UCLA Football: Who Can Fill the Empty Passion Bucket?
The passion bucket is empty at UCLA.
Rick Neuheisel is a dead man walking, a lame-duck head coach, with seemingly no way back now after the 48-12 embarrassment (train wreck? disaster? In the words of Bomani Jones, beat 'em down) suffered at the hands of Arizona last night.
The team came out flat, uninspired and immature. Penalties, a halftime fight and dropped passes only begin to scratch the surface of what has gone wrong the last three-and-a-half years in Westwood.
The saddest thing about this is that Neuheisel is a UCLA grad, at his dream job, and I would hire him any day of the week to be a motivational speaker. His fire, love for the school and never-quit attitude are admirable on so many levels.
But his time has come, the death bell tolls and it's now time to start talking about a new head coach for UCLA.
Here are some potential names being bandied about, along with my personal choices.
Urban Meyer: The Longest of Long Shots
I'm putting this first because I want to get it out of the way.
There's as much chance of UCLA winning a national title in my lifetime (I'm 18 years old for the record) as there is Urban Meyer coming to UCLA.
Basically put, in Rick Pitino's words, Urban Meyer is not walking through that door.
The price would be too high.
He's of too high a caliber for UCLA. And yes, that is true. We are not on par with our crosstown rivals or any of the perennially consistent and good college football teams, and we have not been since 1998.
However awesome Meyer is, and he is a top-notch coach, I don't even think the athletic department has the ambition to even field a phone call to Urban Meyer.
And that's a whole separate issue for another day.
Odds of arrival: 1000/1
Mike Bellotti: The Wise Old Head
Another name popping up around the Internet realm is former Oregon coach/athletic director and current ESPN commentator Mike Bellotti.
Another proven winner, potential leadership questions could be asked of him, as the LeGarrette Blount debacle, Jeremiah Masoli and firing basketball coach Ernie Kent all took place under his nine months at AD.
However, those questions would be unfounded, as it seems Chip Kelly has a tough time running a clean ship of state, given the suspensions, arrests and Willie Lyles story emanating from Eugene.
Oregon rose to national prominence under Bellotti, and he won over 100 games in his 13 years at the helm, earning multiple BCS bowl bids in the process.
However, while he is not a retread, would Bellotti be enough to energize the restless alumni and the fans who are quickly becoming disinterested in going to the Rose Bowl to watch a debacle every game?
And moreover, how long would he stay? He's 60 right now, and one has to question how many good years could be had before his retirement.
Another long shot, but an intriguing name nonetheless.
Odds of Arrival: 100/1
Chris Petersen: The Wunderkid
Chris Petersen has five losses in five years as Boise State's head coach.
Three of them came in one year.
There isn't much more praise that cannot already be heaped on the Bronco head coach, who was rumored as a potential candidate after the firing of Karl Dorrell. Alas, he stayed with Boise State, and is building a powerhouse program on top of what his predecessor, Dan Hawkins, left when he went to Colorado.
Hiring Petersen would be an absolute coup, and he'd be my dream coach, but it's simply not likely as sad as it is to say. He's a fabulous coach who would be well advised to aim higher at places like Ohio State or other top-tier programs when they open up.
Odds of Arrival: 75/1
Jim McElwain and Kirby Smart: The Top Coordinators
Combining two coordinators into one place, the Alabama offensive and defensive coordinators Jim McElwain and Kirby Smart are the minds behind one of America's best teams, working for one of America's premier college coaches in Nick Saban.
The pedigree from which these men come from is unquestionable, as the offense and defense at Alabama are consistently good year in and year out.
Smart had flirted with the idea of joining Will Muschamp at Florida to be the defensive coordinator, but he turned down the offer and renewed his contract and earned a big pay day.
Another hot commodity, Smart will be on the list of any smart athletic director in need of a head coach.
The less heralded of the two, McElwain has had successful stints at Fresno State, Michigan State and Louisville wrapped around a one-year debacle with the Art Shell Oakland Raiders in 2007.
His offenses have always been well schooled and efficient; Mark Ingram comes to mind immediately.
However, one has to question why these two would leave success and being well paid in Tuscaloosa for a rebuilding job all the way in Westwood—especially Smart, if he is to become the next hot coordinator around.
Odds of Arrival: Smart 25/1; McElwain 20/1
Kevin Sumlin: The Up and Comer
An old saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them.
Well, UCLA couldn't beat Houston this year, so they could do well in having Sumlin join on.
In his fourth year, Sumlin is 29-13 as of this week as head coach, and his offenses have averaged 40 points a game during his tenure. Sure that has a lot to do with quarterback Case Keenum, but the offense has to take instructions from someone. An equally impressive feat in my eyes is almost getting the Cougars to a bowl game when Keenum went down injured last year in the loss to the Bruins.
A fiery character, Sumlin is a young guy who intrigues me for no reason other than he's a good-looking guy and a solid head coach. I'd be curious to see him at a bigger name program.
Odds of Arrival: 15/2
Mike Leach: Captain Jack Sparrow
The trendy choice for any open head coaching job, Mike Leach is two years out of a job where he worked wonders at Texas Tech.
The "Air Raid" offense was a joy to watch, and any TTU quarterback was basically assured 30 touchdowns a season.
More importantly, he assured the Red Raiders a bowl game in every year of the 10 he spent at Lubbock, amassing a 84-43 record, a 5-4 record in bowl games (he was fired before the 10th) and usurping Texas and Oklahoma for a Big 12 South title in 2008.
Any opening this year will have Leach's name attached to it, as his track record stands on its own.
A choice of many fans, it will all come down to the Morgan Center and seeing if they have the gumption and guts to vie for Leach among all the other schools clamoring to have him.
Odds of Arrival: 5/1
But Let's Be Realistic Here...
For the record, here follows my preferences of the potential coaches I've listed.
I didn't bother with the first three, as they seem to be strictly fantasy or highly unlikely.
But let's be frank here. None of these men will be considered if athletic director Dan Guerrero is retained at the end of this football season. There is simply not enough innovation and out-of-the-box thinking or ambition coursing through his veins to make it happen.
Karl Dorrell was out of the box, but that was less "Wow!" as more it was "What? Who?" Especially as a young UCLA fan, I had no idea who Karl Dorrell was in 2003, but I figured it couldn't be as bad as the last few years of Bob Toledo.
As long as Guerrero sticks around, another conservative and vanilla probable UCLA alum will be brought in to rebuild the image of UCLA football. At that point it may be too late to salvage the already tarnished reputation as it stands.
Which means Troy Aikman's phone could be ringing any day now.