Putting It In Historical Perspective

UCLA fans have an unprecedented reason for their dour grumpiness: UCLA is going through its worse period in football and basketball in its modern history. Here are the historical facts...

While UCLA fans are grumbling and making message boards toxic, here is some historical perspective to rationalize why UCLA fans are so angry.

UCLA has gone through its worst 4 to 5 year stretch combined in football and basketball in its history.

Now, the following might not make you feel any better, but then again, it very well could. By providing some historical perspective you might be more understanding toward other Bruin fans and their disgruntlement. After you take in all of this, it's certainly far more easy to understand why UCLA message boards can be harrowing places in the last several years.

Conference Championships

UCLA is currently setting the record for going the longest without having won a conference championship in either football or basketball.

Its last was in football, in 1998. Unless the basketball team pulls out a Pac-10 championship this season, it will be five seasons in both football and basketball without a conference championship. You have to go back 63 years, to 1941, to find a longer combined streak. It was a time when Wilbur Johns and Caddy Works were UCLA's basketball coaches and someone named Edwin C. Horrell was its football coach. In basketball, UCLA played teams like 20th Century Fox and Illinois State Normal, and in football Camp Haan and Del Monte Pre-Flight (out of those four, UCLA actually only beat Camp Haan).

National Rankings

It's the longest UCLA fans have gone without a ranked football or basketball team in 55 years.

UCLA is currently on a 14-month run without either the football or basketball team being ranked in their sport's respective polls. The last was when UCLA was ranked 14th in basketball November 30, 2002, for its first two games to start the 2002-2003 season, Steve Lavin's last. UCLA football hasn't been ranked since it eked out a #25-ranking heading into the USC game November 23, 2002.

You have to go back to 1949 to find a streak of non-rankings longer in UCLA history. Between January 22, 1947 and March 11, 1949 UCLA didn't receive a ranking in either football or basketball. And there are some very interesting historical comparisons.

The 1947-1948 basketball season was, of course, the last time UCLA experienced a losing season before the 2002-2003 season. It went 12-13 that season, which got coach Wilbur Johns replaced by John Wooden. By the end of Wooden's first season in 1948-1949 he achieved a #15 ranking. See any parallels? The last time UCLA went through a losing season in basketball and such a rankings drought it fired its basketball coach, then hired a great coach, who then had his team ranked by the end of his first season.

In football, the rankings drought encompassed the last year and a half of the coaching tenure of non-descript football coach Bert LaBrucherie. The UCLA football team under LaBrucherie went from a #18-ranking to end the 1947 season, and then were not ranked until October 8, 1949. It included the entire season of 1948 when LaBrucherie led the Bruins to a 3-7 year and ultimately his firing at the end of the season. Taking over for LaBrucherie was perhaps the best football coach in UCLA history, Red Sanders, in 1949, who had them ranked within four weeks and finished the season with an improved 6-3 record.

Football Won/Loss Record

In football, UCLA is going through its worst stretch in close to 40 years. It's had only two winning seasons in the past five years, and during that time gone 32-29 overall. If you include the last two losses of the 1998 season, which is the infamous Miami game and the 1999 Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, since January of 1999, UCLA has compiled a record of 32-31.

That record is only surpassed for mediocrity in a seven-year stretch that goes back to 1958 to 1964. During those seven seasons, it had only three winning seasons, and compiled a combined record of just 32-36. If you include the first game of the 1965 season, a loss, it would be 32-37. It was probably the darkest time in UCLA football history, after the death of Red Sanders and during the coaching term of unsuccessful Bill Barnes. Also, it's interesting how their is a historical parallel with USC. During that time, a new coach, John McKay, had just taken over the struggling USC football program in 1960 from a bad coach, Don Clark. By 1962, McKay had guided USC to a national championship.

It wasn't until Tommy Prothro took over in 1965 did UCLA get back to winning ways again. Coming off a 4-6 season in 1964, Barnes' last, Prothro then led the Bruins to a 8-2 record in 1965, a win over USC and a victory in the Rose Bowl over then #1-ranked Michigan State, ending the year ranked #4. As a footnote: Prothro was always competitive with the Trojans during the ‘60s, playing them pretty even, going 3-3 in his six years from 1965 to 1970.

There are some take-aways from all of this. First, if you look at it from the historical perspective, UCLA has never experienced what it is currently. So, there truly is no precedent in trying to anticipate how the UCLA administration and athletic department would react and what kind of action they would take to right the ship. Historically, when UCLA has experienced comparable lows, it has made significant moves that changed the course of its football and basketball programs. In football it hired Red Sanders and then Tommy Prothro. In basketball, it hired John Wooden. It now has hired Ben Howland.

Secondly, the degree of frustration by UCLA's fan is not normal. This is not the UCLA fan in his normal habitat. It's not that UCLA fans are far more difficult and ungrateful than other fans. They just happen to be going through the worst period in UCLA sports in two generations. In fact, taking all of this into consideration, you'd have to say that UCLA fans are not nearly as brutal as fans of other schools would be if they were experiencing the same period. Also, if anything, going through the last several years in football and basketball has only served to lower expectations of UCLA fans. Any hint of success in the future will go a lot further in pacifying them.


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