Welcome to UCLA, Martin Jarmond. You are about to step into the toughest job you have ever had. I am sure you are excited for the new job. No more frozen winters in Boston. Not much frozen anything out here except margaritas if you opt for them that way. With administrative experience at three different major universities, we are sure you are confident in the move you are making. We just suggest you buckle up because it will be unlike anything you have ever professionally managed in your still-young 40 years of life.
UCLA is unlike most schools in that there is a definitive line between the academic side of the school and athletics. No one still there will openly admit it, but those who have survived the ride and come out on the other side will tell you it is true now more than ever. It is kept there by the administration on purpose.
Chancellor Gene Block famously proclaimed, when he took the job in 2007, that he wanted to make UCLA the Harvard of the west. It was an interesting goal to proclaim since Harvard is a private school with a nearly 300-year head start on UCLA, and unlimited endowments. Still, UCLA’s academic successes are well documented; the medical school is one of the most noted in the country; and the alumni base touts some of the biggest thinkers of their time, including Ralph Bunche, the first African American to ever win a Nobel Prize.
UCLA is the most applied to school in the country with more than 100,000 freshman applications each of the last two years and an acceptance rate of about 14%.
Those things are always going to be more significant to the administration at UCLA. Some sports fans may not like it, but those are always going to the priority for Block and his administration.
But those aforementioned sports fans, the ones that help fund the athletic department, are never going to be happy with “just that.”
UCLA has 118 NCAA championships. That is second in the country behind Stanford, (and don’t think for a minute that does not rankle the Bruin faithful), and it is 11 over crosstown rival USC. The three schools are the only ones in the nation with 100 or more NCAA championships. The three combined have more than any other conference in its entirety.
Yet this is a very unsettled fan base you are about to meet. Know why? Because UCLA can tout all those NCAA titles; they can bring out the big names like Rafer Johnson, or a who’s who of basketball legends; or remind you of Arthur Ashe and Jackie Robinson; or have Troy Aikman show up. But what they cannot do is tell you the football program has not been nationally relevant in the last 22 years. Or that the once legendary basketball program has not been a title contender since 2007-08.
And they put that on the shoulders of your predecessor Dan Guerrero, and the administration. Does anyone really think it is a coincidence the final selection committee was made up almost entirely of people from the academic side of the school? They were there to remind you of your place in the big picture, as Guerrero gets set to retire in the coming weeks.
Guerrero has done a fine job when it comes to hiring head coaches for the Olympic sports, since taking over his office in 2002. John Savage has turned a dormant baseball program into a national champion and yearly power. Kelly Inouye-Perez has the softball program as the reigning national champions. Nikki Caldwell and Cori Close were both very solid hires for women’s basketball. Stein Metzger has a national championship already as the women’s beach volleyball head coach. But Guerrero wears the stain basketball hire of Steve Alford. It was never a good choice and got worse over time.
How Did We Get Here?
But as for Guerrero and football, it has always been rocky. He had no choice but to jettison Bob Toledo. No Bruin loyalist has ever gotten over that December day in 1998 in Miami. UCLA was just minutes away from playing for the first ever BCS championship, when the game and their collective future unraveled. The program has yet to recover. They have not sniffed the Rose Bowl game, played in their home stadium, since 1999.
Toledo lost control of the program and was dismissed in 2002 among grumblings of potential NCAA issues, not long after Guerrero got his job.
Guerrero brought in the polar opposite coach, Karl Dorrell. The former UCLA receiver was very soft spoken, and squeaky clean. He was well liked by everyone in the athletic department offices and in the administration. But he had never been a head coach before and in no world should UCLA be on-the-job-training for any coach. He had an above-average five-year tenure, but above-average is not supposed to be the measuring stick at UCLA, Mr. Jarmond.
Guerrero went to opposite again, bringing in the exceedingly gregarious Rick Neuheisel. Neuhisel’s track record at Colorado and Washington made his tenure at UCLA predictable. He would start off with good seasons while fixing the problems from the previous coach but could not sustain it on his own. His record would get worse, the longer he stayed. His time as a former Bruins quarterback aside, he was four-and-out in Westwood with a losing record.
That led to the Jim Mora era. He had never been a head coach in college, but did have two stops in the NFL. I will warn you, Mr. Jarmond, that to this day, nearly three years after his firing, the UCLA fan base is still split on whether Mora’s six-year tenure was successful or not. By the end, he had lost too many players and fans.
That brings us to current day with Chip Kelly. There are currently two sides on the Chip Kelly argument after his first two years with a 7-17 record. One side says he is no longer cut out for this and let’s move on. The other side says he just needs more time. Few if any say he is doing a good job. Even Kelly says, “You are what your record says you are.” That means not very good so far.
How Did You Get Here?
This is just a small snapshot of the divided Bruin nation you are joining. You may think your past experience has you ready for this. Boston College is inarguably an elite academic institution. But with due respect to the folks in Chestnut Hill, the athletic history does not come close to matching UCLA’s legacy. Ohio State is certainly an athletic department with a tremendous record of excellence for many decades. And academically it is fine. But there are not 100,000+ students yearning to be part of the academic experience like at UCLA.
And the administration of the school knows that last one like nothing you have seen yet.
The theorized plan that was relayed to some of us in the media was that UCLA was looking for an outsider. They wanted a fresh voice. That almost immediately eliminated Senior Associate Athletic Director Josh Rebholz. He had been thought to be the heir apparent for some time. He had proven fundraising skills with projects like the revitalization of the “House That John Wooden Built,” Pauley Pavilion. Rebholz also was the key fundraiser within the administration for the Mo Ostin basketball practice facility and the Wasserman Center, a state of the art $100 million football-only training facility. But there are no capital works projects for athletics and Rebholz is far from an outsider.
Terry Tumey was a very viable choice. He has earned his administration credentials at other schools, thus qualifying him to be an outsider. But he played football for UCLA in the grandiose days of the 1980’s and likely understands the athletic/academic divide that exists. But his candidacy has been shrouded in conflicting information about who dropped whom. He will stay four hours up the road at Fresno State, a school with a football program currently in much better shape than UCLA’s.
That brings us back to you, Mr. Jarmond. By all counts, the announcement is imminent. This is going to be new ground for you. It will be unlike your athletic director job at BC or your Assistant AD jobs at Ohio State and Michigan State. UCLA will offer you the stunning Bel Air/Westwood neighborhoods from which you will do your job. They will provide you with beautiful beaches that are just a hop, skip, and jump from the campus. And they will provide you with an office full of challenges that your predecessor never fully mastered.