Football Coach History: What's Goin' on Out Here

<B>EDITORIAL</B>: Our resident crank, <b>Charles Chiccoa</b>, provides us in a nutshell the strange history of head football coaches at UCLA...

Reading and listening to Bruin fans since the Toledo firing, along with the subsequent hiring of Karl Dorrell, brought to mind the old Jim Healy cut: "What's goin' on down there!"  It was, of course, the voice of the fabulous Myron Cope, a local legend in Pittsburgh, and, for me, that cut has become the classic, plaintive cry of the powerless fan in the stands.  The hiring of the new head coach and the new assistants has been protracted, and it's given fans a chance to. stew... and trade punches: Blues-baiting-cranks (what arch condescension).  And Crank-fed-up Blues (what righteous indignation!).  Blood on the street, blood in the bleachers, blood all over BRO.  BloodBROther's indeed!  Nothing like a toy civil war to "jangle up the juices," eh?   Imagine what a real civil war must feel like, with real bullets blowing out huge chunks of flesh rather than our puny verbal "slings and arrows?"  And yet this "bloodletting" is absolutely understandable given UCLA's cursed football heritage.  Call it "abused fan syndrome."  Man, it's been tough... going on three generations now.

 

A Brief Review of a Sad Story, The UCLA Football Coaching History:

 

UCLA finally arrives as a dominant national powerhouse in the early Fifties whereupon Red Sanders checks out under embarrassing circumstances at the old Lafayette Hotel about seventy or eighty wins short of a fulfilling career.  Tommy Prothro can't abandon his brand new Oregon State job (for the same reason "Skippy" couldn't abandon Colorado after Terry Donahue's unnecessarily prolonged goodbye).  With only six weeks 'till the opener the desperate A.D. names senior assistant, George Dickerson, to succeed the no longer living legend.  Dickerson immediately breaks down, and the poor A.D. looks further down the bench, goes to plan 2, and names Bill Barnes.  (For the sake of all Bruin fans - past and present - Sanders either should have made that infernal date a couple of years sooner or a couple of years later, but nooooo... he had to pick that August day in '58.  Earlier, we'd have had Prothro; later, he could have at least stayed around until he killed off John McKay.) 

 

Poor, overmatched Bill Barnes presides over a 7-year dark age (is it nature's law or something that dark ages run seven years?), with the Bruins blundering around in the wilderness while McKay is building his resume for the Hall of Fame.  By '65, UCLA can take no more and J.D. Morgan delivers Prothro, the prodigal son, back to Westwood. In Tommy's first season, he turns loose the teenaged Gary Beban, returns UCLA to the top five, and outsmarts fearsome Michigan St in the '66 Rose Bowl.  Oh boy!  Then, in quick succession, the Bruins get aced out of a Rose Bowl bid on a smelly conference vote, Prothro loses a couple of scandalously officiated heartbreakers to SC, then sensibly takes the money and runs to the Los Angeles Rams.  The Prothro Era begets the short, unfunny reign of Pepper Rodgers (a slightly better standup comic than football coach), which ultimately gives birth to Dick Vermeil, who, Shazzam!, turns out to be a dynamite 37-year-old wunderkind who may well have challenged even the immortal Red in Bruin football lore.  But, hey, this is Bruin football... and Vermeil splits for the NFL after only twenty-three games.  Which brings us to the Donahue Era, which we're all  familiar with. 

 

I know some of you remember those Donahue years fondly.  I don't.  For someone billed as "the winningest coach in Bruin history," this guy seems to stir little passion among Bruin fans generally, probably because he also dropped 74 games and tied  8 more in his 20 seasons.  "Young Terry" always struck me as a prematurely old, classic sandbagger of the old school: Donahue was more of a kind of -- "You know me, Bill, I like to lay in the weeds and surprise 'em."  See, I've always been partial to coaches who win from in front.  McKay was a classic example --  yeah, we're good, we're smart, and we're bad losers (a more sophisticated Bob Stoops).  Of course he could also slip academic cripples like O.J. into school, and that never hurt.  Donahue lost his first four SC games, and if Jeff Fisher didn't tip that pass to Freeman McNeil in 1980, he might have gotten a head start on his network TV career. 

 

For me, the '83 season says it all about Donahue.  I realize he rallied his team from an 0-3-1 start to the Rose Bowl, but how on earth do you beat a very good #4 ranked Illinois team on January 1st by 36 points with a 7-4-1 team?  Could he have possibly underachieved?  You think?

 

 In time, his parting gift to us all was Bob Toledo, whom he resurrected from Texas A&M (imagine a coaching staff of R.C. Slocum plus the two Bobs, Davie and Toledo, as coordinators).  It's unseemly to beat a dead horse, so I'll just say I got off of Toledo after the Badgers stampede in the '99 Rose Bowl. 

So...  from August '58 until today, that's a lot of bad history to bear, even for the most grounded among us.  Hence all the bad blood, endless bickering, unseemly name calling.  What's a BRO to do?

 

That being said, I'll always believe rudeness is bad form.  Which isn't to say that I'm never rude.  Of course I am.  Most of us are at one time or another, or another, or another.  Civility went out the door in the '60s and it's not coming back in your lifetime or mine.  We are eminently NOT the world, though we may be the children.  We're socially,  politically, culturally, and every-which-way fragmented.  The Fragmented State of America.  It's a rough, decidedly masculine game we play today in the sportsbars and in cyberspace.  For the most part we're not among people we know and trust and feel comfortable with.  And in this particularly hellish time for Bruin fans we've got a lot of short fuses in a crowded house.  Feelings will inevitably get bruised but no one's going to lose any blood.  This is just the way things are (end of sermon).

 

As to Dorrell, I like what I've seen so far.  Mooch must have been pie-in-the-sky, especially given the economic parameters.  I wouldn't have minded Mike Stoops, but we've been told on good authority that he's too hot-headed and immature for starters (I still like the guy).  I was never in love with Bellotti and not just because of that famous porn-star mustache (and have you ever noticed how oddly narrow his shoulders are with that big 'ol head plopped down between them?).  This guy not only hired Nick Aliotti, he rehired him!  And I'm not crying over Mike "because-I-can't-take-you-guys-with-me" Price either.  What a piece of work he is.  I have no idea about any other coaches who may or may not have been seriously in play because I have no inside "sources."  Nor do I seek them out.  I leave that to Tracy and some other BROs who have a feeling for this sort of work.  Anyway, what could be worse than this hell we've been living through?  Dorrell absolutely talks the talk.  He seems articulate, self-assured, aggressive, in control, and just cocky enough.  If he turns out to be a winner, he's going to win from in front.

 

Finally, between "gurus" and what goes down between the lines, I always subscribe to the latter.  I only half listen to Mel Kiper Jr., so why would I particularly care what some Bruin fan foresees?  Anyone who sincerely believes they've got this game figured out is to some extent deluded, whether it be predicting scores, future recruiting , or the fortunes of coaching and player talent as it moves to different levels.  Gurus are mostly chalk players anyway, and I already know the deal there.  With a few pertinent facts any reasonably knowledgeable fan can work out the obvious.  The rest is magic, which is the best part of college football.  So I think I'll pass on the Kool Aid because I'm kind of anxious to see what the Dorrell regime brings.  I hate winter.  Bring on the spring (and please reopen the gate to Spaulding Field).               


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