Here is the question and answer session athletic director Dan Guerrero held with reporters Tuesday afternoon inside the UCLA athletics office...
It’s been an interesting time here at UCLA over the last few months. Lot of great things that are happening with the program, with Wasserman and Ostin being built. Certainly the gymnastics team winning the conference championship is huge. The women’s basketball team’s success is obviously very important to the university, very important to the program. We had a very rough men’s basketball season, as you well know. And so we’re still dealing with the aftermath of that. As we continue to move forward. I know that, as Josh indicated, it’s probably going to consume 90 percent if not 95 or 98 percent of this conversation. With that, I’ll just open it up to the floor.
Whose idea was it for Steve Alford to return his extension?
He actually approached us on that. We met several times subsequent to the end of the season. We discussed the entire waterfront with the program. As we talked about various things that we had to do to make the program more successful next year, this was one of the byproducts, one of the results of that conversation.
When he talks about earning his extension back in his letter, is there a chance that happens pending what happens this upcoming season?
The decision itself to come to me and say that this was something he wanted to do was not an insignificant decision by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t know if it’s unprecedented, but it probably hasn’t happened a lot. In terms of his commitment to the program, by making that decision, he was basically saying, ‘I’m committed to this program, and I’m committed to making this program successful. And would like to be able to earn that year back.’ To me, that sends a big message. That sends a big message to not only me, but to the fanbase. That, you know what, this year wasn’t acceptable. And everyone needs to get better.
There was a petition circling, there were the banners flying overhead. Did that have any pressure in terms of Steve making this decision?
I don’t know if that had any pressure. Certainly, it was very clear that the fanbase was not happy with the season. There was major disappointment with the season. But it wasn’t just with the fanbase. There was disappointment all the way around. I was disappointed. Steve was disappointed. The coaches were disappointed. The players were disappointed. There was disappointment that pretty much went across the board. When you have a season like this, a subpar season, which is clearly not what you set out to do at the beginning of the year — we finished 10th in the conference and didn’t go to postseason play. That’s not what we’re all about. We want to be competing for championships. Really, the meetings that we had were focused on what it is we needed to do in order to move forward. Was there sort of a push from the fanbase? I wouldn’t necessarily say that. But I do know that, across the board, people were not pleased with the season that we had — including us.
Were you surprised, not necessarily by the level of frustration from fans, but how demonstrative they were? Especially with the planes and the banners?
UCLA fans are passionate. They all want the same thing that we want. Certainly, the mechanism by which they conveyed their displeasure is a little bit different. It had never been done that way in the past. It’s a byproduct of where we are in today’s society, with social media, the ability through Facebook or Twitter, or through various websites or things of that nature. To galvanize, if you will, is perhaps much more convenient, much easier than it’s ever been before. They took that opportunity to do that. They took those platforms to do that. It’s not surprising. Honestly, I wish that they hadn’t done that, in that I would rather have those individuals, down the road, spend their money on supporting this program, buying season tickets. Maybe donating to the basketball program, than buying planes with banners. Now, bottom line is, we have to earn their trust back. You do that by putting a great product on the floor, and winning.
The difficulty of running an athletic department is you have to balance a lot of different constituencies. Should fans have any input on personnel?
First of all, you need to listen to your fans. Anyone worth their salt are going to listen to their fans. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you always agree with them. But you hit the nail on the head. When you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, when you’re the chancellor of one of the world’s great universities, or when you’re the athletic director of a Power 5 athletic program — or maybe any other program — you’re going to be subject to criticism. Because you do have a lot of stakeholders that you have to, not necessarily appease, but certainly there are a lot of stakeholders out there that either want something from you, expect something from you, and or the program.
It’s no different you’re talking about your faculty. You’re talking about the staff on a college campus. You’re talking about your own staff. The coaches. The student-athletes. Their parents. The media. The Pac-12. The NCAA. Even the Regents of the University of California. They’re all stakeholders that expect or want something from this program. And then of course, you have your season-ticket holders, you have your alums, you have your fans, just in a general sense. Everyone really has a stake in what it is that you do at your university.
So when you make decisions, you’re not always going to appease everyone across the board. You’d love to. And certainly, when you talk about everyone in the UCLA family, whether there’s a polarization that exists or not, the bottom line is that everyone loves UCLA. And you would want that to be the common denominator — even if people don’t always agree with a decision that’s made.
What would you say to the fans that are still calling for Steve Alford to be fired?
I believe that those that want a coaching change are not going to be happy no matter what I say. I believe that others who may be disappointed in the season will understand what UCLA’s all about. We’re not all about a coaching carousel every two or three years. We’re about building a program and doing our best to build our program the right way. There are very few coaches around the country that, in their first two years, at any place, will go to two Sweet 16s. You would hope that we would’ve been able to build on that. And we didn’t. We had a subpar year. There’s no question about that.
But that was one year. We have experience coming back. We have a really good recruiting class coming in that this coaching staff recruited. Those student-athletes want to come to UCLA, and they want to play for this coaching staff. We have another class that is shaping up to be a very good class in the subsequent year. These individuals want to play for this coaching staff. That being said, we didn’t get it done this year. There’s no question about that. And that’s not acceptable. So instead of saying, ‘We need to change the coach now,’ let’s work together to help this coaching staff give us what we all want. That’s where we are.
I couldn’t tell you exactly where everyone’s going to be. My hope is that some Bruin fans out there that are on the fence will get that, and they’ll say, ‘You know what, you’re right. That isn’t what UCLA’s all about.’
Case in point: We just won in gymnastics, the Pac-12 gymnastics meet. A person falls off the beam. They learn from that experience. You evaluate why that happened. And you get them right back up on that beam so they can compete again. You’ve got a closer at a baseball game that blows a save. You sit down with the coaches, you evaluate why that happened, and maybe a different approach on how you deal with it the next time you get out there. But that coach puts that closer out there again the next time. It’s the same thing here. We didn’t have the kind of year that we needed to have or that we wanted to have. We’ve got to figure out why that happened. And you put that coaching staff and that team back out there, and you work to be better.
You mentioned wanting to avoid the coaching carousel, and what you said at the time with the contract and the buyout is you want a strong commitment on both sides. Do you have any regrets about that deal?
No I don’t. When you’re hiring coaches in this day and age, especially power-five conferences, the expectations are extremely, extremely high. I mean, you can see that. Look at what we’re experiences right now with the dissension and the dissatisfaction from our fanbase. So you need to be able to provide a coach with the security and the opportunity to be able to say, ‘OK, I’m going to build this program.’ And you work with them to get that done. Now, if you have more than one sub-par season, that’s a whole different discussion. But you’re seeing across the country that these kinds of contracts are the kinds of contracts that are being written in many other universities.
Is there another instance of that type of buyout? At the time, I think it was, if not unprecedented, then at least very rare to have that size of a buyout on both sides.
I don’t know. I don’t know about other contracts.
If Steve had two subpar seasons in a row, is that when you would reevaluate his status here?
We evaluate every program after every season. And that will be no different next year.
How do you gauge what’s an acceptable or a successful season next year?
Well, when you look at your 25 sports across the board, every one of our sports is competing for championships. That’s the expectation. And sometimes you fall short, and sometimes you’re successful. And when I say competing for championships, you want to be able to compete for a Pac-12 championship, because if you do that, then you’ll get a pretty darn good seed in the NCAA tournament, and that gives you a better opportunity to advance. Now, there’s no guarantees of that. Look at this tournament. I mean gosh, high seeds are being knocked off. A lot of it has to do with matchups and how you play on one particular day. A single-elimination tournament, anything can happen. But our goals across the board in all of our sports is to try to compete for national championship every year. Excuse me, conference championships every year, because that sets the table for moving on.
Has this situation been one of the most, if not the most, challenging in your tenure as athletic director? How would you rank it?
[Laughs] That’s a good question. It’s the most challenging because it’s the one I’m dealing with now. When you sit it the chair of a program of the stature of a UCLA, where the expectations are extremely high, and there’s an old adage around athletic-director circles, that athletic directors are only tolerated, never celebrated. And there’s a lot to that in a lot of ways. And that’s a good thing, because it should be about coaches, it should be about the student-athletes, it should be about the university. But invariably, when you’re sitting in a chair like this, you’re going to be a lightning rod for criticism, because when you make decisions, not everyone’s going to agree with them. And sometimes you make great decisions, and sometimes you make decisions that fall short of your expectation. But then you move on. That gets back to having core values and core philosophies that are consistent with the mission of the university. And that’s important. When you have core values based on integrity, balance between athletic excellence and academic achievement, when you’re committed to student-athlete welfare and diversity and equity and all those kinds of things, when you’re fiscally responsible. If you make decisions based on those factors, then you can live with the bad ones to the extent that you don’t keep making them over and over and over again. Because you’re doing it for the right reasons and you’re doing it to be the best — you’re doing it for the right reasons so that this program can be the best program that it can be for the university. And so, yeah, you can’t have thin skin and sit in this position. These positions are not for the faint at heart.
Do you anticipate any changes within the basketball coaching staff other than at the top?
I really don’t. In fact, Steve was very adamant about retaining his existing coaches. He believes that these are the individuals that can help us get to where we need to get, and so there won’t be any changes.
A lot’s been made of the recruiting class coming in, what makes this situation different from what turned out to be Ben’s last year, and he had a lot of top guys coming in too?
Well one of the toughest things that Steve had to do when he first came in here was re-recruit the returners from that class, and that was pretty unique. There was a chance that we could’ve lost a lot of players from that class. And Steve came in with his coaching staff and kept them here, and obviously that was a class, a very talented class, that wound up going to a Sweet 16. But probably the biggest thing he did from the outset was make certain that those guys stayed.
Expenditures on recruiting and on travel for the players to go to games and for coaches, how do you feel those compare with schools that are similar across the nation?
From a recruitment standpoint, we really don’t put a whole lot of restrictions on our coaches in terms of who they should recruit or where they should recruit, and that’s pretty much across the board. Our recruiting philosophies are generally to try to recruit the very best you can locally and in Southern California, because if you’re successful, you immediately have a fanbase and a support base that will come and see games. Then you go throughout the entire state, you go regionally, you go nationally if you need to. And certainly if you’re UCLA, we have an opportunity pretty much across the board, not in every case, but pretty much across the board that if you want to offer an official visit to someone, they’re going to want to come and visit UCLA. So you’ll always have a chance with young men or young women to at least get that visit. And then even internationally. If we have to look internationally, our coaches know that they can do that. And you look across the board at many of our sports, and we have rosters that have international players. So from that perspective, it’s about getting the best talent that you can. But the caveat that comes into play there is it’s not just getting the best talent, it’s getting the best fit. Because you can recruit a lot of talent but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be able to come to UCLA. And that’s different than a lot of other schools that you mentioned.
Are there any restrictions on Steve or on Jim, if they need, to charter somewhere in the country to go see a recruit?
We don’t pay for coaches to charter planes. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have the opportunity to charter planes. And that’s done through our development office. It’s external from expenditures that are occurred by the university.
Speaking of development, how close are the Ostin Center and the Wasserman Center to being fully funded?
We’re probably about $10 million apart from reaching our goal in both of the projects. We have a lot of naming-right opportunities that are still available in both of them. We’re trending very well. We’re moving forward. We’re doing a very nice job. Our fans have really stepped up in a big way to support both of those initiatives. We’re still on track to be completed next year, either in the summer or the fall. And those will be big steps, big improvements for both programs.
What is the goal for both those buildings?
It’s still the same.
Budget and time?
Yeah. Everything’s tracking extremely well.
Basketball attendance has decreased a little bit -- do you see that as a concerning trend or an anomaly?
It’s a national trend. When you look at basketball attendance across the board throughout the country it’s going down. With that being said, it’s going down at UCLA but there are a lot of factors for it. We may be selling a lot of tickets, but we might not be getting a lot of fans in the seats. A lot of it has to do with an opponent you may be playing, maybe it has to do with game start times. Midweek games at 6 o’clock or 9 o’clock are not conducive to getting a lot of fans here. You’ve got the traffic dynamic that comes into play. In Los Angeles you’ve got to be relevant for people to go to your games. I’m not just talking about UCLA basketball or UCLA football -- I’m talking about Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers, and everyone else. The Rams are going to find that out. You have to be relevant. When you’re winning and when you’re doing well, the fans will come. And when you’re not, you will have a core group of unconditional fans that will support you and will come to those games whether you win or lose, but you’ll lose a segment of that fan base that will opt to go somewhere else or spend their money some place else.
Jim Mora had been disappointed with some of the start times and some of the days they played last year, Thursday games, and in basketball there were some games last season that made it difficult in traffic. Do you have any ways you can influence when games start and make it more favorable?
Believe me, I’ve tried every bit of influence I could possibly have. A lot of it -- well, all of it -- has to do with your media contract. Certainly the displeasure and concerns that have been raised by my colleagues have been shared with the Pac-12 and they understand. We are committed as a conference to being good media partners because they give us exposure They are very good to us in a general sense, but there were trade-offs that were made. When you have to play tow midweek games every three years in football, that’s probably harder for a UCLA and a USC than others in our conference simply because we’re in Los Angeles. It’s real tough to get to the Rose Bowl in the afternoon like we had to do this year against Cal. We suffered big time at the gate. That was a game that probably could have drawn 80,000 people. I can’t remember what the number was -- 60,000 or 65,000 -- that’s a big setback financially.
There was one time last season when Jim was upset he had to stand in the sun during a game. Is there any way to change that moving forward?
We’re not changing our sideline. There have been a lot of championships won with teams standing in the sun, believe me.
The contract apparel with adidas is up next year. Where are in negotiations with that and what are you looking for in the next deal?
We’re in the process of talking to them right now. We have an exclusive negotiating period with them now that ends at the end of this month. At that time, we can hit the streets if that’s something we desire. Adidas has been a great partner with us and provided us with quality shoes, quality apparel, and we’ve been very pleased with that relationship. We’ll continue to have those negotiations and if we don’t consummate anything by the end of this month, we’ll consider other opportunities. But right now we’re laser focused on talking to them.
Is that deal going to be focused on financial figures and the amount, or are there other factors in terms of relationships with the other apparel companies?
There are a number of factors. Certainly the net dollars is one thing and the allotment of equipment is another thing. You alos need to look at innovation -- what are they doing from an innovative standpoint that would help our student-athletes. You’re looking at marketing issues and branding issues, you’re looking at retail and how that affects the rest of the campus and how it benefits the brand of the university. And then there are a lot of other ancillary things -- certainly you’re looking at services provided. What can they provide that is unique to UCLA that might differ from some of the other institutions that some of these other apparels might have relationships with. There are a number of things that come into play besides just dollars and shoes.
With all of those factors, what kind of research have you done to compare the possibilities?
We’ve actually engaged with a number of entities in terms of looking at other universities and talking to colleagues. We’ve done a lot of focus groups with our own coaches and our student-athletes to find out what their perspectives are, both with our current provider and what may be possible with others. We’ve done our due diligence and we’re in a good spot. We anticipate that we’ll get a really, really nice deal for our program.
A couple of other programs have switched away from adidas recently. Does it matter more that UCLA is now like the flagship school for adidas?
That’s a good question. The relationship with adidas is unique that it has not cast the net broadly. They have not signed as many universities as they could. They like the exclusivity of being affiliates with a smaller number of schools. But as you see and people are evaluating the various options, there has been a change in the landscape in terms of who is going with who. There is no question that there are three major players now in this space. And certainly as you look to position yourself with some of your competition, you need to be strategic as well with how that might benefit your own program.
This is looking ahead, but your contract expires at the end of 2019. Have you given much thought to your future with the program, how long you want to stay and how much you want to accomplish?
Well, the reason why my contract expires at the end of 2019 is that it’s synonymous with the end of the $4.2 billion centennial campaign and I pledged to move this program forward such that we would accomplish the objective of raising the $265 or $270 million that is our charge towards that initiative. I believe we’re going to surpass that, which is something I would really like to do. Certainly there are a number of things we have planned that are important to me -- completing the two facilities; the next project is the academic center that we would like to build. We haven’t hit the streets with that yet but that’s what we would like to do next. When you think about the things we’ve done from a facilities standpoint, that’s half a billion dollars that we have accomplished in the last several years, that would include Pauley and our relationship with the Rose Bowl project. The academic center is a missing piece and that’s next on the agenda.
Does that mean you intend to stay through 2019 or beyond that to see those completed?
You just never know. I’ve got a contract through 2019. I may choose to step down earlier than that or I may decide that this is something I still want to do. It’s all speculation at this point. I do know I’m focused on trying to win championships and doing what I can for our student-athletes to accomplish their goals, objectives and dreams, and just making UCLA the best athletic program it can possibly be.