Dorrell conceded a number of times that last season was a struggle and a disappointment. "I don't think you need to go any further back than our bowl game. That's enough of a reminder of what happened last year. I was embarrassed. That showed enough about where we need to go."
Dorrell said the year was "interesting," and it was a big learning experience for him: "When you come in and put in a new program, you think that you weren't far off from being where you should be. Those impressions, coming back to the college game, and evaluating where we're at in the program, were different than my impressions at the beginning. But you have what you have. And you continue to work, and hopefully keep building, and not have the kind of year we had this year in succeeding years. It was an experience, just learning to deal with kids again, to deal with the ramifications of being in a university setting, the issues with the media, going from being an assistant coach to a head coach, the issues dealing with all the support mechanisms throughout the program. Those all offered a great deal of learning experience that I went through this season. There's no doubt that I think my role was a lot different than I thought it was going to be. Being more of an Xs and Os coach most of my career, all of my career, and not really being a facilitator. Changing that role to being a head coach, being more of a recruiter and other areas I haven't done in the past. So that's where I am in terms of my growth, and the position I'm in. It's still nonetheless, exciting. It's exciting to me."
Dorrell repeatedly referred to the "underbelly" of the UCLA football program – meaning the infrastructure and support system that the public doesn't readily see – and its needs to be over-hauled when he arrived. He said, "There are a lot of support mechanisms around our program that needed to be addressed. It can be as simple as the training in the off-season. Or your support for students academically. There are numerous different issues. Those things had to be addressed when I arrived."
When asked if he felt he needed to post a winning record in 2004, Dorrell responded: "No, I don't feel that way at all. I think within our department, and I'm not speaking for Dan Guerrero, but he understands the process we're going through. It's a process that doesn't happen overnight. I'm not using UCLA as a stepping stone. I'm hoping to be here for 20 years, longer than Terry Donahue was. And for me to get to that point, it has to be done the right way. Maybe if I wanted to short-cut corners, and do things to get a product done now, and the underbelly wasn't right, and we still had all the off-the-field issues, and I was looking at this as a two to three year job and going back to the NFL, that's a totally different person than me. This is the job I want. For me to do it the right way, it has to be built the right way. It takes a lot of different mechanisms having to be in place. And you have to be patient. And that's what he (Dan Guerrero) is telling me, that he understands that."
Does that mean that the "underbelly" was in a state of disarray when he arrived? "True," Dorrell said. " I don't want to comment on that, but yes, it's true."
Dorrell talked about the expectations from coming into a program that had a winning record the previous season, and whether it might have been better taking over a program that had hit complete rock bottom. "People have made that assessment, with Ben (Howland) for instance. He came into a basketball program that was coming off a losing season, and I came into a football program off a winning season. Then we had the year we had in football. And while you might think we did worse, in our department, our people, we've made steps to improve. It may not have been reflected in wins and losses, but we're heading in the right direction. But I know the bottom line. The bottom line is that you have to be successful. And I have no doubt that's going to happen for us."
He said that a factor is to be a coach that can adapt to a situation and recognize what works in a certain organization. "Some coaches will come in to a program, like Steve Spurrier. I think he's a hell of a football coach. But right now people don't think he is because of what happened into the NFL. Certain times you can institute your program into a situation and it's not necessarily the right equation. But a good coach figures out what makes that organization tick. You find the underbelly, and how things should work. And continue to massage and to help that process grow, then you'll start seeing the fruits of things moving in the right direction. And thatt's where we are right now. Everything starting to move in direction needs to be. We know we'll be better than last year, and we'll see how much better we can get."
How Dorrell was portrayed in the media last year was a mis-representation, he believed, and that it's mostly due to the naivete of the media. He said:
-- "(In the media last season) I felt I wasn't represented properly. Whether that was unfair or not, that's your job as writers. You guys are the ones that can create a stance on that with the public perception. I knew coming into this job it was going to be tough. I knew the issues that this program had before I arrived were very sensitive issues. I knew that was an element I was going to have to deal with, along with the football side of it. There's a lot about reputation, image, and it's the university umbrella now that I'm talking about. There are a lot of other issues."
-- "I think sometimes people (the media) can get an incorrect assessment. Sometimes I think there's a great deal more research that needs to be done before making a strong opinion about something. That's the way I've always functioned in my life. To at least be an authority in that area. And I know in your business (the press) that's not necessarily the case. And that's something we have to deal with. Your job is to ultimately sell papers, or create enthusiasm, controversy or whatever. I understand that now. I didn't understand that at the beginning. Going through the year that I had I have a better feel with what I'm dealing with. Do I think I have all the answers? No. And I'll never tell you I do. I know I'll work through it. What you'll get from my standpoint, is integrity."
-- "I'm more than enthusiastic about proving a lot of you wrong. That's the thing about coaching. At some point, you're going to be up against it, in some shape or form. Whether you pull yourself out of those situations and prove people wrong, that's where you get the greatest benefit. A part of coaching is getting to disprove a particularly bad assessment on a program or a coach."
-- "Tyrone Willingham went from being considered one of the best coaches in the country, to now not. I'm trying to do the reverse. I'm perceived as one of the worst coaches in the country and will be one of the best. That's my goal. That's my job, to resurrect this and get it to where it should be."
-- "I know my job is under fire. And your job (that of the media) is to put my job under fire."
-- "The best way to deal with this and any program, is the underbelly, so to speak, first. And building it from a foundation, to where it will eventually become apparent from the outside looking in."
-- "I never said I haven't been treated fairly. It's more about the kids. I could care less if you guys like me or not. You can mudsling as much as you want at me. But I don't want it targeted at our players."
Dorrell didn't want "to point fingers," but he did attribute the struggles of the offfense last season a great deal to the coaching situation. When asked if he and the former Offensive Coordinator, Steve Axman, were on the same page, Dorrell said, "It was tough getting on the same page. Because it was a new offense for him. That was tough for him to deal with, when he wasn't of the same philosophy. You're going to struggle with anything if you don't feel confident coaching it. If you don't feel you're an authority on a topic, and you have to give an hour lecture on that topic, it's tough. We were able to clean up those things. We had to make the necessary adjustments and we are where we need to be now."
There will be quite a difference with the addition of Tom Cable as the new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Dorrell believes. Confirming that Cable will be fully in charge of the offense and calling the plays, Dorrell talked about the impact Cable will make: "Tom Cable was a guy I targeted a year ago and was unable to get, because of his responsibilities at that time. I think our offense will be in much, much better hands. You're talking about a guy who speaks the same language I do. He's done it on the college level and where it's been productive. He understands the transitioning of an offense on the college level. I think that will help us tremendously. I think it will be a lot smoother this year, because of his background with the offense. He's done it in college, been in this type of offense, when he was a coordinator at Colorado, Idaho and now here. He understands what you can do. He was my line coach when I was a coordinator at Colorado. He knew me, and he was in the same offense. It makes sense. I really do feel that we're in as good a position as a coaching staff as we ever could have brought together. I know our offense will be in better hands and is moving in the right direction. I also feel good about our quarterback coach, Jim Svoboda. I really wanted to get an up-and-coming guy, and I think he's proven he has done everything he could on the level he was, and he's also proven that he can develop under-recruited quarterbacks to NFL-caliber quarterbacks. So I wanted a guy who was more of a technician, a fundamentals guy. And he's been a coordinator. He's excited about proving himself on this level. From a staff standpoint, I have the right pieces to the puzzle."
Dorrell also tried to explain a fallacy about UCLA's offense, and talked about how it was maligned last season: "This offense can work in high school, it can work in Pop Warner youth league, it can work anywhere. That's probably one of the biggest myths I heard all season long. This offense isn't anything different than any other offense in college football. Bill Callahan will run the same offense at Nebraska. Everybody has a version of this offense. Is it going to be exactly the way UCLA's offense is? No. Everybody has their own spin to it. But it's not anything that's rocket science. Football is not rocket science. Coaching it takes a certain philosophical detail to it. If you're good at coaching it, you'll get the results you want. We weren't good at coaching it last year. Now we have the people in place that can coach it. So we'll be better on offense this year."
In regards to coaching and who might make the biggest impact, Dorrell said that perhaps strength and conditioning coach Doc Kreis might be the guy: "I think the biggest impact among anybody will be our strength coach. What you do in the off-season, in training and conditioning, that will make the biggest impact. People think he's a controversial guy, but he's the best I've seen in the country at what he does. The physical development helps. A year ago at this time, we had three players in our program that could bench over 400 pounds. A year later, we have thirteen. That's progress. Our physical development will be the biggest impact. Are we where we want to be? No. Are we working that way? Yes. We're getting there."
There have been some personnel developments, both on an individual basis and as a team that Dorrell commented about.
On the six new JC players who are currently in school and working out, Dorrell said: "They've all done very well. We have two new defensive ends (Kyle Morgan and Justin Hickman). With the graduation of the two, they are going to be impact players for us. They're going to play. They'll have to play. A linebacker has been the biggest surprise, Dan Nelson. He's been lights-out since he's been here. But also we haven't practiced one down yet. But he's done everything we wanted him to do outside of the practice field, and hopefully that will translate to the field. Offensive lineman Marc Villafuerte will be one of our offensive guards. I expect quarterback David Koral to be a guy who will compete for the job. To try to push Drew Olson. A tight end, right now, he's our second tight end, Matt Raney. Those guys are impact players. I recruited all those guys for their ability to help us right now."
That is quite a bit different than Dorrell's general opinion of the potential impact of true freshmen: "You don't count on those guys to help you in the first year. We took eight offensive linemen this year because we needed to. Will any one of those guys help us this year? Probably not. The one guy is the JC transfer Marc Villafuerte, who can. But the freshmen, they can't help us this year. It's a hard question to ask. Wouldn't it be nice that in fall camp someone surprised us? Hell yes. But we can't count on any freshmen coming in and impacting. The JC guys are a different story. When you recruit a JC guy you expect them to play. Those six guys we took in that class are all here, and they'll all have opportunities to make the two-deep or better."
Dorrell talked about a few position changes, including Nnamdi Ohaeri getting a chance at the open cornerback spot and Junior Lemau'u moving to defensive tackle. "We're thin inside on defense. We ended up losing Thomas Patton. Academically he had some issues. He wont' be back until next year, probably winter quarter. So we had to move some of the outside guys inside."
On Koral, Dorrell isn't expecting too much this spring: "Realistically, this is going to be a leraning spring for him. I don't see him being a factor in pushing Drew until the fall. He'll be a guy just going through the offense for the first time this spring. He has to learn the offense. Yes, he has to showcase his skills, but his first step is to learn. The pushing part probably won't happen until the fall."
Dorrell did emphasize that a critical area next season will be the defensive line. "I told our defensive line coach, now he has to coach this year. Last year he had all those seniors and theyr'e all gone. He has the young group now. With a young defensive line, our defense will have to play like men this year. It will be a tremendous challenge for us defensively. On the backend, we have all those guys other than Matt Ware. Linebackers we lost one, Brandon hillar. We still have some holes to fill there. But the biggest challenge is on the DL."
Bruce Davis, the freshman who looked very good on the scout team at defensive end, could still be a ways a way physically. Dorrell said, "I don't know if he's going to ready to compete to start. It's hard to say. He'll get a chance to showcase what he can do. He's real light in the butt. He might be utilized in pass rush situations, third and long. I can see him maybe being a factor there. But for him to be an every down player, he's not real big. He's still young. We recruited Kyle Morgan and Justin Hickman, the JC guys, and those guys are more physically ready to step in than Bruce is. He's continuing to get bigger, but he came in at 210 pounds, as a defensive end. The Ball brothers weighed 275, 280. If we can get him to 240, 245, this year, that'd be great. Right now he's 230."
Much of the discussion Tuesday was about the offensive line. Dorrell was restrained in saying that he expects the offensive line to be drastically improved from last season: "First of all, do I think there's enough there. I think we can be better. And I think recruiting will help that. Secondly, I got what I got. I can't manufacture anything else than what I have. With what we have, we have to make them better. That's the bottom line. I don't have anyone hidden in the closet. You hope through physical development and a year more experience in the offense that will carry over to some positive gain. The OL did a great job in the off season. They worked hard. Steve Vieira had surgery, but he should be okay for spring ball. Efyoseph Efseaff had a good off-season. Ed Blanton, at 6-9, is now close to 350 pounds, and still slender. They all are transforming themselves into stronger athletes. That's a big benefit for us right now. They'll be a year better and it all starts in the weight room."
Dorrell talked at length about the quarterback position, the situation last season, and the future. He said he thought that Drew Olson "should be light years better than he was" since he'll be so much more familiar with the offense. "Drew ooks great, in terms of the physical aspect. He's working hard, harder than he eve has. I'll give one thing to him – he's a tough son of a gun. He took a lot of hits last year. He got up every time. We led the league in sacks. He's tough."
There were many headaches last year that stemmed from the quarterback duel between Olson and Matt Moore. Looking back, Dorrell said, "You couldn't keep them both happy. They battle, one wins the job, one gets hurt, one comes in, we go 5-1, the other gets back healthy. If you remember, at 5-1, at the time, it was an ugly 5-1. We were winning, but it wasn't pretty. We weren't doing the things offensively, so people say, ‘Why did you make that change? He was 5-1?' Because it still wasn't getting done right. So we make the change. It still isn't getting done right, and we go back to the other guy. You just knew in that scenario it's not going to work. Particularly when you knew the both had a redshirt year and both could go somewhere else."
Having two quarterbacks in the same class, Dorrell says, is something he won't do in the future: "When I got here in December 26th, and I was going through the depth chart and saw two quarterbacks that were sophomores. I saw that coming in December of last year. ‘Aw, shoot, that's going to be a problem.' And it was. Things you can see that are going to be issues, you know you're going to go through it, and you have to take your licking with it. That's why we're bringing in a JC kid now and a high school recruit next year. The questions was – why didn't you take two high school kids? I didn't want to go through that. I want to separate them. I want to take one every year instead of packing them in there. We survived this year with two quarterbacks and we'll have to survive this year hopefully with two quarterbacks and a traveling redshirt quarterback. Then take one every year. Then you're back to the numbers you need at that position. That's a process that will take you three years, before it gets done right. I feel strongly that's the direction we're going. I don't want to go through that experience again."
Was Dorrell disappointed he didn't sign one of the big-named quarterback recruits he was pursuing? "It was disappointing. I think recruiting that position is different. What affects recruiting that position is first, how well you're doing. Just like with any other position. And then they look at who's the guy there now. They'll say, hey the guy there is a junior and I want to play as a redshirt freshman. So you have a lot of kids who are forecasting when they'll be the guy and that hurts you sometimes. Given the state where we are, these are the things we have to endure. And hopefully you have a better year this year and then you can get that guy next year. It all comes down to what you've done lately."
He did say he has a prototype quarterback recruit in mind: "He has to be athletic now. I don't think I'll recruit a 6-7, 230-pounder who runs a 5.2, a pure inside the pocket passer. You have to have some ability to move. So the prototypical guy is between 6-3 and 6-4 and runs a 4.7 40."
Dorrell talked about the depth chart at running back: "Maurice Drew is there, and Manuel White. It was my first year with him was last year, and I discovered he's been hurt almost every year since he's played. It'd be nice if he can go a full season. Derrick Williams, who I think is a good solid back, is a freshman.. He's one of the strongest players on our team, as a freshman. Jason Harrison, he's about 95%. He shouldn't even be playing football anymore, and it's taken a longer process than he wanted it to be to return. We have a freshman from Louisiana who's very good, but I can't count on him. He might be like Maurice Drew. That'd be a great surprise."
The biggest difference, Dorrell said, on the personnel of the team, is the difference in off-season strength and training. "I think that's the key. We can make very positive gains in training. We weren't a very strong football team last year. Nor very fast either.I think those areas have improved quite a bit with the kids we have. Craig Bragg is running as well as a he ever has, and is stronger than he ever has been. He found the weight room. And he's feeling the benefit. That part of the game people don't talk about. But that's really the part of the game that makes you who you are mostly."
On the injury update for spring: Junior Taylor had a hernia and had surgery, and will miss the spring. Manuel White has been restricted to practice but with no contact, for all of spring. Mike McCloskey probably won't practice ever day, still having tenderness in his ankle, with his surgery. Those are the three primarily injured guys."
When asked if there were any sagacious mentors that he's spoken with that have helped him, Dorrell said there were a few, but named only John Wooden. "He has a lot of wisdom. He's the sharpest guy I've ever met. We went out to dinner a couple of times and he told me, ‘You're building this thing, you're on the right track, and don't listen to the media.'"
Overall, Dorrell sounded a realistic but upbeat note: The state of our program is that we have a lot to prove. For me, the coaches, and players. We're excited about this upcoming season. There's no doubt that we think we're a program that's going to get better year in and year out. Our kids know that, we know that. So we want to put a good positive impact in that direction this year."