January 23, 2008

Thoughts on the weeks, past and present

So, a major ten days or so for the Bruin athletic programs. While the basketball team allowed an unranked USC Trojan team to come into Pauley and earn the upset, the football team has seen a series of hirings. Let's cover those briefly. I'd like to note, in the next day or two I'm hoping to get up a big analysis of UCLA's major coaching decisions. So.


UCLA's main coaching battery is now complete. New lower-level staffers Reggie Moore (WR), Bob Palcic (OL) and Mike Linn (S&C) will join new Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow and new Head Coach Rick Neuheisal. DeWayne Walker stays on as Defensive Coordinator, along with his assistants Todd Howard (DL) and Chuck Bullough (LB) - the only other coach from the old staff who is still potentially going to be rehired is former WR coach Eric Scott. Scott quickly earned a reputation as being a great recruiter, but troubles with the police during the previous offseason led to past transgressions being brought to light.

Interestingly, the name that caused the biggest shockwaves upon announcement was not that of the new head coach, but that of the new OC, Chow. Chow's hiring (following his serendipitous-for-UCLA firing by the Tennessee Titans) was in many ways a direct shot across the bow of USC's football program. That program - which had done much the same to the Bruins after a fashion with the hiring of ex-Bruin great Ken Norton, Jr. - first reached its current height with Chow masterminding its potent offenses. Perhaps the player who benefited the most from Chow's tutelage was Carson Palmer. A highly-touted recruit who struggled early in his career, Palmer blossomed into the eventual Heisman Trophy winner his senior year (and his 2nd under Chow). Now the Bruins hope a similar, if more speedy, transition follows with Ben Olson under center. The similarities are there - Olson's struggles at UCLA have been well-documented, despite his high recruiting ranking out of high school, and the fact that he possesses all the physical tools of a prototypical NFL QB.

Neuheisal's hiring has come and gone with much less controversy than I initially expected, so I'll let it pass for the most part in this space (though a numerical analysis is forthcoming - this post is more philosophical in nature). "Slick Rick" has, though, managed to hang on to well-regarded DC Walker, as well as the coup of hiring Chow for his OC, so it's very hard to argue that he has not started his tenure in a fascinating, and extremely positive, fashion. Walker, too, has seemingly been returned to the Bruins with a minimum of controversy despite the public nature of his courtship by other institutions, most notably the University of Washington (similarities abound). Palcic, Linn, and Moore are all generally-respected coaches at their positions as far as I can tell, though I don't know much about Linn.

The key over the next couple weeks will, of course, be for this coaching staff to hang on to the highly-ranked recruiting class currently indicating they'll be coming to Westwood next season. Given that UCLA loses a lot of senior talent, they'll need all the help they can get with the brutal upcoming schedule.


Much more brief. Loss to USC = bad. Don't do it again, please. A road trip to the Oregon schools is next, beginning with the Ducks on Thursday. After a big win over Stanford at home on the 13th, the Ducks dropped both their games at UW and WSU this past week. Oregon is significantly more difficult to beat at home than on the road - see UCLA's first loss of the season last year, when they fell to the Ducks in a close game at McArthur. If the Bruins manage to handle the Ducks on Thursday, even with the home-loss to USC, they at least maintain a clear separation between themselves and every team in the conference except the Cougars. Oregon State just fired its coach - anything less than a relatively easy victory would be a major red flag.

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