Contrary to UCLA's marketing claim, the football monopoly in L.A. is definitely not over. And USC’s continued dominance is a major reason why Rick Neuheisel is seeing Westwood from his rear-view mirror.
Instead of saddling new Bruins football head coach Jim Mora with yet another disingenuous slogan, why not be realistic and borrow one from Avis' playbook: "We Try Harder."
In fact, UCLA should embrace the underdog role while Mora begins to implement his revival plan.
As a longtime Bruins fan, I’ve seen a few great UCLA coaches and several not-so-great ones. The great ones shared a common trait: They instilled in their players a quiet confidence and a fierce determination to succeed. Tommy Prothro, whose first UCLA team upset USC en route to the 1966 Rose Bowl championship, once said he went into every football game believing his team could win. And this positive attitude carried over to his Bruins teams.
Here are six suggestions for Mora on how to turn around the UCLA football program:
1) Rebuild the offensive and defensive lines.The reason for USC's success over the decades isn't its skill players, it's the guys in the trenches. If UCLA has any hope of climbing back into the national championship picture, the Bruins must land blue-chip recruits in the class of former UCLA standouts Jonathan Ogden and Manu Tuiasosopo.
2) Return to a pro-style offense and sprinkle in some gadget plays. Neuheisel's failure with the "pistol" offense was reminiscent of Pepper Rodgers’ ill-fated switch to the wishbone in the early 1970s. Both teams lacked a competent passing attack, and when UCLA fell behind a good opponent, it was curtains. Los Angeles is the entertainment capital of the world. If you want to drive away Bruins fans, the best way to do it is by installing a run-oriented option offense.
3) Improve clock management. UCLA’s history of poor clock management dates back decades but reached a low last September against Texas when the Bruins burned a first-quarter timeout so they could get in the right formation, only to be called for having 12 men on the field. Timeouts are precious. A five-yard penalty is often preferable to being out of timeouts during a two-minute drill at the end of a half.
4) Meet now with UCLA students.When I attended UCLA, one of the first things Dick Vermeil did after being hired as head coach was to visit my dormitory and talk to students about his plans for the upcoming season, including putting his best athletes on the defensive side of the ball and using the veer offense to transition away from the wishbone toward a pro-style offense. UCLA often plays a couple of home games before fall classes even begin. The time to build support and spirit among students is now.
5) Bring back the "powder-keg blue" uniforms. Red Sanders introduced powder blue uniforms with stylized serif numerals at UCLA when he began coaching there in 1949. The uniforms were so distinctive that people knew instantly they were watching UCLA. During the 1970s, the school switched to a darker shade of blue with block numerals, and abandoned the black football shoes for Billy “White Shoes” Johnson-type cleats. Have Adidas get to work restoring the classic uniforms.
6) Don’t wait too long to beat USC. Going 0 for 4 against USC is not acceptable and likely will get you fired. Defeating the Trojans should be one of your top priorities, if not No. 1. Under Woody Hayes, Ohio State reportedly would set aside practice time throughout the season to concentrate on its Big Ten finale against Michigan. Maybe that’s a strategy UCLA should consider.
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-- Bill Sheehan
Photo: Jim Mora. Credit: Danny Moloshok/Associated Press.