My first impulse would be Sofia Vergara. I think she'd be smart enough to hire great coordinators and then get out of their way. She'd look great in blue and gold, and could you imagine her in a recruit's living room for the in-home visit?
Being realistic (because Ms. Vergara isn't coming, get that through all of your heads), I don't presume to know the entire college football coaching landscape well enough to be able to make a well-informed decision.
But heck, that doesn't seem to be stopping UCLA, does it?
So, really, my take on this might be as good as anyone's, inside or outside of UCLA.
This is the primary thing I don't get about the coaching search (and there are many): UCLA now has $4 million per year, at least, to pay a head coach, and $3 million for his assistants. That ain't no chump change. If UCLA did, in fact, pay its head coach that amount, compared to all the existing salaries in college football, that would make the UCLA head coach the fourth-best paid coach in the country. Well, fifth, if we're now counting the Brinks truck-filled loot Urban Meyer lifted from Ohio State.
Given that, why hasn't UCLA shot a little higher than it seemingly has, or is? Not to discredit Houston's Kevin Sumlin, but he is a fairly unproven coach, and you could make a pretty valid case that he's ridden the coat tails of his once-in-a-lifetime quarterback, Case Keenum. Sumlin is worth, say, about $2 to $3 million per year. With four million bills to throw around, go find someone worthy of it. Why is this the starting level for UCLA's coaching search? I think, actually, the UCLA Athletic Department is suffering a bit from Battered Bruin Syndrome itself. Hey guys, don't you realize that 4 million bucks gives you instant credibility? That gets you in the room, many rooms in fact, so why are you still waiting in the line and not pushing by the bouncer and acting like your name is on the list?
So many of the BROs favor guys like Mississippi State's Dan Mullen or Southern Mississippi's Larry Fedora (It makes you wonder a little if the BROS have some kind of weird fascination with Mississippi?). You're thinking small. Mullen and Fedora are fine young up-and-coming-coaches, but they are still unproven at the high-major level. With four million bones UCLA doesn't have to settle for up-and-comers. Heck, Chris Petersen is barely good enough for $4 million.
I have heard, actually, that there is a certain very influential UCLA donor who has more of this mindset, and has done some things that would make UCLA fans and alumni quite proud. He's the one who took a swing at Urban Meyer, and was actually, figuratively in the room with Meyer until Ohio State's desperation fell prey to Meyer's extortion. This same UCLA donor recently took a swing at one of the most successful, innovative coaches in the game that he knew would be impossible to pry away from his current program. The coach came back with something like a price tag of $8 million – per month. But that's the spirit UCLA needs. More of that. Shoot high with your 4 million bucks.
First off, no NFL guys unless it's Bill Bellichick. Just because they coached in the NFL it doesn't give them credibility if they didn't win in the NFL. You can't take an exception to the rule – like USC getting amazingly lucky with an average NFL coach like Pete Carroll – and take it as a sure-fire method to finding a successful college coach. Jim L. Mora is 31-33 as an NFL head coach. He's never been successful as a head coach on any level. He has to be considered as unproven as a 31-33 college coach. Do you want someone who has, also, never recruited as a college coach? Do you want someone who literally would be repeatedly asking: "So, how do we do this?" Only NFL coaches who have a proven track record of winning should be on the list.
So the search should start with college coaches. UCLA should get its main decision-makers in a meeting room and get out a big white board and an Expo erasable marker and literally just write out a list of the best coaches in the game and see what's up with each.
My first target would have to be Bob Stoops. Yeah, you think I'm crazy, right? Hear me out. He's the third-highest paid coach in the game, at $4.6 million per year, so it's going to cost you. But if you were willing to pay Chris Petersen $4 million you'd certainly think it was reasonable to consider paying Stoops $5 million. Stoops is a guy who has won one national championship, seven Big 12 championships, and is generally accepted as one of the best handful of coaches in the game. He'll probably have a good shot at making the College Football Hall of Fame. It certainly wouldn't be difficult to get those big-monied UCLA donors to pony up some extra cash for him. The dollar signs would be dancing like sugar plums when you imagine how many blue-and-gold butts would be in Rose Bowl seats next fall.
If UCLA wants to make a splash, Stoops would be the equivalent of UCLA sophomore center Josh Smith doing a cannon ball.
The point being – you don't know until you ask. Didn't your parents teach you that when you were young? It's amazing how it holds true in just about every aspect and level of one's life. Why not ask Coach Stoops if he'd be interested? And, heck, ask his out-of-work brother if he'd like to be defensive coordinator. All he can say is no, and you're no worse off. You certainly aren't worse off when the Bob Stoopses of the world turn you down compared to the Chris Petersens or Al Goldens. Twice. Each.*
If Stoops say thanks but no thanks, you still have that competitive sack of cash, and we can move down the list ofaccomplished college coaches instead of that typically UCLA eclectic list made up of unproven up-and-comers, NFL retreads, or over-the-hill rolls-of-the-dice. To digress: Doesn't it seem like UCLA puts together its list of candidates in every one of its college searches (and I'm losing track of how many there have been in recent years) amazingly randomly? If you know a booster you're on it. If you coached at another school when the UCLA chancellor was there you're on the list. If you remind a UCLA administrator of Denzel Washington in "Remember the Titans," you've made the list. If you shot pool with a UCLA janitor you have a good chance of making the list. And the clincher that gets you on UCLA's list automatically: If you have some connection to Terry Donahue. You might have only dated Donahue's daughter in high school, but don't think, young man, you won't be able to leverage that into getting an interview.
Next up, perhaps Bo Pelini, Mike Gundy, Bret Bielema, Mark Dantonio, or fill in your own name of a coach who has proven he can be successful at a BCS conference. These are all guys that would be getting a pay raise at $4 million per year. Nebraska's Pelini might be getting tired of dealing with Tom Osborne. Oklahoma State's Gundy is about the hottest he's ever going to be right now. Wisconsin's Bielema might have an aversion to snow and cheese and like beaches and margaritas. Michigan State's Dantonio might hate the color green.
Again, you never know until you ask. It takes probably one phone call to each of their respective agents. "We're going to be straight with you, so don't jerk us around and waste our time. You interested in $4 million per year, living in L.A. and coaching at a program with still the best home uniforms in college football? Oh, and by the way, have you met Sofia Vergara?"
You know, maybe those calls have been made. There might actually be some things happening behind the scenes at UCLA that haven't leaked out.
So, moving on, if you actually move through the list of accomplished coaches at already big-time programs, and still no takers, then you can move on to the next tier, which would be guys who are still proven to be winners at their level, and for whom $4 million per year is still a salary upgrade, like TCU's Gary Patterson or Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, or Baylor's Art Briles.
I know I'm missing many very good potential candidates in there, but you get the drift. Then, if you've made it through these two tiers, you can then lower your sights with the Goldens or the Mullenses.
But that's how that white board in the meeting room should work when you have $4 million. Heck, I've heard that, for the right name, that figure might not have a ceiling. That's what UCLA has to wheel and deal with. It's like you have more than enough money to get your own private plane but for some reason you choose to fly commercial, and Southwest. If some UCLA powers-that-be are flying around in a private plane trying to entice some coaches to come to UCLA, make sure the coach you're talking to is on the level and pay grade of flying in a private plane. Here's a good vetting technique: Ask your prospective candidate if he's ever flown in a private plane before he steps into yours.
It's not really Battered Bruin Syndrome, but something else. It's Bruin Inferiority Complex. Come on, guys, you have $4 million or more to offer. That will make you one of the top-five paying programs in the country. It puts you in the stratosphere alongside Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma and LSU – and above USC. You're big time now.
The coaching search should come from that mindset. Your band plays the theme song from the sitcom The Jeffersons, "Moving on Up." Finally, please, you have the money to move up to that de-luxe apartment in the sky—yy. Act like it.
Editor's Note: Also, the smartest among you might have realized that this piece was written just as an excuse to get Bob Stoops' picture on the BRO front page.