of instincts along with the necessary accuracy to play at this level, never mind the level Norm Chow envisioned. And you have a third-year QB, Richard Brehaut, who's lost valuable reps, during the week and on Saturdays, in which to develop what looks to be superior skills compared to Prince (no great recommendation). Finally, you have a big, naturally talented true freshman, whose redshirt you've been saving, and which you may now have to burn anyway, who is routinely thought of as the Bruins next "savior," God help him. And this is considering just the QB position. Your staff's handling of virtually every other unit has been equally as hamfisted as this.


And then there's Joe Tresey. Other than sounding like your lovable, down-to-earth, TV coach, how has he made a career as a defensive coordinator, for Godsakes? Anyone notice the virtual tunnels Arizona's running backs were gifted with? Not holes, not creases, but tunnels. Tresey, himself, could've made respectable yardage. Seems to me he makes the classic conservative mistake of spreading his defense too thin in the front and too deep in the secondary. Trying to keep from getting beaten long, trying to "keep everything in front of you," failing to concentrate or effectively maneuver his defense based on reasonable down and distance study - in other words failing to commit to something - Tresey winds up stopping nothing. "Death of a Thousand Cuts?" More like Death of a Dozen Cuts, and it's ballgame. I've come to think of this thing as Joe's Grand Canyon Defense, in the sense of wide and deep.

The Bruins used to use a similar approach back in the day vs. those great Oklahoma and Nebraska option teams. Worrying about their flanks, the Bruins would spread their front too wide; and worrying about the run, they conceded too much against that rare pass, particularly play action. UCLA's defenses, though the years, have been consistently beaten on formation. But nothing like this. More than anything, more than physical shortcomings or lack of experience, these players look confused and demoralized because of a lack of competent leadership.

Some fans have suggested the possibility of meddling by Rick, who claims he leaves the defense alone; I tend to believe him. But Bob Toledo, for one, did meddle with Nick Aliotti's secondary three weeks before a huge December game in Miami, you may remember. He ordered more zone coverage for a game in Seattle and it worked out; in Miami, not so much. Not that Edgerrin James & Co. didn't run all over them, and not that the Bruins didn't have all sorts of defensive problems that entire season. (Wonder what Aliotti might have to say on the subject.). Failing any kind of conspiracy theories, we must conclude, as of today, Joe is the single worst defensive coordinator in Bruins history, which is saying a lot.

Anyone who can keep up with, let alone make sense of, Dan Guerrero's statements and clarifications is welcome to their own interpretation of what's in store for Rick. My own guess is that in a week or two we'll be saying, along with Modest Mouse, [He] Was Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. As for us, "we'll all float on, okay."

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