Karl Dorrell Honeymoon: New Lives, New Life

<b>EDITORIAL</B>: Giving Karl Dorrell good marks in hiring a coaching staff and signing a recruiting class, Our resident crank, <b>Charles Chiccoa</b> basks in his Karl Dorrell honeymoon -- at least until the team actually plays a game...

Good Gawd!, I thought February 5th would never come.  Riding the BRO recruiting roller coaster for the first time in my life was worse than the first time I rode "Colossus."  I thought I was gonna die.  I wasn't sure if my post-2/5 hyperventilation was caused by Kevin Brown  finally signing his damn LOI or Whitney Lewis choosing the same repulsive program as Steve Smith (it would help if Matt Cassell turns out to be another John Fox, or that either one of these guys goes two years and out).  Before my life as a BRO, I would go about my normal routines, coasting  from late December to LOI day in blissful, relative  ignorance, receiving a couple of Internet tips from Cynical Dan on this or that prep "phenom" whom I might or might not be familiar with, committing here, there and everywhere.  But mostly it would be a case of reading in the L.A. Times that some blue chip, 6' 4" quarterback from Texas named Tommy Maddox had committed to UCLA, woo-hoo!, then happily checking those closely printed paragraphs on February 6th (height, weight and position)...  then finally waiting until the opening of spring practice to read those closely printed player profiles of the incoming class, and asking Tracy about this player and that. 

 

UCLA will never be Washington  St., Illinois or even so respectable a darkhorse as Virginia Tech.  Until UCLA formally joins the Ivy League, Bruin fans can be sure that if Ucla wins they will come (oftentimes even if they don't).  "The gutty little Bruins" was never more than a stale journalistic cliche based on ancient history, just as SC's self-admiring images of "smashmouth" and "big man on big man" were nothing more (post-McKay) than a transparent, pimping come-on, especially during that notorious eight-year-stretch they spent getting clocked by "the gutty littles."  Ironically enough, that "gutty" business was kept alive by innocent Bruin fans and cynical UCLA coaching staffs that preferred to "lay in the weeds" rather than stand tall. 

 

And all these talented players that have come through UCLA the last 35 years without seriously contending for a national championship were not ordinarily engineering or pre-med majors.  Lately, most of these guys are either history or sociology majors, very few with a view to becoming the next Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale or even seeking academic tenure.  And though their average SATs and GP's are not comparable to the average incoming freshman, neither are they a crowd of the academically disabled, such as you might find at Tennessee, or a mass of  JC transfers majoring in "Family Studies," such as you might find at Kansas St.  Bruin football players appear to be respectable jocks, probably marginally better than any other Pac-10 program, save Stanford.  But given UCLA's natural advantages of location, tradition, national reputation, and the fact that UCLA (together with SC) sits atop one of the two great athletic recruiting goldmines in America, the Bruins should never want for premium talent.  (And all this racially condescending subtext that UCLA can't get the "inner city kids," and therefore can't logically expect a national profile is, I suspect, some kind of Bruin paranoia or a reflexive excuse, not to mention so much paternalistic rubbish.  The black working class and middle class is healthy and growing, and I doubt UCLA will ever find themselves short of quality black athletes that can gain admittance.)                        

 

Like a lot of other BROs, I was hugely relieved and wrung out, by the time KD's coaching staff and recruiting class were finally in place.  He hasn't made a serious misstep yet, IMO, though the proof of any coach is always on the field of play.  He says all the right things about a Tampa Bay style defense and pro-style, so-called "west coast" offense.  What we've seen and heard from him, and what he's actually accomplished, seems rather impressive, especially in contrast to his immediate, foot-in-mouth predecessor with his predictable, old school, no deception, Al Davis vertical offense, and his ignorance and disinterest in defense.  Where BT had all the charisma of a block wall, KD gives off the impression of youth, intelligence, an urge to compete, and, best of all, a general air of fearlessness.  I don't expect to hear the usual whining excuses and sandbagging we've come to expect the past 27 years.  In addition to having the charm of the unknown, he also seems to be lucky:  He didn't land the San Diego St. job, a dubious opportunity at best; he follows probably the second most unpopular coach in Bruin athletic history; and he inherits a young, very deep stock of returning talent (no one, not even Seidman, is without either a comparable or potentially better replacement).  For me the only cloud on the immediate horizon is quarterback - perhaps because Paus made me gun-shy, since even in five years he never became the sort of passer to worry a defense.  Matt Moore and Drew Olson, for all their apparent potential (particularly Moore), never left me with the comfortable feeling they'll be able to ignite the passing attack by  September 6th.  Of course it's possible that either one, or both, might become prodigies, might break out early with the benefit of operating a quick release, imaginative passing game with a more horizontal look, more crossing patterns, tight ends dragging across the middle, backs swinging out of the backfield, anything to consistently occupy opposing linebackers and DBs and keep them out of those stacked fronts and sell-out blitzes we've become accustomed to seeing.  Because without a dangerous passing game, Tyler, Manny and Maurice Drew are going to be smacking into the same stone walls that stopped DeShaun Foster.

 

Whatever we see next season can't be worse than what we've been looking at.  Take away Cade and Rocky Long and BT would have been exposed much sooner.  Had he not been BT, he could've put a stranglehold on the Pac-10 after the '98 season, with the recruiting advantage he had in his grasp.  But even had he been a more aggressive recruiter, he was not the head coach to have taken advantage of that talent and punish the opposition in the manner of Oklahoma and Miami, or FSU, Texas, Florida or SC last season.  It was absolutely predictable that either UCLA or SC would become a national power depending on which one landed the first decent coach.  Well, Pete Carroll looked like just another mope after his first year, but with his inhumanly relentless optimism, his NFL style defense, a very talented senior quarterback, and a fine, middle-aged offensive coordinator whom he somehow manages to keep tied down, he thoroughly earned his great recruiting haul.  Thank God SC dropped those two early season games or it could have been much worse.

 

You know the national media is going to be gaga over "The Return of Troy."  The pre-season rags and websites are going to be ugly.  I hate to say it, but I'll be shocked, too, if SC doesn't solve their quarter- back question in some form or another.  But if the Bruins solve their's, and if KD can walk the walk, the Bruins might just even up this currently lopsided rivalry in shockingly short order.  Lightning changes are one of the great attractions of college football.  This sport starts with coaching and talent on the field and ends with quarterbacking and aggressive, quick defenses with attitude.  There are signs that the Bruin defense will finally come into the modern age without such handpicked BT millstones as Aliotti, Field, and, yes, Phil Snow, holding them back.  There seems to be a new feeling in Westwood that size only matters if accompanied by speed.  Rocky Long was once on the verge of putting that "soft" image to rest, and if this defensive staff can match or exceed Rocky with better material than he ever had, and if either Moore or Olson can seriously threaten a defense, Saturday night dinners will once again be a pleasure, and UCLA football might finally be worth taping again.  SC took their qualifying tests last year and passed with flying colors.  If they can follow it up this year, as expected, they'll be sitting near where John McKay put them in the mid 1970s (not a pretty prospect). 

 

Short Carson Palmer and Norm Chow, KD has almost the same opportunity in his first year that Carroll had in his second.  But even respectable quarterbacking and the new Dorrell offensive approach might do wonders.  Bruin fans have been down so long that KD will have at least a four-year window to bring back UCLA to national prominence, which should lessen the pressure a bit.  He has all the good will in the world supporting him; he's got lots of returning talent, including some promising redshirt freshmen and a couple of promising, true freshmen defensive linemen, plus God knows what in Maurice Drew.  For KD, it's going to be the time of his life.  For the rest of us, we're at least free at last, free at last... 

 


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